For the second time in four days Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah showed a touch of class to score two brilliantly different goals as the Premier League leaders made it 16 wins out of 17 in a 2-0 win over Watford.
Liverpool - 2
Salah 38', 90'
Watford - 0
Neither may have had the pin-point precision of his narrow-angle effort against Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League, but his lofted finish over goalkeeper Ben Foster oozed quality, while his clever 90th-minute backheel showed quick-thinking.
Quality was something of a rare commodity in the early kick-off at Anfield as the visitors made life difficult and could arguably have taken at least a point from Nigel Pearson's first match in charge with better finishing.
Salah showed them how it should be done with his fourth goal in three games - taking his tally to 13 for the campaign - and his eighth in five appearances against the Hornets.
Watford have scored only nine Premier League goals this season and on the evidence of their first half it was easy to see why as only a comedy of errors prevented them taking the lead.
In only the sixth minute Troy Deeney went with the wrong foot in trying to convert a cross from Ismalia Sarr and missed from eight yards.
Worse was to follow as Will Hughes skimmed a shot wide with three team-mates in close proximity before the circus really came to town as both Abdoulaye Doucoure and Sarr had embarrassing mis-kicks in front of goal.
By the time the latter had shinned it after Alisson Becker had parried Gerard Deulofeu's shot, Liverpool were ahead with a clinical counter-attack.
They broke from a Watford corner, won as a result of the Doucoure miss, with Roberto Firmino releasing Mane down the left.
He in turn put Salah through one-on-one with Kiko Femenia and the Egypt international cut back onto his right foot before curling a shot up and over Foster which, judging by the spin of the ball, appeared to be wind-assisted.
It was the one moment of quality in a half which saw the hosts dominate possession but struggle to break down opponents who retreated 11 men to within 40 yards of their own goal when out of possession.
One driving run from Mane through the inside-left channel broke through those defences but Jordan Henderson blazed well over from the cross.
Mane was also put off by Foster charging out of his goal to force a heavy touch after Salah had held off two defenders to play his team-mate through on goal.
Alisson made two good saves early in the second half, one from Sarr and the other from Deulofeu - in between much Mane had his powerful, flicked header from Xherdan Shaqiri's cross ruled out after VAR adjudged his hip was fractionally offside.
Liverpool's injury worries - they are already missing centre-backs Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren and midfielder Fabinho - deepened when Georginio Wijnaldum was forced off with an apparent hamstring problem.
If Watford were their own worst enemies in the first half it was Liverpool's turn after the break with over-complication in the penalty area seeing Firmino and Salah spurn chances.
But the worst incidence came 10 minutes from time when Virgil Van Dijk side-footed a 20-yard back pass past Alisson and could only watch with relief as the ball trickled past the post.
Warmer climes now beckon as Liverpool head to Qatar for the Club World Cup, meaning they miss next weekend's action and will have a match in hand of their rivals.
By the time they return their lead may have been cut to five points but they will remain top of the tree at Christmas as their quest for a first title in 30 years gathers pace.
To follow later...
- Liverpool are unbeaten in 34 Premier League games (W29 D5), the third-longest run in the history of the competition after Arsenal (49) between May 2003-October 2004 and Chelsea (40) between October 2004-October 2005.
- Watford’s Nigel Pearson became the ninth different manager to face Liverpool at Anfield in their first Premier League game in charge of a team – with all nine losing to the Reds by an aggregate score of 3-19.
- Watford have won just nine points from 17 games this season – each of the nine previous teams to accumulate nine points or fewer after 17 Premier League matches were eventually relegated.
- Liverpool have won their last 16 home top-flight matches – they’ve only had one longer run at Anfield in their history, winning 21 in a row between January and December 1972.
- Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has won seven Premier League games against Watford; against no side has he picked up more victories in the competition (level with Crystal Palace).
- Mohamed Salah has now scored 84 goals in 126 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – two more than Luis Suarez (82) netted in 133 games for the Reds.
- Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has scored eight Premier League goals against Watford; more than he has netted against any other team in the big 5 European leagues.
- Sadio Mané has had a hand in nine goals in six Premier League appearances against Watford for Liverpool, scoring five and assisting four.
As it happened
By Tom Carnduff
⌚️ FT: LIVERPOOL 2-0 WATFORD
Liverpool far from great but Watford just couldn't punish them for it. There's an argument to be made that Watford will take positives from this but the fact remains that they were incredibly poor.
The Reds keep that gap to Leicester ahead of their game against Norwich at 3pm.
