Magnificent Mane takes centre stage as league leaders Liverpool put on a five-star show

Sadio Mane Liverpool 2018-19
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Roberto Firmino may have been missing but the Reds rediscovered their goalscoring touch in a thumping 5-0 win over Watford at Anfield

Nerves? What nerves?

If Liverpool are feeling the pressure of leading the Premier League as Spring looms into view, it didn’t show here.

Underwhelming at Old Trafford on Sunday, Jurgen Klopp’s side were inspired at Anfield three days later. If a reaction was required, Klopp got precisely the one he craved. "It was exactly the game we wanted," the Reds boss admitted afterwards.

Watford, who arrived as a team in form, were simply swept away as Liverpool, to the delight of their supporters, rediscovered the attacking spark which makes them one of the most dangerous sides around.

“A pure opportunity,” Klopp had called this on Tuesday, urging his players to “use it on the front foot” if they could.

They could. Gone was the lethargy, sloppiness and indecision which had infected their performance against Manchester United. Instead, we got the archetypal Klopp team; energetic, forward-thinking, deadly.

They looked, dare we say, like a team with the title in their sights, one which believes it can win it. Their dominance was total, their 5-0 victory could have been even more convincing.

Ben Foster, the Watford goalkeeper, summed it up as he walked through the Anfield mixed zone. "That," he grimaced, "was no fun at all!"

The transformation from last weekend was remarkable, and nowhere was it more evident than in the performance of Liverpool's No.10.

Sadio Mane had been abject on Sunday, but he came to the party in a big way here. Pressed into action as a central striker in the absence of Roberto Firmino, the Senegalese star delivered for his manager, who got all of his big selection calls spot on. This was a good night for the manager, as well as his players.

Mane's two first-half goals - both wonderfully taken, one with his head and one with a sublime backheel - settled any residual nerves among the home fans. His performance – aggressive, confident, direct – was that of a man with a point to prove.

Prove it he did. He has six goals in his last seven appearances now, Mane, and 15 for the season. With 14 league strikes, this is now his most productive Premier League scoring campaign, and it isn't finished yet.

Anfield was appreciative of his efforts. The standing ovation he got when replaced late on by Adam Lallana was richly deserved.

Sadio Mane Liverpool Watford

He was ably assisted though. Trent Alexander-Arnold, restored at right-back, produced his best performance of the season. The England man provided two pin-point assists for Mane’s goals, another for Virgil van Dijk’s first, and defended like a veteran throughout. Having scored in the reverse fixture back in November, the 20-year-old clearly enjoys playing against Watford.

Everyone did here, to be fair. Divock Origi, given his first league start since December, repaid Klopp’s faith with a second-half goal. The Belgian’s work on the left wing should not go unnoticed when analysing his side’s victory. He did everything that was asked of him.

So too did Fabinho, whose muscle and poise in midfield enabled Liverpool to dominate, and James Milner, who looked more at home as a scuttling No.8 than he ever will as a full-back. Milner, captain for the night, drove Liverpool forward in the first half particularly.

Mohamed Salah, meanwhile, should not be allowed within 50 feet of Adam Masina in future, such was the way in which he tormented the shell-shocked Watford full-back,

Masina was barely that close to Salah here, to be fair. The mismatch was horrific. The Egyptian couldn’t decorate his performance with a goal of his own, but he was back on song, no doubt. He hit the post, he dribbled and he ran and he terrorised his marker. His work rate was faultless.

Van Dijk provided the crowning glory with a pair of headers buried emphatically at the Kop End. It added a deserved gloss to the scoreline, and chopped Manchester City’s goal difference advantage to six in the process. Come May, such details may count for everything.

For now, though, this was a night simply to savour for Liverpudlians, who can park their doubts and their fears and their worries for a few days at least.

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Before kick-off here, the sound of Nirvana could be heard wafting across Anfield.

“Here we are now, entertain us.”

Job done, you'd say!