17:30 GMT, Saturday 17th March, Anfield (Liverpool, England) BT Sport
Last weekend’s defeat in Manchester meant Jürgen Klopp’s side slipped to 4th in the league but a win in this match will maintain a healthy buffer to 5th -placed Chelsea. Having never lost two successive league games with Klopp at the helm, Liverpool will expect to bounce back against a club they’ve beaten in 9 of their 10 Premier League meetings, however, complacency against an organised team has been their undoing in the league before.
Javier Gracia has had sporadic success during his early career with the Hertfordshire-based club, cultivating as many defeats as he has wins (3) to show since his arrival in the English game. With 36 points and 8 matches left to play, Watford’s attention will slowly turn to next season and a trip to Liverpool is an effective way to measure how far they are from the standard set at the top of the league.
Last Time Out
Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool (Premier League)
It was a clichéd game of two-halves at Old Trafford as Liverpool failed to recover the damage caused by a poor first-half performance. After a bright opening 10 minutes to the game, Liverpool lost their tempo and direction as Marcus Rashford twice made them suffer for defensive errors.
It could have been worse for Klopp’s men had Juan Mata’s acrobatic effort found the target and Liverpool had no complaints at half time having been out-thought and out-fought by a team with more appetite for a win.
The second half saw Liverpool go firmly onto the front foot, pinning the hosts inside their own half for most of the latter stages. An own-goal from Eric Bailly provided hope but despite four penalty claims of reasonable legitimacy, Liverpool could not break down Mourinho’s side. On another day Liverpool’s efforts may well have yielded a better result, however, on this occasion, the reds were limited to long-range shots and were ultimately suffocated out of earning anything from their trip to Manchester.
Arsenal 3-0 Watford (Premier League)
Despite a comprehensive scoreline, Watford gave as good as the got for long periods of the game but were found wanting in front of goal. Lapses in concentration was Watford’s fatal problem after they had controlled possession for much of the opening hour.
An 8th-minute goal gave Arsenal the early advantage but three chances for Richarlison and an appalling miss by Roberto Pereyra bred hope that something would be salvaged from this game.
Once the Gunners doubled their lead around the hour mark, the tide turned heavily against Gracia’s side and there was little doubt left regarding the outcome. Troy Deeney then wasted a gilt-edged chance to galvanise his side when his penalty was saved by Petr Cech, which energised the hosts. While Orestis Karnezis had played his part in keeping the Hornets in touch in the game, there was little he could do about the third goal and Arsenal ran out convincing winners with a demonstration of how to play incisive, counter-attacking football.
Nathaniel Clyne’s absence through a muscular injury continues for the Reds but everyone else in the squad has been declared fit for selection in this match. With an international break following this game, Klopp could rotate his squad which could see returns for Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson who all missed out of the team to face Manchester United last time out.
Unlike the Reds, Watford have several players unavailable for this fixture. Molla Wagué (hamstring) Younes Kaboul (fitness) Gerard Deulofeu (foot) Craig Cathcart (knee) Christian Kabasele (hamstring) Tom Cleverley (hamstring) and Nathaniel Chalobah (knee) are all on Gracia’s injury list and could lead to him naming the same eleven which started at Arsenal which would provide an extra defensive-minded player on the pitch for the Hornets to his preferred 4-2-3-1 set-up.
Key Battle: Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) vs Abdoulaye Doucouré (Watford)
The midfield battle is likely to be key in this match with the winner able to dictate the pace and tempo of this game. Henderson is still to win over numerous critics but has yet again been included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for England’s upcoming friendlies. This game could well prove a good platform for him to showcase his talent for orchestrating his team from a deep-lying position.
Providing a direct comparison to Henderson is arguably Watford’s player of the season. Playing a more box-to-box role than Henderson, Doucouré has been directly involved in 10 league goals (7goals, 3 assists) this season but it’s his ability to command the central area of the pitch which is more impressive. With Liverpool’s midfield likely to hound him down with relentless pressing, he will need to show the composure on the ball which has attracted the attention of several top clubs to his abilities.
Five become one
The quarter-final draw for this season’s Champions League has paired Liverpool with England’s other great hope of bringing the trophy back to these shores, Manchester City. The all-English tie means that while the Premier League is certain of having one representative in the final four, the five teams which entered the knock-out stages have quickly been slimmed down to just one.
For all the talk of the Premier League once more becoming a serious force in European competition, the reality of this season shows it to be improving but still with some way left to develop. A pulsating set of games in this tie could easily strengthen the entertainment value of the English top-flight, especially as there have already been 11 goals scored from the two league meetings between these clubs this season.
The man with a plan
Javier Gracia made his name as a manager by tactically out-thinking his opponents. The impressive win over Chelsea did not see him claim the credit he deserved but could prove a taste of things to come for Watford fans.
While the Hornets away form remains something of particular concern, a trip to Anfield is probably not what most managers would relish in these given circumstances. For the manager known as the “giant-killer” in Spain due to his exploits in La Liga, this could be exactly the tonic needed for his squad’s ailing performances.
Gracia has promised that his side will provide something different to the test which faces them on Saturday evening. Having just seen his team succumb to Arsenal’s quick counter-attacks, it remains to be seen how he approaches a similar problem from another team in Red this weekend.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-0 Watford
In a fixture which has never finished as a goalless draw in the top-flight, there is a rich history of plenty of goals (averaging 3.43 goals per game) between these two sides. Gracia is likely to set his team to restrict the Reds in this match, however, Liverpool could prove to have too much for a side struggling to score goals.
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