Not sure why I decided to drop a preview of this game, as it could end up all red. In fact, the league leaders, Liverpool need to take care of business, as they have no margin for error with City breathing down the neck, just a point off the top spot in the Premier League. Could it be anything other than a Liverpool victory at Anfield? Were the Reds poor at Old Trafford on the weekend or as Jurgen Klopp suggested in the post game comment, “F*cking hell, what a sh*t game!”
Regardless of where you sided in the Liverpool game, they welcome a Watford club that had a statement game this last Friday at Cardiff City. The Hornets dismantled the Bluebird 5-1, as Gerard Deulofeu and Troy Deeney did the damage, combining for all five goals and two assists, in the their biggest win of the season. Expectations headed to Anfield are high, but the pressure is solely on the league leaders to take care of business and put three points on the board.
Mo Salah and Sadio Mane were irrelevant against United, combining for 10 penalty touches and just a single goal attempt. Sorry United fan, I give your defense zero credit. The game was shit, the flow was killed in the first half by all the United injuries, so in some respect I do agree with Klopp that it was tough to any sort of sustained momentum. And “they” think VAR is a good thing. Wait until it’s kills the momentum and flow of games, weekly! Mane has been the better of the duo over the last four game week with three goals, to one from Salah.
The Reds are going to miss Roberto Firmino, out with an ankle injury, sustained just 30′ minutes into the match at United. That could mean Daniel Sturridge gets the start up front, or Klopp could play Salah up top and Xheridan Shaqiri, wide right. It would seem to make more sense to keep Sturridge on the bench, as the Reds look more dangerous with Shaqiri down the flank and Salah OOP as the attacking forward. It was just last March that Salah exploded for four games at Anfield, in a 5-0 win over the Hornets. That was under new manager, Javi Gracia and the Hornets were coming off that “new manager bump” having picked up 10 points in five games.
Gracia ahead of the match said, “We want to win the next game and we have played all the season thinking this way. We want to keep the same attitude. It will be a very tough game and we need to play the best way we can and maybe this way we have some chances to get a good result. We know playing Liverpool away is always very difficult.”
Heading into the fixture, Gracia is very optimistic, the Hornets having played excellent all season long, even if they are just on 40 points. There is “something special” about the way the Golden Boys have competed this year that hasn’t been seen in recent year, under other managers. “We are a good squad, we are competing well and one position or two positions on the table doesn’t change my opinion on this team,” said Gracia.
The Hornets are playing with great confidence at the moment, having lost just one game in the last eight, a 2-1 defeat to Spurs at the end of January. The reverse fixture, at Vicarage Road, last November was 3-0 to Liverpool. but Watford put in an excellent shift and 60 minutes of scoreless football. Defensively the team is much improved with Ben Foster minding the net, however they Hornets will be without Jose Holebas, serving his second game, suspended due to yellow card accumulation. That left side could be the Achilles heal that Liverpool attacks, with the possibility of Adam Masina being called upon in the absence of Holebas.
On the back of their 5 goal explosion, it’s vital Watford get some shot on target at Anfield. They tallied just one shot on target last November, a part of their game at appears to be turning as they fired seven shots last weekend at Cardiff City. Watford need to limit defensive mistakes and not get caught on on the counter attack. Foster has been good, but needs to have his defenders keep their composure today against a fast hitting Reds squad and limit the big chances.
The game will be won in the midfield, however the loss of Firmino could cause some trouble for Liverpool. One of the strongest areas of Watford’s play has been the partnership of Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure playing as a central midfield two. Capoue was masterful at Cardiff City with some beautifully weighted passes to released Deulofeu. This duo will be called upon to drop back to help Foster as his defense, but also push forward to help key the attack, when Watford plays out of their half.
One player we need to see regain form is Roberto Pereyra. Early in the season, he was deadly from the left flank, but inconsistency and lack of opportunity has got the better of him. Just one return since game week 11, he’s got skill and loves to cut inside to his right foot and go for the curler. He plays very well with Deulofeu and Will Hughes, who’s known to fade into a central position, as those players interchange positions constantly, when on attack. If Pereyra can find his shooting boots, it just improves the Hornets going forward.
While the gut says Watford puts in a solid 90 minutes, I am struggling to see how they come out on top. The defensive numbers look good on paper with three clean sheets in five, but digging deeper, there are some glaring issues. In the last six game weeks, Watford has conceded 89 shots and 14 big chances, near the bottom in both categories. More important, just four goals over that period. However, they haven’t played a team as lethal as Liverpool in their last six.
It will depend on which Liverpool team shows up today at Anfield, will it be the Reds the defeated Bournemouth and Crystal Palace, scoring seven goals? Or will it be the Reds team that drew 1-1 against West Ham and Leicester City. All the pressure is on the Reds to win, coming off an emotional draw last weekend and won’t know the City result, as they kick off the same time. If there is an upset in the making, Watford could be the one to knock the Reds off the top of the Premier table. Confidence is high the Hornets, while not controlling possession will limit mistakes and take opportunities when they are presented. Deulofeu and Deeney are riding high after the Cardiff game and it’s important they build on that win. Going to be a tough ask at Anfield, but I make the Hornets a, 2-1 upset special this game week.