12:30 KO (BST); Saturday 12th August; Vicarage Road (Watford, England); Sky Sports Premier League
The arrival of Marco Silva at Vicarage Road has almost been lost in the mists of summer to everyone outside of Watford. However, his tenure now begins in earnest with his first competitive game on the horizon. Having ended last season with six consecutive defeats to finish one place above the relegation zone, Silva will be under no illusions as to the scale of the task facing his new team.
It does, however, leave plenty of room for improvement and having transformed his new side with five significant signings since his appointment at the end of May, Liverpool will provide a good gauge to measure the players he has at his disposal.
Following a summer of uncertainty in the transfer window, Liverpool have slipped off many people’s radar when predicting this season’s title favourites. Jurgen Klopp now finds himself at the start of this season with no additional players to strengthen the weak base of his team, but with an almost embarrassment of riches in attack.
Whether Liverpool are able to strike a balance between these two areas will not only determine the outcome of this fixture, it may also come to define the long season ahead of them.
Last Time Out
WATFORD 0 – 0 Real Sociedad (Graham Taylor Trophy)
A poor first half display by the Hornets left Marco Silva furious with his side’s exertions in their final friendly of pre-season. While both Stefano Okaka and Sebastian Prödl were both rested to ensure they’re fit and ready for the opening game, Watford had otherwise fielded a strong side against the Spanish opponents.
With the match being dedicated to the memory of Graham Taylor, the events preceding the game far overshadowed the efforts played out by Watford’s starting XI. Some harsh truths from Silva during the interval saw his side reappear from half-time lucky to be level, but newly invigorated.
Although the general play in the second half was much better, Watford still could not make a breakthrough on the scoreboard. Roberto Pereyra looked the most lively player in yellow, looking dangerous as he cut in from the left side of the pitch, though Silva still has some way to go in adapting his new team to his philosophies judging by this and their previous friendlies.
LIVERPOOL 3 – 1 Athletic Bilbao (Friendly)
Liverpool’s long and rewarding pre-season campaign culminated with a deserved victory against Athletic Bilbao. Again it was Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah who impressed the most for the Reds with Firmino now likely to be the first name on the team sheet following a productive few weeks.
Klopp is keeping many people guessing as to his starting line-up after again substituting all ten outfield players during the half-time break. With Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Philippe Coutinho all sitting out this game due to various ailments, this leaves 26 players at the forefront of Klopp’s mind vying for a starting berth.
Despite Bilbao rarely breaking into the Liverpool half, Inaki Williams was a source of worry for the Reds, who were often exposed by his raw pace. His equaliser meant the teams were level at half-time, but a fine drive from Ben Woodburn followed by a Dominic Solanke header, the new boy’s third strike in as many weeks, left Liverpool finishing on a high.
Troy Deeney (groin) will miss the opening fixture along with Mauro Zárate (knee), to leave Marco Silva short of striker options. This should pave the way for a debut for new £18.5 million signing Andre Gray who is eligible to play in this fixture.
There will, however, be a wealth of attacking midfielders available to fill up his team sheet with new signing Richarlison also available for selection and poised to be named in the starting line-up.
Nathaniel Clyne (muscle), Mamadou Sakho (knee) and Adam Lallana (thigh) are all missing with long-term injuries, whilst doubts persist over Jordan Henderson (illness) who missed a large part of their pre-season programme.
Daniel Sturridge (thigh) is also a doubt to start the game, but should feature on the bench while all eyes will be on whether Coutinho recovers from his “back injury” in time to play Liverpool’s opening game.
Key Battle: Sebastian Prödl vs Roberto Firmino
Watford’s star player of last season was undoubtedly the Austrian defender despite the fact they leaked the third highest amount of goals in the Premier League. Although he still lacks a solid partner in central defence, Prödl will provide a rock at the back for Silva to shape his new team around and will be called into action early this season as they face an eye-watering attack in their opening fixture.
While Liverpool’s forward line was their greatest attribute last season, they have potentially added a new dimension to their attack with the addition of Salah from Roma. It’s a rejuvenated Firmino, however, who could prove to be the Reds’ most valuable asset this year having found goal-scoring form during pre-season.
Now the proud owner of Liverpool’s number nine shirt, the only aspect of his game which has been lacking recently was his goal-scoring record, a mere 21 goals in the last two years. With confidence now added to his fast reactions, natural ability and composure, it may well be the young Brazilian’s season to shine.
Watford’s youthful injection
As the second-youngest manager in the Premier League, Silva has made a statement by investing in youth with his recruitment policy at Watford. June saw the £8m arrival of 22-year-old Will Hughes from Derby.
While he may not begin life at Watford in the starting line-up, Hughes is an exciting prospect who is more than capable of playing the number 10 role of a 4-2-3-1 system, which he did to great effect for England in the U21s World Cup this summer.
In July there was Nathaniel Chalobah joining from Chelsea for £5m and he appears to have already struck up a solid understanding with Abdoulaye Doucoure in the centre of midfield for the Hornets.
August meanwhile has seen the recent signing of Richarlison from Fluminense for £13m and this 20-year-old Brazilian is perhaps the most exciting of the three new recruits and is sure to be a player who adds a sense of anticipation amongst the home fans on Saturday.
Liverpool have witnessed both ends of the transfer spectrum first-hand through rumours surrounding Coutinho and Virgil van Dijk respectively. While many still argue that the transfer window should be closed upon the commencement of the new season, there is still another three weeks of potential madness left to spin.
It has typically been the smaller teams who suffered most during this period as clubs with more financial muscle tried to swoop in on their star players. It appears that this summer’s transfer window has shown no respect to the clubs who get caught in the cross-hair of big money moves.
While this can have a destabilising effect on both an individual player’s mentality and a manager’s plans for the coming season, it could also prove a catalyst for squad players who see their position in the team under threat.
With rumours abound regarding Klopp’s apparent interest in both van Dijk and Naby Keita, maybe the defensive players on the periphery of the team will be catalysed into upping their standard in the way that Alberto Moreno has seemingly morphed into a new player during the summer months.
Out of their depth?
It’s a firmly-held belief by many that Liverpool will suffer from to a lack of depth in their squad this year due to the extra challenge presented by Champions League football. What many people are cheaply discounting though, is the strength that the club have within their youth system.
With Solanke adding to players such as Sheyi Ojo, Ben Woodburn, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, Klopp has been slowly integrating these talented youngsters into his squad over last season and at least one or two of them could rapidly develop again this season.
With the likes of Ryan Kent and Ovie Ejaria slightly further down the developmental line, Liverpool could prove to have a fruitful source of talent hidden in plain sight.
PREDICTION: Watford 0 – 2 Liverpool
While Watford have a lot of potential within their squad and two new forwards liable to make their club debuts, they still require time to allow their side to gel and adapt to the new playing style demanded by Marco Silva.
Conversely, Klopp already has Liverpool ticking to almost the rhythm he wants from them and similar to how they started last season with a bang, they’re likely to be quick out of the blocks this season too and I can see them coasting to a win at the first opportunity.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?