Liverpool travelling to Watford lingers loathly in the memory as potential banana skin and the first half made those lingering doubts seem well-founded. Yet, the Reds eventually swatted the Hornets 0-3 at Vicarage Road.
This run of matches will more or less determine Liverpool’s season. As the middle third of the campaign begins, the pressure continues to build on the Reds as Manchester City set a record pace in the title race.
As the opening half ended, Liverpool had successively squeezed the home side into their half and created a trio of chances that forced last-ditch efforts to avoid conceding. Both Sadio Mané and Mo Salah forced big saves from Ben Foster, including a blistering overhead kick and a header from a well-constructed corner.
Still, in the second half, Liverpool worked out Watford and Salah broke the deadlock with a beautifully built-up goal. Of all the shots that Foster failed to stop, the Egyptian’s shot, right at keeper, ultimately beat him.
Shortly after Xherdan Shaqiri was substituted for James Milner, the Reds won a free kick right in the Swiss international’s sweet spot on the pitch. With Shaqiri on the bench, Trent Alexander-Arnold stepped up and blasted a thunderbolt int the top corner past a stunned Foster. It was a glorious strike.
It was all but over, but Roberto Firmino added some gloss to a well-earned win on the road in the 89th minute, finishing another well-worked attack with the Reds on the break and playing a man down.
Here are four findings from the match:
Jurgen Klopp has done well to reverse a trend that once saw the Reds look weary either side of an international break. Those days are gone now, but Liverpool looked less than potent until late in the first half. As the gaffer has built a side capable of winning with more varied ways, a push for greater patience may be required. Certainly, the side sees it, even if the supporters struggle with it. Even the lineup adjustment, with Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum playing deeper in more of a double pivot to push a front four further forward, required greater resolve to achieve its remit. The persistence of using a 4-2-3-1 formation will likely feature more regularly, especially when teams cannot or will not get out of their own end.
Firmino Finding Form
It seemed like sides had spent the summer sorting out that stopping Roberto Firmino stopped Liverpool. With the Brazilian’s late arrival from his uneven World Cup experience he has yet to look fully fit and firing. There have been flashes but no sustained success, further complicated by his sliding deeper into more of a 10 slot. Against Watford, Firmino looked to get involved wherever he could, drifting from sideline to sideline and even dropping between the two centre-halves on occasion. It was clear that he wanted to get on the ball and make things happen. All his flair, flicks, and tricks were on display and it was no surprise that it was his through ball to Mané that ultimately unlocked Watford. Not only did he get on the scoresheet, but his audacious behind the back nutmeg is also already a .GIF gift!
It has already proven to be an odd season for Jordan Henderson. Another late returner to the side after England’s deep cup run, the captain has found his fitness far from fixed. Still, the trip to Vicarage Road offered him a chance to gain some valuable minutes and return to the fold, particularly at a point where the side needs to be ready for rotation. Both Henderson and midfield partner Wijnaldum dropped deep, at times splitting the centre-halves. However, only Henderson seemed void of ideas when finding himself further up the pitch. Aside from his patented quick cross from deeper positions, his patience on the ball could be easily be perceived as off the pace, Yet his real mental malfunction was committing a foolish foul while on a yellow card ensuring his dismissal.
A third of the way through the season and Liverpool have put together their best start ever in the Premier League. Still unbeaten, the Reds have amassed 33 points, yet remain two points of reigning league champions Manchester City. The two look poised to put even further ground between themselves and their rivals. Even more impressive, Liverpool recorded another clean sheet in their stingiest start ever, having yielded just five goals. Alisson continues to prove why he was worth every pound, while Virgil van Dijk has simply shown to be invaluable. Klopp can feel nothing but positive given that his side still seems capable of elevating their game to even higher levels.