The relentlessness of Liverpool will trouble Pep Guardiola more than the form of his only rivals for the Premier League title. Jürgen Klopp’s team were far from their fluid, dominant best against relegation-threatened Watford but that was an irrelevance alongside a 10th successive league win that took Liverpool top before Manchester City’s visit to Burnley.
Diogo Jota struck once again and Fabinho late on from the penalty spot, converted following the VAR’s intervention, as Liverpool also recorded a 10th consecutive league win at Anfield. They were strong rather than stylish against an awkward opponent, clinically more than creative with Mohamed Salah quiet on his return from an arduous international break, but they got the job done yet again.
The early kick-off could not dampen the heightened expectation inside Anfield as Liverpool looked to usurp Manchester City at the summit of the Premier League, however briefly. But Watford would make life difficult. Their three clean sheets in the league this season have all come on Roy Hodgson’s watch and, with trusted assistant Ray Lewington alongside him, the former Liverpool manager oversaw a typically well-drilled defensive display from his team. The visitors possessed a clear threat too, on the break and from set pieces, and performed with a composure that believed their lowly league position.
Ismaïla Sarr had the game’s first opportunity when played through by Christian Kabasele’s clearance out of defence. His half-volley dipped over Alisson but also over the Liverpool goalkeeper’s crossbar. Cucho Hernández had another decent chance for Watford when he connected with Imran Louza’s corner to the near post. His glancing header was straight into Alisson’s hands. Their best chance of the first half fell to Juraj Kucka, who started and finished an incisive counterattack that involved João Pedro sweeping forward before releasing the midfielder clear on the left. Kucka, adjudged onside by the assistant referee (the VAR may have ruled otherwise), drilled low towards the far corner only for Alisson to again intervene. It provided a key save, for 34 seconds later Liverpool were ahead.
Klopp’s title contenders had struggled to disturb Watford’s compact, protected back four – despite the polished distribution of Thiago Alcântara – until the moment Jordan Henderson found Joe Gomez galloping into space on the right. Gomez was deputizing at right-back for Trent Alexander-Arnold, who returned to the bench following a rapid recovery from a hamstring injury, and did so perfectly with a superb first time cross his England colleague would have been proud to call his own. . Gomez’s delivery behind the Watford back line created uncertainty among Ben Foster and Kiko Femenía. The full-back failed to track Jota’s run across goal while the goalkeeper flew out fists-first but failed to connect. Jota, keeping his eye on the ball and not on the keeper soaring towards him, bravely flicked home his 20th goal in all competitions this season.
Jota almost made it 21 before half-time when Andy Robertson’s shot cannoned off Joel Matip and into the path of the unmarked Portugal international. Foster, standing tall, blocked the striker’s drive with his chest.
Liverpool’s breakthrough did not spread panic through the visiting ranks or upset their effective game-plan. The impressive Kabasele produced a superb clearing header to prevent Jota connecting with another inviting Gomez cross moments after the restart. Virgil van Dijk and Jota headed over from a Curtis Jones corner and a Henderson free-kick, respectively. Watford, however, created a glorious chance to equalize when Sarr escaped down the left and turned a perfectly weighted pass inside to Pedro. The unmarked striker had only Alisson to beat, and the entire goal to aim for, but he stroked a poor finish wide of the far post.
Victory and top spot for at least a few hours for Liverpool was secured in the final seconds when theVAR advised referee Stuart Attwell to check a possible penalty after Samir had cleared a Henderson corner. There was no possible about it. Kucka clearly hauled Jota to the ground as the corner was taken and Attwell needed only a brief check of the pitch-side monitor before awarding a spot-kick. Substitute Fabinho swept the penalty into the top corner and Liverpool into pole position.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism