Is this finally, finally their year?
After 16 games of the 2019/20 Premier League season, Liverpool have truly made all respective teams in the Premier League eat their red dust as they gather momentum in striving for their first top-flight title in three decades.
Jürgen Klopp’s side are well and truly on a rampage, grinding out results, doggedly, determinedly, nastily, bastardly. 15 wins, no losses, a single occasion of dropped points coming only to their arch-rivals at Old Trafford, to sit pretty smugly atop the EPL table on a powerful statement of 46.
The exceptional run looks highly unlikely to dip this weekend when they entertain bottom-feeders Watford lunchtime Saturday, a team who have had four times as many managers than wins this season and travel with Nigel Pearson set to make his debut in the dugout.
Just over twenty years ago, in August 1999, Watford won the first of their Premier League meetings with Liverpool at Anfield, courtesy of Tommy Mooney a quarter of an hour into the game. It was a respectable line-up as well that they were facing: Sami Hyypia, Jamies Carragher and Redknapp, Patrik Berger and Robbie Fowler were all featuring for Gérard Houllier’s Liverpool. The subsequent five when the Hornets have travelled to the red half of Merseyside have all been lost. That’s not including a further League Cup loss in January 2005. In total they’ve shipped in 20 goals against Liverpool, and responded with just one of their own.
This is the 35th meeting between the top and bottom sides in Premier League history, with the side starting top winning 24, drawing six, and losing just four. Watford have lost their last 12 top-flight matches against teams starting the day at the top of the league, a sorry sorry streak stretching back to 1986. Liverpool are also on their second longest spell of consecutive home wins in the top tier, a run of 21 across 1972 their target to beat.
Liverpool have been at this stage leading up to Christmas before, of course. Liverpool are the only team to have lead the league at Christmas (which they are now guaranteed to do) and let the title slip through their grasp. And they’ve done that three times.
Incumbent champions Manchester City - for any hope of retaining their Premier League crown - now require Liverpool to drop as many points in the remaining 22 league games of the season as they have done in the whole of their previous 44. Liverpool are now a humongous 14 points ahead of the Cityzens in third, and eight ahead of the impressive Leicester City, the Foxes shaped and moulded by former Reds boss Brendan Rodgers to be contenders for the throne.
#19Times however now seems inevitable, whilst Watford seem destined for decent back into the Championship, adding their name to that ignominious list of what would be deemed in Germany as the Fahrstuhlmannschaften, a yo-yo club without sustainability.
So why do Liverpool and Watford right now stand at the two literal ends of the spectrum?
Watford’s owners the Pozzo family have become notorious for their tied and tested (and tiresome) trend of quick-fix managers, the pump-and-dump method of one-season stands. That cannot be sustained, particularly with their expenditure, and gets scarily illuminated more by Jürgen Klopp’s recent contract extension that keeps him in Liverpool until 2024. Since Klopp has been at the helm, having been appointed in October 2015, Watford have had six different managerial appointments. Six.
The Fenway Sports Group - who purchased Liverpool in 2010 - may never have been the most popular owners, but the back-to-back Champions Leagues finals - lest we forget, one with a trophy - has appeased the natives. It puts the conglomerate almost as shadow partners, the seemingly impervious Death Star of Anfield with the figurehead of a beloved Darth Vader in Jürgen Klopp and John W Henry the cackling Emperor roaming around in the background.
In his four years in charge, Klopp has been afforded £392.4m in transfer fees. In the same period, Watford have spent a still impressive £181.63m, though this amounts to a difference of £210.83m, or in other words, an Alisson Becker, a Virgil Van Dijk, and a Naby Keita (plus a Gigi Wiljnaldum just to top it up).
However despite that gulf, the high profile arrivals at Vicarage Road have failed to cement. To put a metaphor on it, isn’t it better to spend £100 on decent headphones than a tenner a time on a flimsy throwaway pair with a longevity of a week?
Watford’s record-signing Ismaïla Sarr, who arrived from Ligue 1 outfit Rennes for £31m (that’s just £3m less than what both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané arrived in Anfield for), has had to contend with a conveyor belt of managers as well injury - he’s managed to complete the full 90minutes on just three occasions this campaign.
The only bragging rights Watford could possibly land on their weekend hosts is that they have been to more FA Cup Finals that the German gaffer has in his time in the north-west , the Hornets having lost to Manchester City by a record-score in the most recent edition.
Liverpool are overwhelming favourites to take the tie this weekend and cement their status as top-dog. Watford unfortunately are odds on to demonstrate once again why they’re… not.