Salah’s genius proves too much for Ranieri as Liverpool start riot
Watford 0, Liverpool 5
Audio Ranieri may be highly regarded for his unwavering optimism, but even he will fail to draw any positive conclusions from the carcass of this miserable return to English football. The Italian was a helpless spectator as he watched his new Watford side ruthlessly and resoundingly ravaged by Liverpool yesterday at Vicarage Road, and the final score of 5-0 was, to say the least, lenient.
There may be few sweeping conclusions in these early stages of Ranieri’s tenure, but there shouldn’t be any pretension either. It was a desperate display from Watford, who was dominated throughout and booed at halftime. Not so much a new managerial rebound, it was an afternoon that rather probed the depths of the bottom.
Credit for this, however, must also be given to Liverpool, who remain undefeated and now occupy the top of the table. Roberto Firmino achieved his hat-trick in stoppage time but it is, once again, the genius of Mohamed Salah who claimed the limelight. His goal – Liverpool’s fourth – was of the best caliber, perhaps even bigger than his previous against Manchester City, and left a trail of limbs strewn in his way.
In the midst of such a miserable spectacle, it was easy to forget the sense of hope that had manifested itself before kick-off. The guillotine had fallen quickly and without guilt on Xisco Munoz, but all grief was quickly exorcised in the international truce. Supporters in those regions are now intimately familiar with the ruthless cycle and met Ranieri with a raging standing ovation. A few days before his 70th birthday, any semblance of celebration was short-lived. Despite arriving with an exhausted squad, with Alisson, Fabinho and Curtis Jones all unavailable, Liverpool’s vast superiority was immediately evident.
Ranieri’s traditional tinkering saw Watford move to a back five, with Danny Rose playing as left center-back. It was an adjustment forced in part by injury and meant to help quell Salah’s slippery movement, but was quickly exposed as the trigger for Watford’s self-destruction. Rose was not so much a slaughter lamb as a ghost brought back to life, and Salah was the master of the session. Twice in the span of five minutes he slipped behind with disconcerting ease and Watford ignored the warnings. Moments later, an effortless shimmy from the shoulders sold Rose up the river, Salah played an accurate ball with the outside of his boot and Sadio Mane scored his 100th Premier League goal.
There was to be no slowing down of the assault. Salah danced at his own pace, the defenders struggling helplessly at his feet, but in reality the Egyptian’s showboating was hardly necessary to open such a fragile defense. Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold made precise passes from the depths which constantly wreaked havoc and the only surprise was that the lead was not stretched sooner. Ben Foster’s fingertip stop deprived Salah of a second and a rare errant touch from the winger spoiled another clear view of the goal.
Ismaila Sarr had tormented Jurgen Klopp’s side so dramatically 18 months ago, but was isolated and frustrated as a center forward, and it is no exaggeration to claim that Watford could hardly chain a pass. The second goal was only a matter of time and was sure to be straightforward. Naby Keita, who excelled in replacing Curtis Jones in midfield, created space for James Milner on the straddle and, given all the space in the world to stretch his 35-year-old legs, duly found Roberto Firmino for the most. tap-ins routine. .
Without a great blocker deflecting Keita’s hoarse shot off the crossbar, it would have been three before the boos sounded at half-time. Even at these nascent stages, it is difficult to say that they were unwarranted. In total, Watford had only managed 17 percent possession, made just 45 passes, and failed to muster a single shot.
Ranieri tinkered with half-time, calling in Tom Cleverley to fortify the midfielder, but there was little he could do to stem the fray. Salah remained unstoppable, cutting inside on his left foot and forcing a brilliant save from Foster. Shortly after, the dam was opened wide again. It wasn’t another moment of unhappy defense, either. Salah was offside as he attempted to run on Andrew Robertton’s deep ball, but Craig Cathcart’s interception redirected the ball to the bottom corner with the kind of precision an attacker might envy. Foster managed to get his hands on the ball, but Firmino gracefully waited to slip into the empty net.
But while such a miserable afternoon for Ranieri will invite scrutiny, it is the exquisiteness of Salah that this game will be remembered best for. His goal – Liverpool’s fourth – was a feat of genius few players in the world can match and will add even more credibility to those who claim he is, right now, the best of all. He picked up the loose ball on the edge of the box, was immediately surrounded by three yellow shirts and tiptoed between them with a choppy shine, each stutter unbalancing the defense. The moment he cut his left foot one last time and coiled the ball into the far corner, even Watford supporters were silenced in awe.
Watford at least showed pride in fighting in the finals and almost even grabbed some consolation, but that wouldn’t have disguised the harsh reality. Instead, it was Firmino who took advantage of Neco Williams’ meteoric run to seal his hat-trick and doom Watford to a worse fate.
What was meant to be a brilliant start may have ended under the sun as the rain cleared, but it left Watford’s new era with nothing to savor.