Liverpool romped to a convincing 5-0 win over Watford at Vicarage Road with Roberto Firmino netting a hat-trick as the Hornets produced a hapless showing in Claudio Ranieri’s first game in charge.
Sadio Mane opened the scoring with his 100th Premier League goal, calmly finishing first-time into the bottom corner from Mohamed Salah’s lovely ball in behind.
Firmino profited from poor Watford defending to find the net either side of half-time, tapping in from James Milner’s pass after the home defence had been carved open, before pouncing on a loose ball from a badly defended cross.
Salah then scored a sensational solo goal, making a mockery of three defenders’ attempts to win the ball from him before curling emphatically into the far corner, while Firmino struck again in stoppage-time to compound the hosts’ misery.
Watford had survived a scare even before Liverpool led after nine minutes when Salah spun his man on the right and played a superb ball in behind with the outside of his left foot for Mane, who slotted coolly into the bottom-left corner.
Salah nearly got on the scoresheet himself soon after, taking over from Andy Robertson on the edge of the box and curling towards the top-left corner, but Ben Foster made a fantastic save to deny him.
Instead it was Firmino who doubled the Reds’ advantage after 37 minutes, finding an empty net from close range following Milner’s cut-back, and Naby Keita might have hit a third before the break as his shot was deflected onto the crossbar.
Firmino scored again seven minutes into the second half after Foster was unable to hold Craig Cathcart’s misdirected interception, allowing the Liverpool striker to pounce on the loose ball for an easy tap-in.
Salah stole the show in the 54th minute with an incredible individual goal, turning three Watford defenders inside-out before lashing a sweet strike into the bottom-left corner from a tight angle, Firmino getting the assist.
Not to be outdone, however, Firmino popped up in the first minute of added time to turn substitute Neco Williams’ low cross in to complete his hat-trick and round off the scoring.
What does it mean? Rampant Reds go top
The big win for Jurgen Klopp’s men sees the Reds leapfrog Chelsea into pole position in the Premier League table, although the Blues have a game in hand against Brentford to play later on Saturday.
Thomas Tuchel’s men must now win against Brentford in order to reclaim top spot, with Liverpool two points ahead of them in the standings.
Mane joins Premier League 100 club
Mane’s opening goal after just nine minutes was his 100th Premier League goal, making the 29-year-old just the third African player to reach the landmark after Didier Drogba and Salah.
The Senegal winger also becomes just the third player to score 100 or more Premier League goals with none of them being penalties, joining Les Ferdinand (149) and Emile Heskey (110).
Rough return for Ranieri
New Watford manager Ranieri suffered his biggest ever Premier League defeat, while no manager whose first game with a club in the competition came at home has suffered a bigger margin of defeat (also Alan Smith with Crystal Palace v Liverpool in 1994, 6-1).
The Italian came into the contest boasting the highest home win rate against Liverpool in Premier League history (80 per cent), winning four of his five such games against them, losing the other, but was unable to build on that record.
Key Opta Stats: Salah matches Drogba
– Courtesy of his 104th Premier League goal, Salah became the joint-top-scoring African player in the history of the competition (level with Drogba).
– Liverpool are the first English top-flight side in history to score 3+ goals in seven consecutive away games in all competitions.
– Salah has scored in each of his last eight games for Liverpool in all competitions; the longest run of scoring in consecutive appearances for the club since Daniel Sturridge in February 2014 (8).
– Firmino is the first Brazilian to score more than one hat-trick in the Premier League, with the Liverpool attacker also bagging three against Arsenal in December 2018.
Watford’s next contest is a trip to Goodison Park to face Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton next Saturday, while the Reds travel to Spain for a Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday before a huge clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford in eight days.