Liverpool were given far more of a game than expected by Watford, who troubled the title-chasing Reds throughout a 2-0 home win at Anfield. Alisson was forced into a number of excellent saves as Roy Hodgson’s men threatened to throw a spanner into the title race. The cliche goes that winning while not at your best is a sign of title credentials, and Jurgen Klopp’s side have now thrown the gauntlet down to Manchester City. The champions play at 3pm against Burnley, knowing they need a win to return to the top of the table.
Watford famously snapped Liverpool’s 44-match unbeaten run in February 2020, and at times in the first half they looked like they could hurt Jurgen Klopp’s side again. Ismaila Sarr sent a dipping half-volley just over in front of The Kop. Cucho Hernandez drew a good save from Allisson at a corner, and former Reds boss Roy Hodgson’s men played with a counter-attacking threat.
Football can often be defined by sliding doors moments, and one such cosmic turning of the tables gave Liverpool their lead. Joao Pedro outran Liverpool’s midfield on the counter, and played in Juraj Kucka. The midfielder drew an excellent save from Alisson, and the home side countered. Within seconds, Joe Gomez was whipping in a cross that would make usual right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold proud. Diogo Jota got on the end of it with a booming and beautiful header to give his side the lead. It was cruel on Watford, but testament to how dangerous Liverpool are even when under-performing.
Thiago’s sublime through-pass to Andy Robertson looked like it had created another opening. Moussa Sissoko got across in time to land a blistering tackle on the left-back, and while there were shouts for a penalty, his challenge was textbook in its execution.
A slashing Jota strike just before the break demonstrated the increased pressure the Hornets were now under. There were passing options in the centre for the ex-Wolves man, but the striker's instinct kicked in before Ben Foster confidently palmed the shot away.
Diogo Jota gets the opener against Watford at Anfield!
Gomez continued to warm into his task as Liverpool’s attack-minded crossing machine, as he whipped a superb ball towards Robertson. Christian Kabasele got up brilliantly to head it away, and a scramble from the resulting corner saw Watford clear the danger.
Mohamed Salah, who had endured a quiet afternoon, had the ball robbed from his toes in the box. The Egypt star took too long over his decision to shoot or cross, and Hassane Kamara dispossessed him. Salah definitely seemed to be playing with a bit of a footballing hangover from his country’s World Cup heartbreak in the week.
Watford proved they still had plenty to offer, as Sarr latched onto a ball over the top. The Senegal winger squared to Joao Pedro, who had time and space but dragged his shot wide. It was another let-off for the Premier League title challengers, and the complexion of this game would have been very different but for Watford’s poor finishing.
Liverpool settled into a patient and probing passing rhythm, using attack as the most effective form of defence. They still broke the Watford lines at times, such as when Salah looped a header over Foster’s bar. But the idea seemed to be to keep the ball and frustrate Hodgson’s men, who struggled without the previous openings through which they had counter-attacked.
VAR reared its head late on, as Kucka wrestled Jota to the floor at a corner. It was the sort of challenge that goes unpunished at far too many corners, but it was a clear infringement from the Watford midfielder. Fabinho put the game beyond all doubt from the spot, sticking the ball into Foster’s top right-hand corner.
That late strike settled the game, and finally ended what had been a stubborn and committed resistance from Watford. Hodgson’s men can take positives from this game that can steel them for the relegation fight. For Liverpool, all eyes turn to how City get on at Burnley.