Number's up for Watford as sensational Salah adds another four to his tally
Liverpool 5 Watford 0
Never mind drawing Manchester City in the quarter-final, driven by a masterclass in finishing from Mohamed Salah, Liverpool took a sizeable step towards ensuring they play in the Champions League next season, moving seven points clear of Chelsea in fifth place.
And in the process, scoring just the four goals, Salah took himself ahead of Harry Kane at the top of the Premier League goal charts.
It is hard to imagine, after this brutal dismantling, that the two sides had shared the spoils in a 3-3 draw at Vicarage Road back in August.
"I love how we have developed since then," wrote Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp in his programme notes. And no one has developed across the season like Salah. His progress in eight months under Klopp has been remarkable.
Within barely three minutes here he had added to his burgeoning account. Georginio Wijnaldum sent him forward with an invitation of a through ball. Salah took it in his stride, dummied, left Miguel Britos on his backside, then pushed the ball beyond goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.
A couple of minutes later, Jordan Henderson delivered a slide-rule pass that almost put Salah away again. By now, every time the ball found the Egyptian, a noise very much like a purr would rise from the stands. And no wonder. Everything he did was freighted with threat.
Midway through the first half he found Roberto Firminho with a crossfield pass. The Brazilian's beautiful dragback foxed poor old Britos for a second time. However, Karnezis palmed his shot over.
Then, with half-time looming, Andy Robertson swept over the most delightful of crosses to the far post, where Salah, applying the afterburners, arrived ahead of everyone else to side-foot home.
The second half had barely started before Salah was at it again. Haring down the right wing, he once again embarrassed Britos, before sweeping over a left-foot cross which Firmino converted with the most flamboyant of back-heels. Joe Gomez then found Firminho with another belter of a cross, but this one he could not convert.
Beleaguered Watford manager Javi Gracia attempted to stem the flow by bringing on Will Hughes to replace Richarlison and swapping Troy Deeney, whose cojones appeared to have dropped off in the freeze, with Stefano Okaka. But, apart from Roberto Pereya, busy on the left wing, hitting the bar with a fine free-kick, his team nothing to offer.
Liverpool were by now rampant. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, given the chance to redeem himself after the defeat at Old Trafford when he came on to replace Wijnaldum midway through the second half, warmed Karnezis's gloves with a long-range shot. Even fellow sub Danny Ings had a crisp shot which the keeper beat away.
The game, however, belonged to Salah. And, after 77 minutes, he showed the rest how to finish. After picking up the ball from Oxlade-Chamberlain and dipping his shoulder, somehow he slipped a shot past five yellow-shirted defenders into the far corner of the net. It was the most delightful of hat-tricks.
Not that he was satisfied. He added a fourth in the dying moments for his 28th league goal of the season after smashing home the rebound after Karnezis parried Ings's shot. This was development writ large.
"I have to thank everyone, (especially) my team-mates, as without them I couldn't have reached this number," said Salah modestly afterwards. "Each game we try to get the three points. Every game I want to score to help the team but the most important thing is the three points.
"I think we showed a good reaction after the last game. We have to look forward to the next games."
Jordan Henderson insisted Liverpool will not be looking ahead to their European clash against City next month. "We can't really focus on City until after Crystal Palace. It's still a while away yet but I'm sure everybody else will be getting excited."
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