Whatever Chelsea can do, it seems Liverpool can match. Chelsea win by five, Liverpool do the same against Watford scoring one more for added impetus. If the bookmakers were quick to push Chelsea up to second favourites for the title yesterday, they were even quicker to replace them again today with Liverpool, generally available during half time at 2.5-1 from 3.5 prior to the game. Even the bookies are finding this season a tough one to call.
The game at Anfield against Watford lacked the electricity of last night’s game at Stamford Bridge—at least in the first twenty minutes. Perhaps soaring expectations or maybe the weather played a part, but in the opening exchanges, both teams pressed their opponents to the point of oblivion. There was no discernible fluency from either side until around the 15 minute mark when Liverpool upped the tempo.
Lucas, replacing the ill Lovren at centre-back started proceedings by missing a glorious chance from five yards out; although in his defence, the Watford Keeper Gomes made himself big from only three yards away. From then on Liverpool began carving out chance after chance. At roughly one good chance every three minutes it was about twelve minutes later when Liverpool registered their first goal, a superb glancing header from one of the smallest men on the pitch, Sadio Mané. Three minutes later Coutinho swept in a second, a trademark cut-inside and shot from the edge of the area. Liverpool were in full control and it was effectively game over.
By half-time Liverpool were three up but could have been six. The frightening thing about this performance was that they achieved this without ever getting out of third gear. Following the restart Liverpool went a whole eight minutes without scoring, with Can driving into the box but losing the ball, and Klopp could be seen yelling then muttering darkly to himself. He may be affectionate and affable, but he is also a hard taskmaster and was soon comforted by Liverpool’s fourth and fifth goals of the game in quick succession, three minutes later.
Liverpool were rampant and around the 62nd minute, Klopp decided to take Mané off as a precaution following a nasty looking studs-up knock to his ankle. Maybe it was the pain, but he didn’t look pleased to be hauled off one goal away from a potential hat-trick. It was at this moment that things got a little tricky for Liverpool.
Liverpool’s dynamic and fluid front four have quality in abundance, but only one of them is blessed with searing pace. Take Mané out of the game and Liverpool lose a dimension. He may not be Liverpool’s best player, surely that accolade has to go to Coutinho, but I’d argue his pace makes him the most important one. With a little juggling Coutinho can be temporarily replaced, Mane can’t.
And so with their attacking impetus stunted to a degree, Watford immediately found life easier and began to fashion chances. From having almost nothing to do except clear one cross in the first half, Karius was suddenly called on to make three saves within five minutes and it was now Watford’s turn to threaten. After Liverpool had gone 2-0 up in the first half, I messaged my editor to speculate that Liverpool would win this 6-0. I forgot to account for Liverpool’s customary award of a goal to their opponents and they duly obliged the visitors in the 74th minute.
This is why I am a writer and not an accountant.
The concession of a goal only served to wake Liverpool from their slumber and for the rest of the game they took pot shots at the Watford goal, Sturridge notably hitting the frame twice. The best moment of the game arrived in the 90th minute when, after a passage of Liverpool sorcery in the Watford box, some crisp one touch interplay led to the Reds’ sixth of the game to finish 6-1 to the home side.
The result was in no way predictable; Liverpool struggled last year against Watford’s pacey and punchy attack, losing 3-0 to them. Watford hadn’t conceded in three games and had only lost once in seven which included a fine victory over Manchester United. This year, however, Liverpool have Joel Matip and are not so easily bullied by powerful attackers. As things stand, Matip must be considered among the best pieces of transfer business by any Premiership club last summer.
That being said, the centre back options remain an area of concern for Liverpool. Klavan, another summer acquisition, doesn’t look great, and Klopp preferring to go with Lucas—a midfielder by trade—should speak volumes. Whatever has gone on between Klopp and Sakho must be resolved for the good of the club for he is the quality centre-back that Liverpool desperately need in times like this.
Another point of concern is an understudy for Mané. Liverpool sold Jordan Ibe in the summer and have no other out and out wingers. If Mane does get injured Liverpool could struggle to break down inferior sides. Liverpool’s performance today after Mane departed the field won’t be lost on Klopp, and he is all but certain to be absent during the African Cup of Nations. Klopp has been notoriously reluctant to do business in the January transfer window but last week he hinted that he might change his stance for this one. Klopp is well aware of the importance of Mané to this team. But for now, Liverpool march happily off into the international break sitting pretty at the top of the table