Make or break time.
You get the feeling that Liverpool fans will be repeating that sentence before every game between now and the end of the season, but with the Manchester and London derbies providing Liverpool’s best chance to regain control of their own fate, the Monday night clash at Vicarage Road is one of Klopp’s most important affairs of the season. With teams in or around Liverpool playing each other it would be worth placing a bet with Lottomatica on Liverpool to qualify for the Champions League.
Liverpool haven’t lost two in a row in the league all season. They won’t want to start now. Here are the key battles for Liverpool’s trip to Watford.
Nathaniel Clyne vs. M’Baye Niang
Gone are the (rather recent) days of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney tearing the Premier League up, and Liverpool fans will be able to breathe a sigh of relief to see the Nigerian nowhere near the starting lineup after the havoc he and his strike partner caused to Jürgen’s men last season. Despite their inconsistencies, though, Watford’s main attacking weapon is a rather exciting one; and he seemingly fits the bill.
Devilish on the ball, difficult to manage, and yet often incognito when the going gets tough. M’Baye Niang has 2 goals and 2 assists in his 11 appearances for the club this year, but he will relish the space he’ll undoubtedly get when Watford counter-attack. If Nathaniel Clyne isn’t at his most ready for the pace and dribbling skills of the former Milan man – especially when 40% of Watford’s attacks come down their left hand side – then he could be in for a rough day.
Liverpool will hope they’ve broken through Watford’s defences before he even gets a touch.
Roberto Firmino vs. Sebastian Prödl
The man who’s come to the party the most of all in recent times, Roberto Firmino’s goals tally this season has been one of the shining lights for a player many consider to be a false #9; better at pressing and allowing others to flourish than flourishing himself. But when he and his magical compatriot start firing; as they did in the reverse fixture when Liverpool hammered Watford 6-1, the sparks start flying.
He’ll be up against a slow, lumbering centre-back who’ll use his strength and confidence in a close-quarters matchup to stop Firmino from getting on the ball in the box all that often. Watford’s defence is nothing special; having conceded 54 all season – the worst out of the top ten – but defensive teams have a knack of shutting up shop against Liverpool, and stifling Firmino in the process: he can’t let that happen. Watford do, however, concede 14 shots per game (per Opta), meaning Firmino could be in for a good day at the office.
If he can manage to get a few touches inside the box though, you can count on him to convert them.
Phil Coutinho and Liverpool’s creativity vs. Another Bus
Be honest, when the team who battered you 6-1 rolls up to your doorstep, you’d probably play defensively too.
That’s probably what Walter Mazzarri’s men will set out to do. Watford know exactly what awaits them at Vicarage Road when Klopp’s redmen travel there, and you can guarantee Phil Coutinho will be in the middle of the action, pulling the strings as always. Etienne Capoue did a job on Paul Pogba earlier in the season, and that United game is one of the things that will undoubtedly be in the back of supporters’ minds as Liverpool look to bounce back from the disappointment against Crystal Palace.
The midfield will be boosted by the return of Adam Lallana for a bit of creativity, possibly allowing Can and Wijnaldum a bit more familiarity, given the trio are the favoured midfield under Jürgen Klopp while Jordan Henderson’s been injured.
Meanwhile, Coutinho’s free kick was the sole highlight among a disparaging attacking display at Anfield this past weekend, and it can’t happen again at Vicarage Road. He’ll need to use the space when it is afforded to him, and be at his creative best. If he does, Liverpool will be in good stead. If, however, a repeat of the debacle against Palace rears its ugly head, and Liverpool’s midfield is once again bereft of ideas, then Liverpool can count that coveted Champions League spot as another glaring missed opportunity.