By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome seventh-placed Watford to Anfield as they look to keep their place at the top of the Premier League after a string of disappointing performances and results over the past couple of weeks.
Liverpool are seemingly having their rough patch at the moment. Manchester City had theirs during the festive period which saw them lose three games in four, taking just three points from 12.
Our own has seen us take nine from a possible 15, though with winnable fixtures coming up in the next few weeks that rough patch should end as long as our performances improve.
Watford have only lost once of their last eight league games, winning three and losing four as well as progressing through two rounds of the FA Cup has seen the start of 2019 be quite promising for the North London club.
Liverpool earned a respectable point against an inform Manchester United side, but the way in which the game panned out, along with the way we performed meant that it was seen by many as two points dropped rather than a point gained.
It’s not often you get gifted a chance like this to win at Old Trafford which would have given the team real momentum over the last few months of the season.
Numerous positives could be taken from the game though – against the in-form team in the league we played quite poor yet looked solid defensively, the midfield seem to understand each other’s movements and where they are going to be as each game passes.
It does however miss a player who will support the front three in attacking situations and Joel Matip’s chemistry with van Dijk is also getting better with the Cameroonian putting in another strong showing since being introduced into the starting XI.
It does however mean Liverpool have only won once in their last four games, it now means we have dropped more points since the start of 2019, than we did in the first few months of the season, it was always unlikely we would repeat that form but for all our hard work to be undone in a couple of weeks is quite frustrating.
After a tough couple of weeks, Watford are starting to show strong form again after a good start to the season. Since Christmas day the Hornets have only lost twice, against Chelsea and Tottenham which has seen them leapfrog a host of teams into seventh place.
Wins against Cardiff, Everton and Crystal Palace all showed the excellent attacking players that Watford have bought over the last few seasons. Deulofeu and Deeney are forming a strong partnership in attack.
Draws against Brighton, Burnley, Bournemouth and Newcastle show that if their up to it then Watford’s defence can be relied upon against most opposition though they do have their odd game were they fall apart under pressure.
They shipped 3 goals in 6 minutes against Bournemouth in a match which ended 3-3. With Liverpool’s front men misfiring it will be difficult to get into a comfortable lead judging by Watford’s recent performances.
Roberto Firmino was a major injury doubt ahead of Watford’s visit to Anfield – the Brazilian had his ankle trodden on at Old Trafford and was unable to continue. James Pearce confirmed that our striker who has scored nine goals for Liverpool in the league left the stadium with crutches, but Klopp said in his press conference that he might make it back in time.
Alisson will once again start in goal; the Brazilian shot stopper made a decisive save against Jesse Lingard when it looked certain a goal would have been scored. He will be looking to keep a 16th clean sheet in just 28 games, which would put him five behind the record with 10 games remaining.
With Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez still sidelined, Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk will be the centre back pairing for the sixth league game running. Andy Robertson who has probably had his worst month in a Liverpool shirt will look to turn his poor run of form around.
The Scotsman’s poor form along with the injury of Trent Alexander-Arnold has meant that our attacking efficiency has suffered due to a lack of effective crosses being played into the box.
The midfield trio once again looked solid and all three were up there in contention for being our man of the match. We were however missing a midfield runner and it was a game that was calling out for Naby Keita who has impressed recently.
Why he wasn’t substituted on in the game is mind-boggling as his runs and use of the ball would have surely caused an inexperienced United midfield some problems. The Guinean should start alongside Gini and Fabinho as that midfield has looked the most promising out of all the variations of midfield we have seen this season.
With the absence of Roberto Firmino Salah will likely start as a striker supported by Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri.
Javi Gracia has no injury news to be concerned about and should have a fully fit squad, after recent good form he will have a selection headache with numerous players deserving to start after an impressive start to 2019.
Ben Foster has been a stand-out performer in recent weeks winning them multiple points in the process, a man-of-the-match display against Burnley along with other fine displays is one of the reasons as to why Watford are placed so high up in the table.
Adrian Mariappa and Craig Cathcart will look to keep their third clean sheet in four games as they look to continue a budding partnership. Daryl Janmaat and Adam Masina will start at right back and left back respectively but will probably sit back due to Watford having wide players further up the pitch already.
Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure are one of the few physical defensive midfielders and both will be very important as they try to stop Keita and Shaqiri in areas around the box.
Will Hughes and Roberto Pereyra will start in wide midfield positions, but due to their natural positions being more central they will likely drift into the centre of the park leaving space for our full backs to venture forward without worry.
Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu have bonded quite an unlikely partnership, due to the contrasting styles of play, both have a combined 14 league goals this season and will prove to be a nuisance on the counter.
Danger man: Gerard Deulofeu
Deulofeu Premier League career was seemingly over, after Barcelona resigned the Spanish International after a two brief contrasting spells at Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton.
He was on loan at an Toffees side alongside Lukaku that saw them fall just short of a fourth place finish in the 13/14 season. Two seasons later, the Merseyside club signed him on a permanent deal but struggled to recapture his form he showed during his first stint at the club and was subsequently loaned out to AC Milan.
He shone at the Italian giants netting four in 17 appearances and was thus signed by Barcelona after they activated their buy-back clause. It was then announced that Watford had struck a deal to sign the wide man on loan in January 2018, with performances encouraging Watford to sign him permanently for £13m.
He has gone on to net six goals in 20 appearances including a hat-trick in his last appearance against Cardiff. He has been a constant threat for the London based club and has struck quite a partnership with Pereyra.
He has often been deployed on the wing but recently has started up front alongside Troy Deeney in what can be described as an old school partnership. The young player will be a handful especially on the break but playing on the side of van Dijk he should be kept quiet throughout the 90.
Last five results
24/11/2018: Premier League – Watford 0-3 Liverpool
17/04/2018: Premier League – Liverpool 5-0 Watford
12/08/2017: Premier League – Watford 3-3 Liverpool
01/05/2017: Premier League – Watford 0-1 Liverpool
06/11/2016: Premier League – Liverpool 6-1 Watford
Our defence has been quite solid since we shipped three against Crystal palace a month ago – since then, we have conceded just two in five games.
Our attack however is not up to the level it should be playing. In those games we have found the net five times, three of which came against Bournemouth, a team we always score plenty against due to their style of play. We were unlucky to score against Bayern Munich but were toothless in attack against United only registering one shot on target.
If we want to keep our place at the top of the table it’s time for out attacking players to take the game by the scruff of the neck, like our defence has done on numerous occasions this season. Mo Salah has been poor in recent weeks and has only scored one in four.
Against Watford his goalscoring record is quite impressive, netting six times in just three games including four in one match in this very fixture last season. He is in line to start at striker due to Firmino’s injury, but he is always more effective in wide positions or in a duo up top.
If he is to start up front I would think it will be quite a frustrating night for him meaning the likes of Mane and Shaqiri will need to step up to get a much needed three points.
I think it will be quite a tough game but with a crowd in full voice it should be enough to see Liverpool get the three points.
Predicted scoreline: Liverpool 2 (Mane x2) – 1 Watford (Deeney)