Liverpool are riding high. The win at Selhurst Park would have only increased spirits in what already looked like a happy camp. Jurgen Klopp has well and truly put his stamp on this side and these are happy times at Anfield. But as Klopp said after the Palace game, we still make childish mistakes at times and now is the time to start weeding those out.
Next in line, visiting the Anfield fortress, are Watford. The Hornets have made a promising start to life under Walter Mazzarri, and currently sit seventh in the table. They inflicted Klopp’s worst defeat as Liverpool manager last season, but that was at Vicarage Road and the Reds at Anfield this season have been different – a hugely daunting proposition.
For Liverpool, as it has been for the last few weeks, it is again about keeping the momentum going as the league table begins to take shape and paint a clearer picture of happenings on the field.
Here are some individual battles that will be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the game.
Philippe Coutinho v Daryl Janmaat
In Watford’s system, with three centre-backs and the two wing-backs, Nordin Amrabat has been preferred to start as the right wing-back, but it could be different at Anfield. The threat of Liverpool’s magician could mean that Mazzarri will prefer the more defensive-minded Janmaat over the Moroccan. Coutinho had by far the best game of his season at Selhurst. He is beginning to produce the kind of consistent performances that separate the good players from the world-class ones. In our attacking unit, he is possibly the most important cog in the wheel. His ability to wriggle out of spaces, his dribbling prowess and his vision make him so difficult to defend against. For Janmaat, he has got his task cut out. The little magician is purring with confidence at the moment and for the Dutchman, it will be about keeping his discipline and ensuring he doesn’t afford Coutinho too much space.
Jordan Henderson v Etienne Capoue
Like Coutinho, Henderson has also shown his class on a consistent basis. The naysayers have been put to rest, at least for a while, as Henderson has taken to that deep midfield role like a fish to water. He does nothing spectacular, which is good. On many occasions in the last two seasons, as I have accused him constantly, he tried too hard to be Steven Gerrard. Now, he’s doing what he does best. Hassling, pressing and keeping the ball moving by being intelligent in possession. Occasionally, he does produce the killer pass too, as he did for Roberto Firmino to score our fourth on the night. Capoue has been one of the revelations this year in the Premier League. After an all-action start to the season, the goals have dried up slightly, but that makes him no less important to Watford. Along with Roberto Pereyra and Valon Behrami, he has been a part of a strong triumvirate that loves to choke oppositions. Their challenge at Anfield on Sunday will be to beat the Liverpool press and feed the likes of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney.
Roberto Firmino v Younes Kaboul
His continued excellence in the no. 9 role means that Klopp is afforded the luxury of bringing on Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge from the bench. In truth, Firmino does everything a Klopp system demands from its striker. He presses, never gives defenders a moment’s peace and when required drops deep to vacate space for the likes of Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana to run into. Firmino’s biggest strength is his mobility. He barely ever stays in one position, making him a nightmare to mark. In that sense, Watford having three centre-backs will help. At the centre of the three will be Kaboul. The big Frenchman has been impressive since joining the Hornets in the summer. Along with Sebastian Prodl and Miguel Britos, he has been trusted to handle the defence by Mazzarri. But this will be a hugely different challenge from their last few games, with the Reds primed to constantly throw difficulties to them at the fortress.
Troy Deeney v Dejan Lovren
Lovren was villain and became hero at Selhurst Park in a matter of moments. For Liverpool, it would be nice if the Croatian didn’t give fans so many heart-attacks. Although Watford will not hoof the ball to the two big strikers at every opportunity, their style is based around the strength of Deeney and Ighalo and their ability to bring other players into play. Deeney, in particular, has had a very good start to the season. So much so, that there have been calls for him to make the England first-team. Lovren will have the luxury of the calming presence of Joel Matip. For both of them, it is about communication, staying compact and ensuring they don’t allow Deeney to have even a sniff as he is capable of producing a special moment from seemingly nothing. Lovren cannot afford more slip-ups and as Klopp has been saying, we need to be more intelligent as a defensive unit.