Liverpool overcame Watford 5-0 on a comfortable evening at Anfield despite not being at their best.
Here are five things we learned:
After a rare poor performance from Mo Salah against Manchester United he was back to his usual brilliance against Watford. After making a mockery of the Watford defence in the first half he bagged two goals. Then, in the second half, he provided a wonderful assist for Firmino’s excellently flicked goal. To top off his performance though he managed his first hattrick for the Reds before bagging an incredible fourth goal of the game.
Games such as this really typify the quality of Salah. In what was a fairly lacklustre performance from Liverpool and on the back of a poor performance against United his individual quality shone through. Not only did Salah break the Liverpool record for most goals in a debut season but he also proved that he is among the very best to don the Liverpool shirt in the Premier League.
Watford’s Fitness FailuresLiverpool were not at their best, but against Watford but they didn’t have to be. The Reds’ sheer fitness levels and outstanding performances from Salah and Firmino saw them romp to victory.
Watford’s issues were clear to see as Liverpool were consistently much quicker to react. Troy Deeney’s strengths were certainly not played to – or at least Liverpool didn’t allow Watford to play to them. Not only that but Pereyra and Richarlison found themselves isolated and unable to support the target man.
Strangely, Watford manager Javi Gracia chose to substitute Deeney in the second half and bring on the similarly built Okaka. The effect of that was obviously close to non-existent as Okaka had exactly the same problems that Deeney faced. The decision not to deploy Richarlison more centrally to exploit the least fit aspect of the Liverpool team (Matip and van Dijk) will surely be one that Gracia regrets.
Where was Wijnaldum?After spending more time than he would’ve liked on the bench recently, Gini Wijnaldum should’ve been eager to show his worth. However, this was one of the Dutchman’s least productive games for Liverpool.
Apart from Karius and Emre Can (substituted through injury on 26 minutes) nobody had fewer touches than Wijnaldum. At times it really felt as though Liverpool were playing with 10 men. That explains in-part why Liverpool looked so poor in midfield.
The introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Wijnaldum with 20 minutes to go made an immediate difference. One of the Englishman’s first touches was to claim the ball in his own half before dribbling past three Watford players and feeding the ball to Salah. This performance won’t have gone unnoticed by Klopp so expect Wijnaldum to be sitting on the bench regularly going forward.
Defensive SuicideWatford opted for a back five to counter the threat of Liverpool’s front three. However, whatever preparation they did for this match didn’t seem to go to plan. Holebas, at left back, looked as though he had never seen Mo Salah play football before. Time and time again Salah would turn the Watford player inside-out before either surging past him or cutting inside.
After Salah managed to deal with the small hindrance of Holebas he consistently fed the ball to Firmino and Mané. The rest of the Watford backline stayed compact and deep in their own half which left Firmino and Mané with acres of space to work their magic just in front of them. This of course was partly due to Capoue and Doucoure’s reluctance to commit defensively.
In the end, Liverpool’s frontline had a field day without having to work particularly hard. Javi Gracia needs to set up his team much better in the future to avoid teams taking advantage of the poor tactical shape.
Mental ProgressionIn past seasons Liverpool have been heavily criticised for not having mental strength. Whether that was in the shape of game management, breaking bad runs or disrespecting the smaller teams. However, all that has changed this season particularly in the past few months.
In the past Liverpool would have struggled to have come back from a disappointing defeat to Manchester United but they’re much stronger mentally now. Previously, Liverpool would have gone three to four games before winning again but now they bounce back in style.
Whilst Watford’s poor performance may have played some role in the result it was clear from certain players (mostly Salah and Firmino) that they wanted to put the extra effort in to make up for last week’s poor result.
However, that’s not to say all the Liverpool’s players had this attitude. Liverpool’s particularly poor midfield had another game to forget. Players like Wijnaldum, Can and Henderson could see their place in the team or maybe even the club under threat especially with the likes of Keita arriving in the summer and Lallana gradually getting back to full fitness.