For sure Watford aren’t about to argue
Saturday 16th October, Vicarage Road
Watford 0-5 Liverpool
(Mane 8, Firmino 37, 52, 90, Salah 54)
Claudio Ranieri’s latest Premier League job began with the fieriest of baptisms, as his Watford side faced a Liverpool team hungry for a twentieth title. Watford were the first team to beat Liverpool in their runaway title-win season two years ago, and so the Reds may have had revenge in mind. Sure enough, Liverpool gave Watford such a humiliating lesson in technique, discipline, movement and work-rate that Ranieri looked shell-shocked at full-time.
There is a growing conversation around the Premier League as to whether Mohammed Salah is the best footballer in the world. The answer increasingly appears to be yes. The confidence flowing through the Egyptian International star is bringing out pure skill in his feet that is almost too fast and smooth for the eye to follow. And while Roberto Firmino deserves praise for his first hat-trick in three years, all his goals were tap-ins – he could hardly miss – and there was no doubt that Salah was the star of the show.
Salah set up an opener for Sadio Mane – his 100th in the EPL – with one of the finest through-passes of the season, with the outside of his ‘weaker’ foot. He was then denied twice in quick succession by the excellent Ben Foster in the Watford goal, before a textbook interchange between Mane and James Milner set up Firmino for his first. Naby Keita struck a beauty against the Watford bar. After half-time, Salah’s high-pace off-the-ball movement then created a wonderful through-ball from Milner to generate Firmino’s second – albeit Salah himself should have been penalised for off-side.
Then just two minutes later came the Salah magic that would have had the Great Houdini boggling, “How did he do that?!” Surrounded by five players near the right corner of the D, Salah sidestepped the ball away from one, then rolled it under his foot to cause the second to overstep past him. Then he made a diagonal move to pull clear of the third towards the corner of the six-yard box. The third defender creditably tried to chase Salah down, diving desperately to block his shooting angle, only to be completely bamboozled by a sudden turn-and-step-inside reminiscent of Johan Cruyff. From there, Salah curled the ball around Foster into the far corner for a goal that had everyone in the stadium, home fans, away fans, coaches, team-mates and opponents, completely agog at the Egyptian King’s sorcery.
Mane and Firmino both missed sitters to make it five, and there was an excellent save-onto-the-post from Ibrahima Sarr by backup goalkeeper Caomin Kelleher, for Watford’s only serious attempt of the match. Then Neco Williams, on as substitute for Trent Alexander-Arnold, burst past the hapless Danny Rose (having a real nightmare of a match) down the right as the game entered injury time. Williams coolly passed the ball across the face of goal for another easy tap-in for Firmino.
For Ranieri, much to dwell on. For Firmino, the match-ball, for Salah man-of-the-match, and possibly man-of-all-football.
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