Liverpool moved 11 points clear for the time being at the top of the Premier League thanks to Mohamed Salah’s double, but had some wasteful finishing from bottom-of-the-table Watford to thank for a 2-0 victory at Anfield.
The Hornets remain six points adrift of safety, but will wonder how they headed home empty-handed after enjoying the vast majority of the chances against the European champions.
Salah produced the two moments of real quality from Jurgen Klopp’s men by finishing off from a rapid counter-attack from a Watford corner to open the scoring before flicking home a second a minute from time.
Nigel Pearson was taking charge of Watford for the first time and the impetus of a new manager showed with the 40-point difference between the sides at opposite ends of the table not in evidence in their performances.
However, the big difference was obvious in both boxes as the league’s lowest scorers passed up a host of huge opportunities, whilst Salah was deadly.
Only Watford’s profligacy allowed Liverpool to keep a first clean sheet at Anfield all season as Troy Deeney just failed to reach a teasing cross across the face of goal before Will Hughes dragged a shot just side.
Abdoulaye Doucoure then completely miscued with the goal at his mercy from Etienne Capoue’s clever cut-back with what incredibly was only the second most embarrassing mishit of the half from Watford.
After so many missed chances, the visitors were made to pay by the ruthless runaway leaders as 15 seconds after a Watford corner, the ball was in their net.
All three of Liverpool’s attacking trident were involved as Roberto Firmino’s pass over his head freed Sadio Mane down the left and he fed Salah to cut inside on his weaker right foot to bend the ball brilliantly into the far corner.
Watford should still have been level before the break when Ismaila Sarr somehow also failed to connect with Alisson Becker grounded after parrying Gerard Deulofeu’s cross.
Sarr was wasteful again at the start to the second half as he blasted straight at Alisson with Deeney pleading for a cross.
Liverpool’s extra quality in the final third was in evidence once more when Mane headed in from Xherdan Shaqiri’s cross, but the Senegalese’s celebrations were cut short when the goal was ruled out by a VAR for the most marginal of offside calls.
That handed Pearson’s men a lifeline, but again they failed to take their chance to capitalise when Deulofeu broke clean through on goal only for Alisson to save once more.
This was Liverpool’s seventh game in a run of 15 matches in 50 days across five competitions and the strain on Jurgen Klopp’s squad was not only shown in a jaded display but another injury blow.
Georginio Wijnaldum limped off on the hour mark and could now be a doubt for the Reds’ attempt to win the Club World Cup in Qatar later this week.
However, Liverpool will travel to the Middle East in buoyant mood even if Leicester manage to cut their double-digit lead back to eight points when the Foxes host Norwich later on Saturday.
Salah made sure of the points late on with an imaginative finish to turn home Divock Origi’s mishit shot.