This may have felt like a tick box exercise for Liverpool in their attempt to keep alive their pursuit for four trophies this season, and by the end of a rather slow and steady early-afternoon match Jurgen Klopp was able to cross another game off the list that makes up his team’s quadruple quest.
The early 12.30pm kick-off straight after an international break, a Watford team fighting for their Premier League life and the absence of their first choice right back, Trent Alexander-Arnold, all presented challenges which Liverpool had to overcome if they were to jump into first place for a few hours at least. On the whole, Klopp couldn’t have asked for much more.
Fill-in full back Joe Gomez channelled his inner-Alexander-Arnold by assisting Liverpool’s breakthrough goal in the 22nd minute. That goal arrived via the head of Diogo Jota, who had come straight from securing Portugal’s place in November’s World Cup. This was the sixth time in this Premier League season that the Portuguese international had scored Liverpool’s opening goal.
His value is clear but Liverpool’s 10th successive home win in the league was as much down to Alisson as Jota. The Liverpool goalkeeper kept Watford at bay seconds before the home side took the lead by making himself as imposing as possible when Juraj Kucka bore down on goal.
The Watford midfielder could have made the afternoon far more troublesome for Liverpool but, in the end, guaranteed their victory by pulling down Jota and giving away a penalty which Fabinho dispatched.
Liverpool’s next game is away to Manchester City, and the fact Klopp’s men have dropped just two points this year highlights the run they are on. Watford, meanwhile, remain in 18th place and three points off safety. Although Roy Hodgson’s team still have to travel to City and Chelsea, they also host Burnley and Everton; two games which will determine how their season ends.
Story of the game
The start was encouraging for Watford as they tried to build on the win against Southampton, their first in five games, before the international break. Ismaila Sarr evaded Liverpool’s high defensive line to fire a first-time strike from Imran Louza’s ball over the top, but the Watford attacker couldn’t find the target. Soon after, another fine ball by Louza — this time from a corner-kick — was met by Cucho Hernandez at the near post, however, Alisson was unruffled to claim.
Liverpool weren’t in their stride. They had Gomez filling in at right back with Alexander-Arnold on the substitutes bench, and a forward line of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Jota, but rhythm was notably lacking.
However, Liverpool’s credentials were clearly displayed in the 22nd minute. Roy Hodgson’s side should have gone ahead when Kucka was released up-field and the Slovakian midfielder bore down on goal before shooting low only for Alisson to spread himself and deny when one-on-one. Within seconds a fine goal followed that fine save.
Liverpool worked the ball from left to right: Andy Robertson to Thiago Alcantara, across the middle to Jordan Henderson who passed wide to Gomez. The defender’s cross was misjudged by Ben Foster, the Watford goalkeeper, and left back Kiko Femenia didn’t anticipate Jota’s run into the area leaving the Portuguese to flick a header in at the near post for his 20th goal of the season.
Jota could have doubled his tally before half time, somehow Watford were reprieved. Robertson’s shot flicked off Joel Matip’s heel and fell kindly for Jota who drilled a low shot only for Foster to get his midriff in the way.
It was all starting to click for the home team while Hodgson’s men suddenly looked vulnerable. They were thankful of Christian Kabasele’s header over the crossbar as Jota lurked attempting to get on the end of another good delivery by Gomez. Watford offered open doors, however, when both Virgil van Dijk and Jota found space for headers in the area, though neither could steer them on target.
A warning of Watford’s threat on the counter was served in between those two efforts when Sarr was picked out and his centre found Joao Pedro but the visitors’ No.10 could only stretch to shoot wide from in between the goalposts. That was a rare opening for Watford in the second half of a game that was starting to resemble a training exercise.
In search of a second, Gomez fired the ball over to Robertson entering the area via the left. Rather than shooting at goal, the Scotland captain opted to square for Firmino but Foster was able to gather the ball. One final chance did arrive rather unexpectedly.
As Robertson sent in a corner, Kucka hauled down Jota and although the ball was not going to reach the grappling pair, VAR urged referee Stuart Attwell over to the pitchside monitor. A spot-kick was awarded, Fabinho — on from the bench — fired past Foster and ensured Liverpool’s latest victory.
Liverpool: Alisson; Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Jones (Fabinho 62), Henderson, Thiago; Salah (Mane 69), Firmino, Jota.
Subs (not used): Kelleher, Konate, Tsimikas, Alexander-Arnold, Diaz, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Watford: Foster; Femenia, Kabasele, Samir, Kamara; Sissoko, Louza (King 78), Kucka; Sarr, Pedro (Dennis 78), Hernandez (Cleverley 78).
Subs (not used): Bachmann, Massina, Ngakia, Cathcart, Kayembe, Sema.
Referee: Stuart Attwell.