A master-class from Mo Salah – surely the Premier League’s Player of the Season in waiting – froze Watford out as Liverpool ran riot in snowy conditions on Merseyside.
Salah struck no fewer than four times during a game which the hosts dominated from start to finish, Roberto Firmino netting the other goal as the Hornets fell to a third consecutive away defeat on the spin.
Meanwhile, Liverpool remain unbeaten at home in 2017/18 and are up to third in the Premier League standings.
Javi Gracia spoke during the week of the importance of not handing their opponents any unnecessary headstarts – as they did at Arsenal a week ago – but they were undone within just a matter of minutes as Salah showed he, and Liverpool, were dead-set on bouncing straight back from last weekend’s defeat to Manchester United.
Only four teams have managed a clean sheet in the league against Liverpool this season, and the Hornets weren’t about to become the fifth.
Some trademark Salah trickery wrong-footed Miguel Britos – making his first start since Newcastle away in November – and the Egyptian fired low and underneath Orestis Karnezis from close-range.
A tough task was, all of a sudden, looking even more difficult for Gracia’s men, and at times during the opening 30 or so minutes it resembled something of a training session for Liverpool, dominant in possession but without creating any further chances of note.
Roberto Pereyra looked Watford’s most likely creator, skipping past Sadio Mané with one clever chop-back nutmeg on one occasion, and then carving out the Hornets’ best chance of the half on another with a deep cross from the right. Richarlison stepped back off his marker, Joe Gomez, and sent a header goalwards, only for Loris Karius to save.
Watford were enjoying their best spell so far as the half wore on, although from one such foray upfield Liverpool broke away with alarming pace, Salah picking out Firmino, who saw a shot palmed over by Karnezis.
Jürgen Klopp’s men were to add a second just before the break though. Andy Robertson whipped over an inch-perfect cross from a deep position on the left and Salah broke free of his marker to convert at the back post with 43 minutes gone.
If they were to find any way back into this game, you suspected Watford would need a positive start to second-half proceedings. Instead, they found themselves 3-0 down and it was surely game over on Merseyside.
A constant menace down Liverpool’s right-hand side, Salah got to the byline and centred for Firmino, who reached the near post first and sent a delicate flick past Karnezis to extend the Reds’ lead on 49 minutes.
The Hornets’ response was encouraging, if ultimately fruitless, as José Holebas sent a 25-yard effort with his weaker right-foot marginally wide, then moments later Pereyra’s clever free-kick from the left side of the box clipped the cross-bar.
Seeking a glimmer of hope, Gracia sent on Will Hughes and then Stefano Okaka midway through the half, Richarlison and Troy Deeney withdrawn, but there was to be no way back for the Golden Boys.
Rather, it was the hosts who added to their tally with a first Liverpool hat-trick for that man Salah, who expertly took Abdoulaye Doucouré, Sebastian Prödl and Adrian Mariappa out of the equation with just one clever touch of the ball, before slotting home in front of the Kop with 77 minutes played.
There was more to come. Karnezis could only parry substitute Danny Ings’ drive and the ball fell kindly for Salah, who followed up with an instinctive blast into the net, with only Mariappa between him and the otherwise open target.
And that was that at Anfield. A well-beaten Watford side must now turn their attentions to important back-to-back home games against Bournemouth (Sat Mar 31) and Burnley (Sat Apr 7).
HORNETS | Karnezis (GK); Femenía, Mariappa, Prödl, Britos (Janmaat, 81), Holebas; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Richarlison (Hughes, 65); Deeney (C) (Okaka, 70).
Subs not used | Gomes (GK), Cathcart, Carrillo, Gray.
REDS | Karius (GK); Gomez, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 70), Henderson (C), Can (Milner, 27); Salah, Firmino (Ings, 79), Mane.
Subs not used | Mignolet (GK), Alexander-Arnold, Klavan, Moreno.
Goals | Salah (4, 43, 77, 85), Firmino (49)