Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp hailed his side’s resilience to keep winning during a draining December schedule as Mohamed Salah’s double beat bottom-of-the-table Watford 2-0 at Anfield to open up an 11-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
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 Klopp’s men by finishing off a rapid counter-attack from a Watford corner to open the scoring before flicking home a second a minute from time.
“It’s true, it was not the prettiest game, but I am more than happy with that,” said Klopp. “At this stage you have to show resilience and I believe we did that today.”
Liverpool are now seven games into a run of 15 matches in 50 days across five competitions and the strain on Klopp’s squad was obvious in a jaded display.
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.
“We created some excellent chances and unfortunately today we could not make the most of them,” said Pearson.
“That performance, as an identity moving forward, I think will serve us very well indeed because we’ve got a huge fight on our hands.”
Only Watford’s profligacy allowed Liverpool to keep a first clean sheet at Anfield.
Abdoulaye Doucoure missed the first golden chance when 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.
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. He fed Salah who 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 review 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.
“Ali was there and that is why we have 11 players not only 10,” added Klopp.
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.