Liverpool were majestic as they thrashed Watford 5-0 on Wednesday night, remaining one point clear at the top of the Premier League.
Liverpool 5-0 Watford
Premier League, Anfield
February 27, 2019
Goals: Mane 9′, 20′, Origi 66′, Van Dijk 79′, 82′
Mane Shines Down the Middle
Before the game, much of the focus was on Mohamed Salah, who has tortured Watford over the last two seasons, scoring six times.
It was his fellow front-three destroyer Sadio Mane who took home the Best Leading Actor award, however, shining in a surprise central role in a 4-3-3 formation.
The Senegalese was a lively presence from the get-go and he bulleted a header past Ben Foster to ease any nerves inside Anfield.
Mane’s second of the night was outrageous, with a poor first touch swiftly followed by a nonchalant backheel from the penalty spot that found the net.
He could have had a hat-trick were it not for a misplaced Andy Robertson cross, but it was a superb evening nonetheless.
That’s now 14 Premier League goals this season—Mane’s best-ever tally, despite it only being February.
When the 26-year-old is in this kind of mood he is one of the league’s most unpredictably brilliant attacking players.
A word of praise for Divock Origi, too, who put in a shift in Mane’s usual left-sided berth, getting a well-earned goal in the second half.
Trent Magnificent on Return
Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s omission was a shock at Man United on Sunday, even though his lack of fitness was a likely reason for it.
James Milner struggled hugely at right-back and it again highlighted what an influence Alexander-Arnold has become in the last 18 months.
The opening 45 minutes that he produced against Watford was one of the best showings by a Liverpool full-back in recent history, with Anfield treated to a masterclass in crossing.
The young Scouser picked up assists for both of Mane’s goals, with the first a cross that Steven Gerrard would have been proud of.
He offered lung-busting energy, technical quality and defensive calm throughout, making himself a firm Man of the Match contender.
He adds another dimension to the Reds’ play.
Fabinho Monstrous in Midfield
If ever a footballer showed that patience is required at a new club, it’s Fabinho.
A slow start to life at Liverpool saw many quick to dismiss his quality far too soon, but he has roared back to become one of the first names on Jurgen Klopp‘s teamsheet.
The Brazilian enjoyed one of his best performances yet on Wednesday, showcasing everything good about a top-class No. 6.
His use of the ball was crisp and incisive, he won two vital aerial duels and he bit into tackles and covered ground like Javier Mascherano in his prime, making six ball recoveries.
Liverpool have missed an elite player in that defensive midfield slot ever since Mascherano traded Merseyside for Barcelona nine years ago, but Fabinho is the man to finally fill the void.
He looks a special signing and his influence is only going to grow.
The Solid Defence Returns
The draws against Leicester and West Ham felt damaging, and one of the biggest concerns was Liverpool reverting to their former shaky selves at the back.
The rock-solid defence that had defined the first half of the season was nowhere to be seen, with Harry Maguire and Michail Antonio both profiting because of it.
Since the draw at West Ham, however, Liverpool have kept four successive clean sheets.
This team is back to being built on solid foundations, mastering the art of not conceding even when they have a dip in games.
Virgil van Dijk has been predictably key in that respect—he also scored twice to put the icing on the cake against Watford—but Joel Matip has also come into his own and caught the eye again, surely usurping Dejan Lovren.
Alisson deserves a mention, too, with one outstanding save to deny Andre Gray preserving his clean sheet and making it 16 in the Premier League this season.
Pepe Reina holds Liverpool’s record with 20.
Everton Up Next…
The Watford game was seen as a potentially awkward test for Klopp’s men, but they passed with flying colours, producing a scintillating display.
Attention now swiftly turns to Sunday’s Merseyside derby at Everton, with the Blues the latest team desperate to damage Liverpool’s title hopes.
The Reds take a one-point lead to Goodison Park, following Man City‘s unconvincing 1-0 victory over West Ham at the Etihad, and a win there would be significant.
The Watford result should give Liverpool so much confidence ahead of the weekend, proving how much they want this title and why they will fight City right to the wire.
This is an astonishing season they are putting together and a few sloppy recent draws should not cloud that.