Belfast Telegraph

Imperious Liverpool back on summit as Hornets hit for six

Liverpool 6 Watford 1

By Simon Hart

Prior to this stunning dismantling of Watford, Liverpool had not sat top of the Premier League since May 7, 2014.

That was the morning after their Luis Suárez-inspired title challenge had received its final, fatal dent as they lost a three-goal lead in a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace. By the end of the day, Manchester City had moved two points clear.

Anfield has witnessed so much change since then, but it seems fair to suggest a fresh title challenge is now on the horizon. After all, the style with which Jurgen Klopp's side picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Chelsea - 5-0 winners over Everton on Saturday night - and grabbed the opportunity to climb above the Londoners at the summit by scoring six was a stunning statement.

In the end the Merseysiders finished with five names on the scoresheet - Sadio Mané (twice), Philippe Coutinho, Emre Can, Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum all finding the net - and the biggest win of Jurgen Klopp's reign.

On an afternoon when they managed 17 shots on target, as well as two Daniel Sturridge strikes that clattered the woodwork, it would have not been an injustice had they scored 10 - the only blot on this outstanding performance was Daryl Janmaat's 75th-minute goal for the visitors.

The consequence of it all was that Klopp's men moved on to 26 points, a point clear of Chelsea - and encouragingly for those dreaming of Anfield's first championship since 1990, three points better off than at this stage of their near-miss campaign under Brendan Rodgers.

Even before the goal rush began they had been peppering the Hornets' goal. Firmino volleyed an early Lallana cross straight at Heurelho Gomes and Lucas Leiva failed to squeeze a shot past the goalkeeper following a Coutinho corner.

"The strange thing is we had the biggest chances before we started scoring," said Klopp. "We were really concentrated in the first half, it was really good."

The breakthrough came after 27 minutes, from a short corner routine after Gomes had saved at James Milner's feet. This Liverpool team might not yet have a star to match Suárez, but Coutinho is getting there and it was his inswinging ball that Mané glanced home.

The second goal showcased the incisiveness of the hosts' play. Mané's flick was picked up by Lallana before Firmino sped the ball on to Coutinho who, from the arc of the area, drilled the ball beneath the diving Gomes. That would be the last involvement from Gomes, who hobbled off with a damaged right knee moments later.

Within 10 minutes Gomes' replacement, Costel Pantilimon, was picking the ball out of the net after Emre Can headed the third goal from Lallana's cross.

Firmino was unmarked in front of goal to tap in the fourth goal from Lallana's cutback after 57 minutes and the defending was no better when Firmino crossed for Mané to slot in the fifth.

Mazzari admitted the absence of defenders Sebastien Prodl and Craig Cathcart had not helped Watford, but added: "Liverpool impressed me a lot. I knew they were strong tactically but today their running and pressing was incredibly good."

As Liverpool finally slowed down, Watford belatedly came to life, with Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius called into action to save well from both Etienne Capoue and Troy Deeney. Janmaat did beat him with a low strike from 15 yards but soon Liverpool were pouring forward again.

Substitute Sturridge struck the woodwork twice before Wijnaldum got his first goal for the club by slotting in the rebound after Pantilimon had parried yet another Sturridge effort.

• Steven Gerrard's playing career could be over after the LA Galaxy's MLS Cup hopes were ended by the Colorado Rapids.

Gerrard scored in the penalty shoot-out which decided the match after the tie finished 1-1 on aggregate, but his was the only successful Galaxy spot-kick and the Rapids won it 3-1.

The loss ends the Galaxy's season, and with Gerrard's contract due to expire in December - and with little suggestion of an extension - the 36-year-old could be set for retirement.

LIVERPOOL: Karius, Clyne, Lucas, Matip, Milner, Henderson, Can, Lallana (Sturridge, 70 mins), Mane (Wijnaldum, 63mins), Firmino, Coutinho (Ejaria, 86 mins). Unused subs: Mignolet, Klavan, Moreno, Origi,

WATFORD: Gomes (Pantilimon, 33 mins), Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Amrabat, Behrami (Watson, 60 mins), Capoue, Pereyra, Capoue, Holebas, Igalho, Deeney. Unused subs: Mariappa, Guedioura, Zuniga, Sinclair, Kabasele

Referee: Michael Oliver

Man of the match: Philippe Coutinho

Match rating: 8/10

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