Injuries now the only threat to Liverpool's title charge as Wijnaldum limps off in Watford win

Georginio Wijnaldum Liverpool 2019-20
Getty Images
Mohamed Salah's brace secured a home victory over the Hornets but the Premier League leaders lost another key player to injury

Jurgen Klopp’s face at the end said it all.

Delight, yes, but also relief. And maybe a little concern too. 

This was an afternoon to endure, not enjoy. Liverpool maintained their lead at the top of the Premier League but they made heavy weather against bottom club Watford. At times in the second half at Anfield, it looked like they were about to drop points for only the second time this season.

They didn’t, of course. Two marvellous Mo Salah finishes, one in each half, ensured the Reds march on. At the other end a resolute defensive display, led by the brilliant Alisson Becker and the impressive Joe Gomez, secured a third clean sheet in a row. 

Good news, for sure. But the joy of another victory, their 16th from 17 league games this season, was tempered by the sight of yet another player succumbing to injury.

Gini Wijnaldum was the victim this time, the Dutchman limping off early in the second half with an apparent hamstring injury. At a time when Liverpool are already missing Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and Fabinho, and when fixtures come quicker than a Salah sprint, they can ill-afford another problem.

"It's a muscle problem," Klopp confirmed afterwards. "He could probably fly to Qatar, but my problem is I don't know what injury it is. Tomorrow we will know more."

Klopp had, as expected, rested and rotated for the visit of Nigel Pearson’s men. Andy Robertson was on the bench, as was Naby Keita. Xherdan Shaqiri started and James Milner, fresh from signing a new two-year contract, was at left-back.

Liverpool lacked fluency, though. Watford, in Pearson’s first game as manager, defended deep and wasted time, as well as two gilt-edged chances which were inexplicably shanked by Abdoulaye Doucoure and Ismaila Sarr.

Anfield, generally, was sleepy and at times narky. Liverpool were sloppy with their passes and offered little encouragement until they sprung into life seven minutes before half-time.

Jurgen Klopp Liverpool vs Watford 2019-20

It was a lightning counterattack, Will Hughes’ loose header seized upon by Roberto Firmino, who sent Sadio Mane away down the left. Mane’s pass for Salah was early, and the Egyptian did the rest. His finish, bent into Ben Foster’s top-left corner, was sublime.

Mane might have settled nerves with a second early in the second period, only for VAR to find him offside by the width of a fingernail. One day they’ll find a way to make technology work in such instances, but for now the process is both flawed and frustrating, whatever your allegiance.

As it was, Wijnaldum went off and Robertson came on, but Liverpool needed Alisson to be at his best to deny first Sarr and then Gerard Deulofeu as Watford pressed.

Mohamed Salah Liverpool Watford 141219

Eventually the nerves were settled by Salah, reacting brilliantly to divert substitute Divock Origi’s mis-hit shot home in the final minute. That’s four in three now for him, he’s finding his scoring touch at exactly the right time.

Article continues below

And so Liverpool head off to Qatar, where they will seek to become Club World Champions for the first time in their history. 

A big ambition, but just as important for Klopp, perhaps, is that they return with no new fitness problems. 

Because right now if anything is to get between Liverpool and that coveted league title, it won’t be Leicester or Manchester City or VAR, it’ll be injuries and fatigue.