The scale of the task facing Claudio Ranieri was laid out in the starkest terms before him as Watford were brushed aside with ease as Liverpool cruised to a 5-0 victory in the Italian’s first game in charge.

There was no surprise that the Reds were able to return north with the points to maintain their unbeaten start to the Premier League season, but the Hornets fans had good reason to question the manner with how it happened.

It was barely a contest for much of the first half as the Hornets produced a limp, passive, insipid display, made worse by a catalogue of errors where possession was carelessly conceded by sloppy passes or simply miscontrolling the ball.

The Hornets did offer some semblance of fight in the latter stages but by that time Liverpool were already four goals to the good. They were to add a fifth with the last move of the match as Roberto Firmino completed the simplest of hat-tricks. The margin of defeat could easily have been even heavier.

The Liverpool romp began in the eighth minute when Sadio Mane calmly dispatched a sublime cross from Mohamed Salah, who had been subjecting Danny Rose to a torrid time from the opening whistle.

The only surprise about the second goal was that at took so long to arrive in the first half, Firmino tapping home a James Milner cross following an awful mistake by Adam Masina.

There was no doubt where the points were heading but the visitors made a bad afternoon for their opponents even worse with two goals in almost as many minutes at the start of the second period.

First, Firmino gratefully notched his second after Ben Foster had prevented Craig Cathcart from putting through his own net, before the Northern Irishman was turned inside out and then dumped on his backside by Salah to score a magnificent fourth before Firmino made it five at the death.

The latest new chapter at Vicarage Road began with the new head coach springing a surprise or two with his selection.

The team showed three changes from that which performed so poorly at Leeds United before the international break in what proved to be Xisco Munoz’s last game in charge, with Masina, Cathcart and Cucho Hernandez replacing the injured Francisco Sierralta, Joshua King and Ozan Tufan.

Those players came into a fluid formation, with Masina deployed on the left of midfield when in his side were in possession but dropping back to make a defensive five at other times. Emmanuel Dennis was on the right, Hernandez on the left, with Ismaila Sarr the most advanced in a central attacking position.

Liverpool’s pre-match selection issues had been well documented in the build-up to the game, with Jurgen Klopp making four changes from the side that drew 2-2 with Manchester City last time out.

Caoimhin Kelleher replaced Alisson in goal, Trent Alexander-Arnold was able to return at right-back, allowing Milner to move into a midfield without Fabinho and the injured Curtis Jones. Naby Keita also came into the centre of the park and Firmino replaced Diogo Jota up front.

It took Salah less than a minute to rattle Foster’s crossbar, but the flag was already up for an offside against Mane, the move originating from the Hornets giving the ball away.

The visitors then won two early corners as they continued to dominate the early exchanges, with Salah causing Rose all types of problems.

Watford Observer:

Rose’s difficult start was to get even worse in the eighth minute when the Egyptian left him for dead, bursting forward before playing a sublime pass with the outside of his boot into the middle that Mane didn’t even next to break stride as he clinically dispatched a right-footed finish beyond Foster to give the visitors the lead with his 100th Premier League goal.

It almost got worse within three minutes when Salah stepped inside on the edge of the penalty area to hit a left-footed curler which a stretching Foster managed to palm away to his right where the hosts were able to get the ball to safety.

Liverpool were rampant, playing the game almost exclusively in the Hornets half, although Rose was able to get close enough to Salah to produce a fine block to repel another of the striker’s shots.

Masina was fortunate in the 20th minute when he tried to play offside against Salah – Kiko Femenia playing the Liverpool onside from the opposite flank – but fortunately for the home side Foster had anticipated the danger.

Watford were finally able to get some time out of their own half as the game ticked past the 20-minute mark and five minutes later they had their first real opening when Hernandez won the ball back in midfield, fed Sarr who advanced before putting the Colombian in goal but as he shaped to shoot he was dispossessed by a fine recovery tackle from Alexander-Arnold.

Normal service was soon resumed though, with the Hornets continuing to not help themselves by their sloppiness in possession or sometimes simply miscontrolling the ball.

