Liverpool moved to the top of the table for the first time under Jurgen Klopp with a dominant win over Watford. The eventual scoreline of 6-1 did not flatter; in fact, there could easily have been more goals. Sturridge hit the woodwork twice after coming on, Coutinho and Lucas both spurned good opportunities and Firmino skewed a one-on-one wide with a strange outside-foot effort. Nevertheless, the hosts will undoubtedly be thrilled with their performance – Watford were utterly dismantled, and Klopp’s men will now go into the international break high on confidence and deservedly top of the league.
It was immediately apparent that Liverpool were going to put on an attacking masterclass. The movement of the forwards, always excellent, was perhaps even more fluid than it has been all season; the Watford back line looked helpless. Coutinho was once again instrumental, popping up in pockets of space and threading lovely passes around. Lallana, too, was a constant thorn in the Hornets’ side – he regularly pushed forward to turn the nominal front three into a front four. However, it took a frustratingly long time for the breakthrough to come. Klopp said after the game that some of the best chances were created before Liverpool managed to take the lead; at the time, there was a slight worry creeping in that it might be ‘one of those days’. These fears were alleviated by Sadio Mane after 27 minutes: a nicely worked short corner allowed Coutinho space to cross, and Mane stooped at the near post to flick the ball brilliantly beyond Gomes and into the far corner.
From this point, Liverpool did not look back. Just three minutes after the opener Coutinho himself got in on the act, receiving a pass from compatriot Firmino before rifling it into the corner from outside the box. Watford were clinging on, but with Can and Henderson beginning to push up a little more there were simply too many players for the visitors to deal with. It was Can who notched the third goal before half time: his run was not tracked by Amrabat, and he was left free in the box to head home Lallana’s inch-perfect cross. Things continued in much the same way after the break – Firmino’s performance had warranted a goal, and he managed to get one after 57 minutes. He lurked in the box, waiting for Lallana’s delivery, and when it came he was on hand to steal half a yard on his man and knock it home. Firmino was involved once again minutes later: he held up the ball brilliantly in the box, then squared it for the rapidly arriving Mane to tap into the empty net. This made it 5-0 inside the hour mark – Watford fans were probably just hoping that it didn’t reach double figures!
Liverpool briefly took their foot off the gas after the fifth, however, and Watford started to play some fairly nice football going forward. Karius was called upon to make a couple of good saves before Janmaat eventually beat him with a placed shot into the corner. In fairness it was probably deserved – the Liverpool back line will nonetheless be frustrated at yet another failure to secure a clean sheet. This frustration translated into a renewed attacking vigour up the other end: Sturridge, who had been introduced shortly before Watford’s goal, looked particularly dangerous. He hit the crossbar twice, slamming the ball against it from a tight angle before hitting it again with an outrageous curling effort from outside the box. This latter attempt was tipped on to the bar by a fingertip save from Pantilimon, who had come on in the first half to replace an injured Gomes. Had a goalkeeper who wasn’t 6”8 still been on the pitch, perhaps Sturridge would have got his goal! He did at least manage an assist late on – yet another good shot was parried by the Romanian keeper, but Wijnaldum was on hand to slot home the rebound and add a final flourish to an absolute rout.
It was a performance that showcased why Liverpool are now being treated as serious title contenders. The relentless energy, fluid movement and constant creation of chances make for an extremely potent side – in this game, Liverpool recorded the most shots on target (17) of any team in the Premier League since Opta records began in 2003/04. Coupled with this ability to score plenty of goals is a defence that is an improvement on recent years: whilst there are obviously still issues to iron out, as evidenced by the seeming near-impossibility of keeping a clean sheet, on the whole the back line is stronger than the one Liverpool had in 2013/14, when defensive frailty ultimately cost them the league. This is thanks in no small part to Joel Matip, who has brought an assurance to the defence that has been missing for some time. A sublime attack and functioning defence sounds like a recipe for success: Klopp doesn’t want to talk about it yet, but that won’t stop fans thinking about the title.