LIVERPOOL: Liverpool returned to their swaggering best and retained a slender lead in the Premier League with a 5-0 thrashing of Watford on Wednesday that was powered by two goals apiece from Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk.
“It was exactly the game I wanted,” an exuberant Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp told reporters, after celebrating the win with players and fans on the pitch.
Senegalese striker Mane got the party started in the ninth minute, leaping between defenders to head in from close range after a sumptuous cross from Liverpool’s marauding Trent Alexander-Arnold. The young right back provided three assists on the night.
In the 20th minute, Mane received another pass in the box from Alexander-Arnold, first appearing to lose control of the ball before then cheekily back-heeling it into the net past Watford keeper Ben Foster.
Belgian forward Divock Origi made it 3-0 in the 66th minute, cutting into the box from the left wing before firing past Foster at his near post. Dutch defender Van Dijk headed in the fourth and fifth goals late on as Watford were swept aside.
“It was great to score in front of the Kop and to keep a clean sheet was even more important,” Van Dijk said.
Liverpool, who had failed to score in their last two games against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Manchester United in the Premier League, could have bagged more as Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah ran Watford ragged and hit the post.
The result kept Liverpool top of the Premier League on 69 points, just ahead of Manchester City on 68 points after the champions’ 1-0 win over West Ham United on Wednesday.
Liverpool had drawn three out of their last four league games to allow City back into the race, but found their full fluency and intensity again against the Hornets.
“We draw against Bayern and then United … but it’s always about showing reactions,” Klopp said.
“We want to play like this every day.”
Klopp’s opposite number Javi Gracia, who has defied expectations this season for Watford, was disappointed at his players’ failure to shackle Liverpool’s forwards.
They would have scored a consolation goal had Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker not pulled off two great second-half saves from Watford striker Andre Gray.
“It was a very demanding game,” Gracia said, praising Liverpool’s strike force. “They dominated the game, they created more chances. They deserved the victory.”
Watford, who dropped behind Wolves to eighth after the defeat at Anfield, deserved credit for their league position and progress into the last eight of the FA Cup, Gracia said.
“It’s a bad day for us, but today doesn’t change the confidence I have in my players,” he said.