Liverpool were denied an opening day victory as Miguel Britos’s late header shared the spoils for Watford at Vicarage Road.
Much of the pre-match talk was dominated by the headlines of Philippe Coutinho, who had handed in a transfer request the Friday before the game. The general consensus was that the Reds had to put the stories regarding the Brazilian to one side as they looked to open their Premier League season with a win at Marco Silva’s Watford.
It didn’t start well though for Jurgen Klopp’s side – with Hornets striker Stefano Okaka putting the home side ahead after some laughable defending from a set-piece. The away side struggled to find their mojo, until Sadio Mane finished off a terrific move to level the scores at 1-1, only for Liverpool’s celebrations to prove premature.
Only 3 minutes later, Abdoulaye Doucoure tapped in from close range to punish yet more lackadasical defending from Klopp’s side. It stayed that way until after the interval, which saw more creativity from the Reds. New signing Mohamed Salah won a penalty, which Roberto Firmino successfully converted. The new signing then prodded in from close range via Firmino’s lob, to put the visitors in front for the first time in the game. All of a sudden Liverpool were running riot, and only two spectacular saves from Heurelho Gomes to deny Dejan Lovren & Alberto Moreno respectively kept the Hornets in it.
Just as Klopp’s side thought they had emerged from Hertfordshire with all 3 points, Miguel Britos delivered a late sting in the tale, outmuscling goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and heading in to dramatically equalise and salvage a point for Watford on the opening day.
So, who impressed in a disappointing climax? In this article, I’ll be providing my three top performers from the breathless encounter…
3 – Emre Can
There weren’t many other marquee contenders for Man Of The Match really, bar Mohamed Salah & Sadio Mane, but another to impress at Vicarage Road was midfielder Emre Can.
With speculation regarding his contract still not being resolved, reports suggested that Juventus had submitted a £23m bid for Can.
The German was one of the few to impress in the Liverpool midfield on Saturday – like Mane, divulging some of the form we grew accustomed to towards the backend of last season.
In truth, he struggled as he lacked a creative influence near him, and he was one to suffer from a midfield lacking in balance and guile. In the first half, two Watford CMs in Abdoulaye Doucoure and Tom Cleverley were man-marking both Can & Wijnaldum; understandably the 23-year old struggled to find his feet. However, he used his intelligent positioning & awareness for Liverpool’s first equaliser.
As he was given the license to roam forward along with Wijnaldum throughout by Jurgen Klopp, he essentially acted as a decoy for the Watford centre-backs, occupying horizontal half-spaces available – just as Klopp often speaks about in some interviews. This is an underrated aspect of Can’s game; creating space for others by occupying half-spaces inside the box & consequently acting as a decoy for centre-backs.
He was, though, one of many responsible for the hosts’ second, being guilty of ball-watching and failing to close down the opposition quickly enough. Otherwise, a very intelligent performance from Liverpool’s central midfielder.
2 – Mohamed Salah
Salah, who cost £36.9m in the summer from AS Roma, had an impressive pre-season with the Reds. The 25-year old impressed with his work rate, pace, creativity, vision & goals – bagging four goals against Bayern Munich, Hertha Berlin, Wigan & Leicester respectively. And the Egyptian carried that form into the new season, also opening his account for the new Premier League season.
He was guilty of spurning a good opportunity to equalise in the first half, prodding over from close range after being seNt through by Roberto Firmino. Salah may still look back at that opportunity ruefully, but he more than made up for it, having a bigger influence in the second half.
The new signing showed his dexterity; winning a penalty courtesy of a foul by Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes. He was finally rewarded for his tenacious runs and energy – prodding home from close range to give the Reds the lead.
Salah’s finishing was a little erratic at times, but that was the least of Liverpool’s worries on Saturday afternoon. His second half performance was a sign of things to come, hopefully.
1 – Sadio Mane (Man Of The Match)
Betting company Online-betting.org had Sadio Mane as their man of the match and it would be difficult to disagree. The Senegalese who was Liverpool’s Player of the Year last season, kicked off where he finished last season. Making his first appearance since April 1st in the Merseyside Derby, the winger caused Watford’s full backs countless problems – especially in the second half.
In the first half, he was largely kept peripheral by Watford’s pressing & overloading in wide positions with the winger dropping deep to assist the full-back. The Seneglaese was struggling to have an impact, but it didn’t take long for Mane to draw Liverpool level.
The 25-year old did what he does best – using his pace to exploit space in between the centre-back and the full-back, latching onto a delightful flick from Emre Can & converting lethally.
His direct running again caused the Hornets problems in the second half; he nearly scored another, after a glancing header from a set-piece.
Mane’s tenacity & pressing was pivotal in drawing Roberto Firmino’s penalty for the away side, and he also exploited the space behind the CMs on several occasions. His link-up play with fellow winger Mohamed Salah was terrific to watch, and their runs in behind drastically improved the Brazilian’s game in the second half.
Easily the Merseysiders’ biggest threat in the first half, and a worthy MOTM contender for me.