Mo Salah strike sparks Liverpool’s second-half surge to victory at Watford
Paul Doyle at Vicarage Road
Sat 24 Nov 2018 17.12 GMT
Liverpool have not yet recaptured the spectacular form of last season but they collected a precious win here thanks to three excellent goals. For most of the game the visitors lacked spark but they illuminated proceedings with a brilliant move in the 67th minute that culminated in Mo Salah opening the scoring. Trent Alexander-Arnold added a second with an outstanding free-kick from 25 yards before Roberto Firmino topped off the scoring after a sweeping late counterattack.
Although those goals gave the scoreline an emphatic look and took Liverpool to a better points tally than they have ever had at this stage of a campaign in the club’s illustrious history, they laboured at times here, a fact Jordan Henderson underlined by getting himself sent off for two shoddy tackles on his return from injury.
Jürgen Klopp accepted that both Henderson’s tackles merited bookings but said he was otherwise satisfied with his team’s display on the players’ return from international duty. “I know you always expect perfection but we had exactly one session to prepare for this game because the players came back on Thursday,” he said, arguing that in that context “it was a real mature performance” that demonstrated his team has evolved since last term. “In similar games last year we were not that convincing but we controlled [this match]. Controlling it and staying in that mode, being positive, that’s new for us. It was exactly how it had to be in our situation.”
Not exactly, in fairness. Because Watford could have been awarded a penalty when the score was 0-0, as Will Hughes went down in the box after Andy Robertson waved a stray foot at him. Although the tackle was clearly mistimed, it was hard to tell whether he made contact with Hughes. Watford’s players claimed there had been an obvious foul but the referee, Jon Moss, disagreed. Shortly after that Liverpool went in front thanks to the first high-class move of the match.
Robertson launched it with a dash down the left and then fed Roberto Firmino, who threaded a beautiful pass through to Sadio Mané. The Senegalese pulled it back to Salah, whose first-time shot gave Ben Foster no time to adjust. The goalkeeper got a touch on it but could not stop it from crossing the line. Salah celebrated with a double-handed gesture that looked a lot like the one that Sergio Ramos uses after scoring, but Klopp was mystified by suggestions that this might have been a dig at the Spaniard who caused Salah’s injury in last season’s Champions League final and is now engulfed in controversy in Spain.
The biggest surprise about Salah’s goal was that Xherdan Shaqiri was not involved. He had been integral to nearly everything that Liverpool had done well up to that point, hooking up regularly with Salah in particular.
Shaqiri presented Georginio Wijnaldum with a clear chance from a free-kick in the first half, only for the Dutchman to botch an attempted volley from 15 yards. Then he created Liverpool’s other notable first-half chance, aiming a diagonal pass to Mané, who took a touch to tee himself up for an acrobatic volley on the run. Foster parried well. Then the Shaqiri-Salah double-act took centre stage again, with the Swiss floating a corner to his teammate at the back post. Salah got off a decent downward header from eight yards but Foster saved.
Watford came from behind here to beat Tottenham in September but Liverpool never looked in danger of letting their lead slip. Instead, they extended it within nine minutes thanks to Alexander-Arnold’s superb free-kick.
The 20-year-old curled a 25-yard shot over the wall and into the corner of the net with such beguiling precision that Foster did not budge.
Despite Henderson’s subsequent dismissal, Liverpool added a third, Robertson leading a counterattack before Firmino nodded in from close range after Foster parried Mané’s effort.
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