Liverpool hitman scores four to take season’s tally to 36
Never mind drawing Manchester City in the quarter-final, driven by a masterclass in finishing from Mohamed Salah, Liverpool took a huge step towards ensuring they play in the Champions League next season, moving seven points clear of Chelsea in fifth place.
And in the process, scoring four magnificent goals (as well as setting up the fifth), Salah took himself ahead of Harry Kane at the top of the Premier League goal charts with a tally of 28.
“That was quite exceptional,” said the Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp of his free-scoring forward’s performance. “A very impressive man, coping with the difficult conditions. Everybody suffered in that situation, but not Mo.”
It is hard to imagine, after this brutal dismantling, that the two sides had shared the spoils in a 3-3 draw at Vicarage Road back in August.
“I love how we have developed since then,” Klopp wrote in his programme notes. And no one has developed like Salah. From the man Jose Mourinho casually discarded at Chelsea into a Premier League goal machine, his progress in eight months on Merseyside has been extraordinary. He now has 36 goals in all competitions.
Within barely three minutes here he had netted. Georginio Wijnaldum, returning to the side after the defeat at Old Trafford, sent him forward with a fine through ball. Salah took it in his stride, dummied, left Miguel Britos on his backside, then pushed his shot beyond Orestis Karnezis.
A couple of minutes later, Jordan Henderson, gloveless in short sleeves to show his disdain for the withering chill swirling around Anfield, delivered a slide-rule pass that almost put Salah away again. By now, every time the ball found the Egyptian, a noise very like a purr would rise from the frozen stands. And no wonder. Everything he did was freighted with threat.
Midway through the first half he found Roberto Firmino with a crossfield pass. The Brazilian’s beautiful drag-back foxed poor old Britos again. Taking a step inside, Firmino fired a fizzing shot. However, Karnezis palmed it over. Then, with the half-time whistle looming, Andy Robertson swept over the most delightful of crosses to the far post. Salah, never one to turn down an invitation, accelerated ahead of everyone else to side-foot home.
The second half had barely started before the Egyptian was at it again. Haring down the right wing, he again embarrassed Britos, before swishing over a left-foot cross which Firmino converted with the most flamboyant of back heels. Joe Gomez then found Firmino with another belter of a cross, but
this one he could not convert. The beleaguered Watford manager Javi Gracia attempted to stem the flow by bringing on Will Hughes to replace the ineffective Richarlison and swapping Troy Deeney, whose cojones appeared to have dropped off in the freeze, with Stefano Okaka. But, apart from the busy Roberto Pereyra hitting the bar with a fine free-kick, his team had nothing to offer.
Besides, it mattered little what Gracia did: Liverpool were by now rampant.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, given the chance when he came on to replace Wijnaldum midway through the second half to redeem himself after his sub-standard showing at Old Trafford, warmed Karnezis’s gloves with a longrange shot. Even fellow substitute Danny Ings had a crisp effort which the keeper beat away.
The game, though, belonged to Salah. And, after 77 minutes, he showed his colleagues how to finish.
Picking up the ball on the edge of the area, jinking and feinting and dipping his shoulder, switching the ball from right foot to left as he drifted through the Watford ranks, he somehow slipped a shot past five yellow-shirted defenders into the far corner of the goal. It marked the most delightful of hat-tricks.
And even when he tried to set up Ings for a goal, Salah was obliged to smash home the rebound when Karzenis parried the striker’s shot.
The first Liverpool player to score four in a match since Luis Suarez, the Egyptian is fast closing in on Ian Rush’s long-standing record as the last Anfield man to net 40 goals in a season. That is what you call development.
Liverpool (4-3-3) Karius 6; Gomez 6, Van Dijk 6, Matip 6, Robertson 7; Henderson 7, Can 5 (Milner 27), Wijnaldum 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 70); Salah 9, Firminho 8 (Ings 78), Mane 8. Subs Mignolet (g), Klavan, Moreno, Alexander-Arnold. Booked Gomez. Watford (4-2-3-1) Karenzis 7; Holebas 5, Prodl 5, Mariappa 5, Britos 4; Capoue 6, Doucoure 5; Femenia 5, Richarlison 4 (Hughes 64), Pereyra 6; Deeney 5 (Okaka 70). Subs Gomes (g), Cathcart, Carrillo, Gray. Referee Anthony Taylor (Manchester).
Magnificent: Mohamed Salah
celebrates the first of his four goals against Watford at Anfield