What do they say: cometh the hour, cometh the man?
He’s scored better goals, Mohamed Salah. On bigger stages and in better performances, too.
For Liverpool, though, the Egyptian’s latest strike was a priceless one. It opened a door that had looked set to remain locked; it gave his side a platform from which to record yet another Premier League victory. It keeps the Reds on the heels of Manchester City at the top of the table.
Watford away was a tricky way to start, in Jurgen Klopp’s words, “the most intense period of the season” but Liverpool got the job done here. Again.
Salah’s strike, midway through the second half, was added to by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s sublime free-kick soon after and by Roberto Firmino’s late header – his first league goal in more than two months. Not even a late red card for Jordan Henderson could take the shine off a more than decent victory on the road.
In the end, it was comfortable, even if for large periods it felt anything but. The Liverpool machine keeps on rolling. If they were average in the first half here, they were ruthless after the break. They ground their opponents down, and punished them like proper teams do.
What must they make of Klopp’s men over at the Etihad, one wonders? As Pep Guardiola’s City run through their obstacles with ease, routing West Ham 4-0 at the London Stadium on Saturday, Liverpool stutter and get their feet caught and yet still find a way to drag themselves over the line, week after week. Their only dropped points this season have come against City, and away to Arsenal and Chelsea. Thirteen games, 10 wins, 33 points. It's been a terrific start for the boys from Anfield.
And so the gap at the top remains just two points, between a side playing extra-terrestrial football and one still searching for its best. Go figure!
The records continue to tumble. This is officially the best ever start, defensively, that Liverpool have made to a league season. A backline which has conceded just five goals from 13 games will always give them a chance to win when below their best.
Here, we got the perfect example. Watford battled and grafted, but they were hardly given a sniff by Virgil van Dijk & Co. Alisson Becker made one save, from Gerard Deulofeu, but was otherwise redundant. He could have nipped out and done his Christmas shopping after the break.
It meant the visitors could wait, bide their time until something clicked at the other end. It usually does, and it did again.
Sure, it took 67 minutes but it was worth the wait; Firmino in to Mane, back for Salah, 1-0. Ben Foster had denied them before that, he was Watford’s best player, but he could do nothing this time.
Suddenly, Liverpool’s ‘one-season wonder’ has nine goals for the campaign. Salah’s shift from a right-sided forward to a more central striker has been notable in recent weeks, but it has coincided with a return to something like full sharpness. Here, he was lively even when his team were not, and his ability to provide decisive contributions at key moments make him indispensable. The celebrations in front of the away end were memorable.
There were other welcome sights, Alexander-Arnold curling home a beauty from 25 yards after Firmino had been fouled - what a fortnight the 20-year-old has had, eh? - while Firmino himself rounded off the scoring in the final minute. It was the Brazilian’s first goal in eight Premier League games, and reward for a sublime second-half display from the Reds’ No.9. When he plays well, how much better do Klopp’s team look?
Henderson’s dismissal, for a second yellow card eight minutes from time, was the only black mark on the day. The captain will miss next weekend’s Merseyside derby with Everton as a result, but at least Liverpool have midfield options to compensate. James Milner and Fabinho got a few minutes off the bench here, while Naby Keita was not used at all. Klopp had no complaints about referee Jon Moss' decision, though Watford were livid that the officials failed to award a penalty when Will Hughes tumbled under Andy Robertson's challenge in the area with the game goalless. A little bit of luck for Liverpool, perhaps, althouigh contact appeared minimal.
Elsewhere, midfield remains a slight source of concern dfor Klopp, with Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum lacking a creative spark, especially during a soporific first-half.
Their manager had gone for the 4-2-3-1 formation usually reserved for home games, with Xherdan Shaqiri supplementing his vaunted front three, but it took 40 minutes for his team to muster a shot of any description. The opening exchanges were as dull as the Hertfordshire sky.
All that is forgotten, of course, when the result goes your way. Results have gone Liverpool’s way more often than not this season. This was up there with their best, given the way the afternoon panned out.
And so they roll on. To Paris next, and to the derby after that. Big games, big tests, big occasions.
Ready? Liverpool are. They may not be flying, but they’re making a race of it. While City storm, don’t take your eye off the men in Red.
By hook or by crook, they just keep on taking care of business.