Laughing stock of football transformed under Jurgen Klopp with Holy Grail in sight
Liverpool verdict - Paul Gorst delivers the definitive match report following the Premier League win over Watford
By Paul Gorst Liverpool FC correspondent
15:30, 14 DEC 2019
Four years ago this weekend, Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool squad were the laughing stock of football. Applauding the Kop for sticking with them until full-time as they grabbed a last-gasp equaliser to draw 2-2 with West Brom, they quickly became the butt of the joke.
Images of the players, hand-in-hand, saluting the supporters on football's most iconic stand were subsequently beamed across the world to decidedly mixed reviews.
The social media banter-brigade lapped it up, joking about how the once mighty Liverpool were now reduced to celebrating a home draw with a Premier League also-ran. Klopp's wider point about the unity of fan and player and what that can create was spectacularly, and willfully, missed.
No-one outside of Anfield is laughing right now, however, as Klopp bookmarked a fantastic week for him, the club and its worldwide fanbase with another cleared hurdle on the path to immortality. Now, Liverpool are the most feared teams in Europe. It has been some transformation.
This 2-0 win against Watford took them clear further at the summit of the Premier League, if only temporarily, in their aim to end a three-decade wait for the Holy Grail.
Mohamed Salah's double was enough on a day when Liverpool were below par. You'd be a brave man to bet against them from here on in.
What a week it has been for this football club. First, they negotiated a tricky tie in Salzburg with qualification to the Champions League's last 16 for the third successive season before news that a £7.25million steal had taken place over Takumi Minamino.
That was followed up by Klopp confirming that he would be extending his stay on Merseyside until 2024 before vice-captain James Milner followed suit with his own contract news.
It is hard finding areas of this famous institution that aren't thriving right now as we edge towards the end of a wild decade at Anfield.
It was a December period that Jurgen Klopp himself had billed as "the most intense period of our lives". With 11 fixtures between November 30 and January 2, it was difficult to refute the Liverpool manager's assertion.
Someone, however, has clearly forgotten to tell the players.
Once again, they made light of their hectic schedule to secure another win to make it five straight victories across all competitions.
Rooted at the foot of the table, it was always going to be an uphill task for the rock-bottom Watford and their new manager, Nigel Pearson. Liverpool failed to sparkle here, however, but that is no longer a requirement for three precious points at Anfield.
The Reds barely got out of second gear as they emerged from a nervous afternoon with maximum points to heave the pressure back on Leicester and, it should still be said, Manchester City.
Liverpool were sluggish in the first half with Jordan Henderson's skied effort the best chance before Salah's opening goal. With the Reds knee-deep into such a punishing schedule, the lethargy was perhaps understandable.
Salah scored a Salzburg stunner on Tuesday with his weaker right for Liverpool's second and this was one another on his swinger as he netted the opener in style.
A classic counter caught Watford cold during a sustained spell of pressure for the visitors. The man dubbed the Egyptian King got on the wrong side of the defence before planting a right-footed effort past Ben Foster into the top corner.
Speed kills and the razor-sharp nature of Liverpool's counter-attack was once again lethal.
The Reds were given a huge let-off moments later when Ismaila Sarr was given the whole of Liverpool's goal to aim at with Alisson on the floor. Somehow, Watford's club-record £25m man sliced it behind him before the chance evaporated.
That followed on from another howler from midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure who scuffed his six-yard box effort into the ground before Joe Gomez cleared. It was patently clear why the Hornets have only scored nine goals all season.
Sadio Mane thought he had made it 2-0 in the second half after a great header from Xherdan Shaqiri's cross. However, VAR checks ruled it out for offside. It was a shame for the Senegal star who deserved to have the thumping header rewarded.
One replay showed Mane to be in an offside position before a second had him behind the last man. Whatever the decision in Stockley Park and how they arrive at such conclusions, it is futile to argue against it.
Football will continue to be dogged by this issue until the lawmakers look further into it. That won't be arriving before the end of this campaign, at least. The drawing of wafer-thin lines over TV replays are here to stay.
Alisson, emboldened by his back-to-back clean sheets against Bournemouth and Salzburg, was in inspired form and he kept out Sarr and Deulofeu with a couple of great stops in the second half as Watford smelled a way back into the contest.
It's been a bit of an up-and-down campaign for the Brazilian but since being crowned the inaugural winner of the Yacine award at the Ballon d'Or ceremony earlier this month, it's been a much improved sequence of scoresheets for the £65million man.
Four quick-fire chances then came the way of Liverpool with Salah spurning three of them before Firmino's heavy touch wasted the final one. Anfield's nerves grew as the game wore on. These misses didn't help.
That, perhaps, seeped onto the pitch as Virgil van Dijk was nearly guilty of a comical own goal with a back-pass to Alisson who had already rushed out to meet it.
Luckily for both players, their blushes were spared as the ball rolled wide of the post. Deulofeu then struck that same post direct from the corner as the anxiety levels raised considerably.
It was left to Salah to finish it off late on as he flicked home substitute Divock Origi's scuffed effort with a smart back-heel. VAR once more got on with the artwork but the goal, mercifully, stood. Game over. And not before time.
The quest to conquer all of England now takes a brief pause as Liverpool fly out to Qatar in an attempt to be crowned world champions for the first time in their history next week. Few would have imagined that happening as the jokes rained down four years ago.
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