A seven-day period that began with a 3-0 victory at Bournemouth for Liverpool ended with a 2-0 home triumph against Nigel Pearson’s stubborn Watford, stretching the side’s lead at the Premier League summit to 11 points.
In between these two games, progression to the Champions League knockout phase was secured at the expense of Red Bull Salzburg, whose attacking dynamo Takumi Minamino will be joining the Merseysiders in January.
News of that £7.25 million deal, which The Independent revealed has been agreed in principle, filtered out on Thursday but was quickly gazumped by Jurgen Klopp and James Milner’s surprise contract extension announcements. And so Liverpool arrived at Anfield for Saturday’s early kick-off top of the table and top of the world.
Pearson, appointed on December 7 as struggling Watford’s third manager this season, turned up with pins in an attempt to pop all the balloons. The visitors were obstructive first-half opponents, swarming the ball, shutting down spaces and being party spoilers supreme.
The league’s bottom club also carved out inviting attacking opportunities, but conspired to miss them in the most baffling of ways.
Either side of Mohamed Salah’s opener, Pearson looked flabbergasted as Abdoulaye Doucoure and then Ismaila Sarr took turns to miskick and mess up Watford’s hopes of hurting the leaders.
Liverpool made no mistake with their first big chance. Roberto Firmino displayed trademark improvisation to flick the ball over his head from an opposition corner, setting off Sadio Mane, who supplied Salah down the inside left.
The forward showed strength to hold off Kiko Femenia, Cruyff-turning away from him and onto his weaker right foot before bending the ball into the far corner. It was another one of those goals that widens the eyes, much like his incredible curler from an impossible angle at Salzburg.
After the interval, Mane saw a header ruled out for offside from Xherdan Shaqiri’s wicked cross. At the other end, Gerard Deulofeu, who delivered an uncomfortable afternoon for Trent Alexander-Arnold, drew a sharp, strong save from Alisson.
The Spaniard hit the post as well and while Liverpool were miles off their irresistible best and close to their worst, with even Virgil van Dijk erring, they recorded a third successive clean sheet for the first time this season.
The week deserved a bit of champagne and it came at the end when Alexander-Arnold and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sliced through Watford with fine passing, releasing Mane who cut the ball back for Divock Origi. The Belgian’s botched shot was going wide before Salah flicked it behind his standing leg, through Christian Kabasele’s and into the back of the net.
The only drawback for Klopp on Saturday was Gini Wijnaldum picking up an injury, adding to a list of absentees that includes Fabinho, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren.
The champions of Europe, on course to be champions of England, are now off to Qatar with the objective of becoming champions of the world.