90' - GOAL GIVEN!
More ridiculous VAR checking. We're looking at millimetres between Salah and the Watford defender. It's given, but it's another example of how poor this system is. We shouldn't be checking for things like that.
⚽️ 90' - GOAL LIVERPOOL!
Salah makes it two! Origi scuffs the shot (hardly a surprise based on this game) and Salah with a lovely finish from yards out to hit it between the legs of the Watford defender on the line.
That is fantastic. Get watching it on the Premier League highlights!
🔄 88' - LIVERPOOL SUB
Origi replaces Firmino in the Liverpool attack.
87' - CAN WATFORD GET AN EQUALISER?
Based on today's showing, it's unlikely. This game has been so poor and Watford haven't looked great.
82' - POST!
From the resulting corner, Deulofeu hits the post directly from the kick! Another warning sign for Liverpool but Watford just can't punish them.
81' - OH MY WORD!
Under absolutely no pressure, van Dijk nearly puts it into his own net!
He looks to Alisson and goes to pass it back, it's past the Liverpool goalkeeper but luckily for the home side it's also past the post!
Wow, what a howler that could have been!
79' - WATFORD HATE SCORING GOALS!
That is the only take that seems possible right now.
They keep getting into these decent positions but just can't get an effort on goal. Sarr is the latest to almost end up through but Gomez gets across to make the save.
74' - NOT A CLASSIC
This hasn't been a great contest.
Watford are a poor side and they've dragged Liverpool down to their level. Watford are getting the ball but they just can't create anything significant at the moment.
As I type that, Firmino has an effort inside the area but it's easier for Foster to gather.
69' - FINE MARGINS
This is the Mane offside decision earlier...
64' - ANOTHER PENALTY SHOUT!
Again, won't be given. A great through ball from Milner plays Salah in. He seems to slow down as he enters the box and doesn't get the shot away. The Liverpool forward claims he is being pulled back by Capoue but the referee isn't interested and again, it's the right call.
It's getting a bit tense at Anfield as this game, somehow, remains 1-0.
61' - PENALTY?
Probably not. Sarr goes down under a challenge from van Dijk but I'm not having that as a penalty. Good physical play from the Liverpool centre-back and the penalty won't be given. Right decision.
🔄 60' - LIVERPOOL SUB
Wijnaldum can't continue. Andy Robertson comes on instead. That should see Milner move into midfield and Robertson take up his usual left-back position.
58' - CONCERN FOR LIVERPOOL
Wijnaldum is down and receiving treatment. It looks like he'll be coming off.
54' - ANOTHER WATFORD MISS!
In fairness, Alisson has done very well there. Deulofeu runs through one-on-one, under pressure from Alexander-Arnold, but his shot is straight at the Liverpool goalkeeper and he makes the save.
I can't believe this game remains 1-0 at this point!
📺 VAR - OFFSIDE!
Sadio Mane sees it ruled for offside after we've had those weird lines being drawn on a camera angle that isn't square on! Looked right on first inspection though and that VAR check shows his body was in an offside position.
The goal came from Shaqiri's cross from the left. The header is a great one but it's not going to stand.
⚽️ 50' - GOAL LIVERPOOL!
A lovely header from Sadio Mane. He might be offside though...
49' - HUGE CHANCE!
Sarr again comes close! He breaks into the box past the defence and his low shot is saved by Alisson from close range. You could hear Deeney shouting from here! He wanted that pass across the box...
⌚️ 46' - SECOND-HALF UNDERWAY!
Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 99 home games where they've been leading at half-time, they'll fancy their chances of adding to that here. The second-half is underway.
📺 WATCH SALAH'S GOAL
📝 HALF-TIME READING
Check out our best bets for today's Sky Bet EFL action - with four best bets recommended!
⌚️ HT: LIVERPOOL 1-0 WATFORD
A pretty poor half comes to an end with Salah's fantastic finish giving Liverpool the lead.
Watford have missed two huge opportunities to score through Doucoure and Sarr. They'll be encouraged by the fact that they have created chances in good areas, but I can't believe how poor their finishing has been.
Second-half coming up.
⌚️ 45' - ADDED TIME
One minute added on at Anfield.
42' - WATFORD DON'T WANT TO SCORE!
Wow, Watford's finishing has been beyond pathetic. Luckily for Doucoure, Sarr has popped up with an even worse attempt on goal! The ball falls to him ten yards out and he'll score if he places it right. Instead, the Watford man scuffs it and it ends up behind him.
