Mohamed Salah’s coolly-taken double extended Liverpool’s lead at the top of the Premier League to 11 points, at least temporarily, on Saturday afternoon as the Merseysiders saw off a largely impressive Watford, playing in their first game under new boss Nigel Pearson.
Joe Gomez came in for the injured Dejan Lovren in central defence, with James Milner replacing the rested Andy Robertson at left-back, while Xherdan Shaqiri took the place of Naby Keïta.
The Reds, in turn, switched to a 4-2-3-1 shape with the Swiss, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané playing behind Salah, who took up the central striking role.
Pearson, meanwhile, made two changes from the side that drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace a week ago, with Adrian Mariappa and Will Hughes replacing Adam Masina and Roberto Pereyra respectively with first game.
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It was the Hornets who started the brighter. Troy Deeney couldn’t quite connect with an inviting Ismaila Sarr cross in the 6th minute, while the lively Will Hughes shot wide from 25-yards 17 minutes later.
Liverpool had been probing without all that much tangible success at that stage, but they stepped it up in the minutes that followed.
Sadio Mané sent an improvised volley over, shortly before Salah, who looked to enjoy his altered role, burst in-behind, cut inside but shot wide.
The visitors then should really have taken the lead in the 37th minute as Abdoulaye Doucouré scuffed a pull-back to him in the box, with Gomez then making an excellent block from Gerard Deulofeu.
It was one that proved all the more valuable moments later as Roberto Firmino released Mané with his clearance from the resulting corner. The Senegalese slipped in Salah who raced into the box, cut inside a defender and onto his right-foot before flighting a beautiful right-footed finish into the advanced Ben Foster’s top-right corner.
The goal’s timing felt good, but Pearson’s side kept pushing. Deulofeu, ever dangerous, burst to the byline and saw his cross partied away by Alisson Becker before Sarr completely miscued his attempted effort as the loose-ball fell to him.
Sarr was undeterred though and three minutes into the second-half he burst through and fired goalwards but saw his shot well-saved by Alisson.
An excellent Mané header was then narrowly — but rightly — ruled out by VAR for offside, with Alisson forced into another point-blank stop from Deulofeu moments later.
There was still a lack of rhythm throughout the Liverpool display, even with them continuing to create half-chances, but the finishes were never quite on point.
Watford could see that and noticeably took confidence from it, maintaining possession increasingly well in the home side’s half.
There was a hairy moment when Virgil van Dijk’s back-pass by-passed the advancing Alisson and trickled narrowly wide of his own goal, which was followed by Deulofeu hitting the post with the resulting corner. On the whole, though, the Red base remained firm enough to make up for the sloppiness surrounding it.
Salah capitalised, improvising superbly to back-heel substitute Divock Origi’s scuffed shot through a defender’s legs and in in the 90th minute. That sealed another valuable three points and — at least after VAR’s check — cued a collective sigh of relief amongst the Anfield faithful.