Watford Observer:

It was always going to be punished again eventually and that moment duly arrived in the 36th minute when Masina hit a pass skywards in midfield, the ball was fed to Mane, he played in Milner on the left side of the area and the former England international squared across the six-yard box to present Firmino with the simplest of tap-ins.

Number three almost arrived four minutes before the break when Milner played the ball square to Keita, who took aim and his right-footed strike clipped Juraj Kucka’s foot but that was enough to send it over via the top of Foster’s crossbar.

There was no surprise that Ranieri chose to make a change at the break, Cleverley replacing the hapless Masina as the Hornets switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Watford Observer:

It mattered little though, as Foster was soon forced to go full-length to tip over a curling left-footed effort from Salah within four minutes of the resumption.

But the third did arrive in the 52nd minute when a Watford attack broke down and the ball was worked out to Andy Robertson on the left, his cross was turned towards his own net by Cathcart, Foster was able to get down to his right to keep it out but a grateful Firmino was on hand to accept his second gift of the afternoon.

Three was to become four very quickly thanks to the brilliance of Salah.

Watford were again pressed into conceding the ball on the edge of their own area, Firmino fed his strike partner who toyed with Cathcart on the right side of the area before sitting him down with a dummy and curling a majestic left-footed finish into the far corner past the helpless Foster – the goal bringing some applause from sections of the Hornets faithful.

Watford Observer:

Ranieri immediately made a second change, bringing on Jeremy Ngakia for Femenia, and moments later loud – and somewhat ironic applause – greeted Watford’s first attempt of the afternoon, Kucka letting fly from 25 yards but Kelleher was always right behind it.

Fortune for once smiled on the Hornets in the 63rd minute when Alexander-Arnold chanced his arm from the edge of the area, the ball deflecting off Rose and rebounding behind off the wrong-footed Foster’s left-hand post.

That was to be the Reds’ right-back’s last involvement as both he and Robertson made way for Kostas Tsimikas and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Dennis was replaced by Joao Pedro after 69 minutes, moments after Keita had lashed an angled drive over after being set up by Salah.

But it really should have been five soon after when a mistake from Rose allowed Salah to pick out Mane at the far post, but the Senegal star put his finish inches wide of the far post.

Watford Observer:

Moussa Sissoko, who had arguably been the best Hornets performer on an otherwise wretched afternoon for his side, then did well to burst forward from midfield before slipping in Hernandez on the right side of the area, the Colombian trying a right-footed curler which he pushed wide of the far post.

A measure of the one-sidedness of the contest was that it took Watford until the 78th minute to win their first corner, but the visitors were soon to have another opportunity when Mane headed a cross into Foster’s arms.

His opposite number had been a spectator for much of the afternoon but with six minutes remaining Kelleher made a superb stop, plunging sharply to his right to keep out a Sarr snap-shot following good work by Pedro who had added some belated urgency since coming on.

Next Ngakia produced a good delivery from the right but Sarr couldn’t get over his header enough and although the ball was kept in play, Liverpool were able to clear.

But a torrid afternoon for the Hornets was rounded off with what proved to be the last action of the game, substitute Neco Williams supplying the cross to enable Firmino to complete one of the simplest hat-tricks any player is likely to score.

Watford: Foster; Femenia (Ngakia 55), Cathcart, Troost-Ekong, Rose, Masina (Cleverley 46); Dennis (Pedro 69), Sissoko, Kucka, Hernandez; Sarr. Subs not used: Bachmann, Louza, Sema, Gosling, Fletcher, Tufan.

Liverpool: Kelleher; Alexander-Arnold (Oxlade-Chamberlain 64), Matip, van Dijk, Robertson (Tsimikas 64); Keita, Henderson, Milner (Williams 83); Mane, Firmino, Salah. Subs not used: Adrian, Konate, Gomez, Minamino, Jota, Origi.

Bookings: None.

Attendance: 20,650.

Referee: Jonathan Moss.