That. Is. Awful!
⚽️ 38' - GOAL LIVERPOOL!
Well, Watford have been punished! Liverpool clear the corner and break forward with pace. Mane plays Salah in, he cuts inside past the defender and curls it into the top corner! That miss looks even worse now for Abdoulaye Doucoure!
37' - HUGE CHANCE!
Oh Doucoure you've had a shocker! Capoue is played in with space down the right side. His cut back is towards the Watford midfielder who has plenty of time to get a shot away, instead he scuffs it and it ends up behind for a corner.
33' - WATFORD CHANCE!
Decent counter attack from Watford. A lofted ball forward sees the header won by Deeney on halfway. Doucoure picks up the ball and drives down the left. His low cross looking towards the back post is cut out by van Dijk and cleared. The Hornets have a threat...
28' - PENALTY?
No, of course not. Salah is down inside the box and Liverpool's complaints come to nothing. Replays show no contact and we have a goal kick. A very optimistic shout from the Reds forward there.
🔸 25' - HUGHES BOOKED
Not for the miss! The Watford midfielder takes out Henderson in the build-up to Liverpool's last attack and Andre Marriner shows him the yellow card for it.
24' - HUGHES COMES CLOSE
Will Hughes drives forward through the midfield. He has options left and right but opts to go for the shot himself. Alisson is stretching to make the save but it's wide.
23' - SHOT...
...miles over! The cross comes in and the ball falls to Henderson inside the box. The Liverpool captain puts his foot through it and it's nearly cleared the stand.
21' - SCRAPPY!
Neither side can really get a hold of the ball there. Possession continues to be given away in the midfield areas but as ever Liverpool eventually come out on top. We're still waiting for that first shot on target of the game...
18' - WATFORD ATTACK
Watford have another go at building an attack but again, as has been the case throughout the game, there's no shot on goal. Sarr's pass to Deulofeu inside the area is overhit and behind for a goal kick.
13' - NO CLEAR CHANCES
It's quiet at Anfield. Liverpool are looking to get in behind the Watford defence but are yet to test Ben Foster in the Watford goal. The Hornets are trying to make themselves into a side who are difficult to break down but it's a question of just how long they can keep Liverpool out.
6' - WATFORD CLOSE!
Wow, Watford come within inches of opening the scoring! The cross comes in from the right and Deeney gets between two defenders. He lunges towards the ball but it's just ahead of him. That would have been a certain goal. Liverpool given a little wake-up call there.
4' - LIVERPOOL COMFORTABLE
Hardly a shock but Liverpool look comfortable in the opening exchanges. They've looked to break forward with those direct balls down the pitch but Sadio Mane's overhit cross broke down the best passage of play so far.
⌚️ 1' - KICK-OFF!
We're underway at Anfield!
⌚ FIVE-MINUTE WARNING!
Five minutes until Saturday's action gets underway!
Remember, you can get in touch with us throughout the afternoon on Twitter - @SportingLifeFC.
🎯 KLOPP PLAYS DARTS!
Some pre-match viewing...
🔮 PITTS PREDICTS
Time to look at George Pitts' best bet in this one...
"While a home win is on the cards, there is definite value in exploring the markets involving the Hornets (BTTS is just under evens) - with preference here on shots.
"With players keen to impress Pearson, they can at least try their luck. Considering they average 13 shots per game this season, the 4/1 on offer with Sky Bet on them to have 12 or more is incredibly tempting. But looking at shots on target, they are 2/1 to register four and 9/2 to have five.
"The latter is worth taking for a small play. Although they are struggling at the bottom, they can up their game and fight for their lives on Merseyside, so five shots on target is not a big ask for the early kick-off."
📝 WATFORD TEAM NEWS
Starting XI: Foster, Femenia, Kabasele, Cathcart, Mariappa, Doucoure, Capoue, Hughes, Sarr, Deulofeu, Deeney
Subs: Gomes, Dawson, Chalobah, Gray, Quina, Success, Foulquier
📝 LIVERPOOL TEAM NEWS
Starting XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Milner, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Shaqiri, Mane, Firmino, Salah
Subs: Adrian, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana, Origi, Williams
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of today's Premier League clash between Liverpool and Watford.
We'll be keeping you updated with all the key incidents, alongside including the goal highlights and our own in-play betting advice from Sky Bet.
Please remember to refresh your page for the latest updates.
Odds correct at time stated
Follow Sporting Life on social media - find us on Facebook here or tweet @SportingLifeFC
Related football links
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.