It was an illusion that lasted no more than 45 minutes, by which time Manchester City had taken the lead from Burnley. Nevertheless, in the battle of mind games that characterize the best duels for the title, there is still a significant moment. Liverpool, briefly, topped the table.
“We won’t be, we won’t be moved,” chanted The Kop and the fact that they were very soon after singing didn’t mean their confidence was overplayed. Momentum is everything in title clashes and Liverpool undoubtedly have it. See you next Sunday and the showdown for the Etihad title between the two leading teams.
In the end, Jurgen Klopp did his clenched fist celebratory thing in front of The Kop, drawing the applause and leading the roars. “It had nothing to do with being top of the league,” Klopp said, flashing his big smile. ‘I did not think about it. But we can’t give an inch. To stay in the title race, we have to win our matches. The next game is important, we can’t hide it.
Liverpool players and supporters celebrate after Fabinho (No 3) helped secure a 2-0 Premier League win over Watford
Fabinho superbly kicked into the top corner past Watford keeper Ben Foster with just a minute remaining
Liverpool have now won ten Premier League games in a row and the result took them above Man City for a few hours
Nobody really dreamed of it in mid-January when Liverpool were 14 points behind City. So they had games in hand but such has been the relentless dominance of Liverpool and Manchester City over the past five years that it was hard to imagine Pep Guardiola’s side could concede such a lead.
This is the era of 100-point normalization, a period in Premier League history when winning ten consecutive Premier League games, as Liverpool have done since the turn of the year, seems almost unremarkable. The city, on the other hand, disintegrated. By which, these days we hear they drew at Southampton and Palace and lost to Tottenham.
Klopp can be temperamental at times, a winner who can crack under pressure. But here he was all smiles and super cool. It exudes calm as the most intense weeks of the season loom. “I really appreciate the situation we find ourselves in,” he said by way of explanation.
Diogo Jota opened the scoring for Liverpool in the 22nd minute after driving home a Joe Gomez cross past Foster
Liverpool players congratulate the striker (second from left) on his header but Liverpool failed to kick in after the goal
MATCH DATA, RATINGS AND LEAGUE TABLE
Liverpool (4-3-3): Becker 7.5; Gomez 8, Matip 6.5, Van Dijk 6.5, Robertson 7; Jones 7 (Fabinho 62, 7), Henderson 7, Thiago 8.5 (Milner 80, 6); Salah 6.5 (Mane 69, 6.5), Firmino 7 Jota 7.5
Unused subtitles: Kelleher, Konate, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Tsimikas, Diaz, Alexander-Arnold
Goals: Jota 22, Fabinho 89 pen
Watford (4-1-4-1): Favor 7; Femenia 7, Kabesele 7, Samir 7, Kamara 7; Sissoko 7.5, Louza 7 (Cleverley 78 6.5), Kucka 6.5; Sarr 7, Pedro 7 (King 78, 6), Cucho 8 (Dennis 78, 6)
Unused Subs: Bachmann, Ngakia, Masina, Sema, Cathcart, Kayembe
Arbitrator: Stuart Atwell 7
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‘I said to the boys on Friday, the first time we’ve all been together, if anyone had told us in the summer that we in early April in the situation we find ourselves in, in all competitions, won a trophy and have a full team available…we would have all taken it. Absoutely.
‘I just feel like that. It’s not like I’m pretending to be in the mood. I can’t change it. Hopefully the boys will see it the same way. It’s not dealing with the situation or the pressure. If they see the situation as pressure, I’m not sure I can change that. If they see this as an opportunity, this is the right way to do it. We have created a base that we could use but no one knows. The only better situation would be if we were 20 points ahead of City, but that’s not possible and that’s why everything is fine the way it is. As I said before, we are not favorites in any of the competitions we participate in, but who cares? We will try.’
It wasn’t particularly convincing. It was mostly about feeling the result, not to mention the performance. “There’s no doubt about it,” Klopp agreed. “I didn’t expect for a second that we were flying today.” It was sometimes messy. Liverpool needed luck and Alisson Becker at his best. Juraj Kucka will reverse his chance in the 19th minute, just a minute before the Liverpool winner, and wince. Sure, Alisson was wonderful, spreading out to parry the shot, but clean on goal, Kucka really shouldn’t have given him the chance to be a hero.
Joe Gomez entered the Liverpool squad at right-back and impressed as he took on the challenge from Watford’s Hassane Kamara.
Juraj Kucka squandered a great chance to fire Watford ahead just 34 seconds before Jota’s first goal for Liverpool
Despite the comfortable 2-0 result, Jurgen Klopp’s side appeared to be working towards victory over struggling Watford
Likewise, Joao Pedro will regret that when he suffered a perfect cut from Ismaila Sarr, who himself had been released by the excellent Cucho Hernandez, he got his body shape wrong and shot wide when he had a clear opportunity to score. Watford did not look like relegation fodder. And to be honest, Liverpool didn’t look like the best team in Europe.
Indeed, it was only when Kucka rugby tackled Diogo Jota from a corner, to concede the most pointless penalty imaginable given the theft of the ball was never going to reach the Portuguese, and Fabinho converted the penalty in full. confidence in the 89th minute, that Liverpool looked really safe.
The international week, with all its ups and downs, has taken its toll. Here’s Mo Salah, dejected midweek after missing a penalty that meant Egypt weren’t at the World Cup, replaced by Sadio Mane, whose own penalty in the same game ensured Senegal would make it. The 12:30 kick-off doesn’t help. The Kop attempted to respond to Jurgen Klopp’s urging to make some noise, but it looked flat.
In a quiet game, Mohamed Salah headed over the crossbar for the Reds after returning from international duty
Salah struggled to show his best form as he was substituted in the second half by compatriot Sadio Mane.
And Watford were good. Cucho’s header at the near post in the 13th minute was a harbinger of a tense afternoon. Kucka’s luck, which came from a superb ball from Pedro, which caught the Liverpool defense completely square
And then Liverpool kicked into high gear for a while, Henderson finding Joe Gomez, replacing Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back. The cross he produced in the 20th minute was worthy of Alexander-Arnold, a superb strike straight to the head of the leaping Jota. Indeed, Gomez continued much the same for the early afternoon, excellent in his role.
Otherwise Thiago was bossy, Virgil Van Dijk solid but Watford were a lingering thorn in the side as Liverpool worked on both. And yet they won. Sometimes you go over the limit, move on to the next game and don’t think too much about performance quality. It was one of those days. And sometimes, when the title is in your hands and the champagne is flowing, you think these are the most important days of all.
Klopp hails the Egyptian star as he leaves the pitch on an afternoon when he had very little impact in front of goal
With his team temporarily top of the table, Klopp sportingly hugs Watford boss Roy Hodgson after the game.
RELIVE ALL THE ACTION AS IT HAPPENED FROM A FIELD…
Here is Sportsmail’s live blog for updates on the Premier League clash between Liverpool and Watford.