The last international break of 2018 is over, and the Premier League returns this weekend. While the London derby between Chelsea and Spurs is likely to be the marquee fixture for the weekend, there is another clash between two top-half teams this weekend. Watford, who are surprisingly level on points and ahead in the table than Manchester United, host Liverpool who will look to extend their unbeaten run further. The smart money would have to go on Liverpool to take all the points, you could do some betting online this weekend and you’d have a decent chance of winning some money.
Watford have had an unexpectedly good season so far. 20 points from 12 games, just four points off Arsenal in the fifth position; In seventh position, ahead of Manchester United – there are many ways of expressing how unlikely a position Watford find them in. The fact is that they are reaping the benefits of a relatively easy start, in which they were able to win the first four games, albeit the fourth one – against Tottenham was indeed an upset. Since then, the Hornets have tasted defeat four times and drawn two games, while winning two – Huddersfield and Wolves. They have historically troubled Liverpool at Vicarage road, making the Reds draw their first match of the 2017-18 season. Hornets’ manager Javi Garcia will be looking forward to one more performance troubling the Reds on Saturday.
Liverpool come into this game, still undefeated in the league. Some of their key players, including Salah, Shaqiri, van Dijk, and Trent have had a successful international break, so there should be no dearth of confidence in this Liverpool team. However, Jurgen Klopp might have one eye on this match and the other on the next mid-week game against PSG in the Champions League. In fact, this Watford game is the start of a very busy period for Liverpool, where they are set to play nine games in a month and that too against teams such as PSG, Napoli, Manchester United, and Everton. It is as well that Klopp has a fit squad at the start of this challenging period, as he has more rotation options, which will come in handy in keeping key players available for key clashes. For this potential banana skin-like fixture, if Klopp sets up Liverpool in their 4-2-3-1 format, and not the tradition 4-3-3, the Reds have enough quality in their squad to keep their unbeaten start going.
- Since beating Liverpool in December 2015, Watford are winless in their last five Premier League meetings with the Reds (D1 L4). That draw was in the same fixture last season in game week 1 when the Reds started their season with a draw at Vicarage Road.
- Liverpool have the historic edge as well. In all competitions, the Reds have won 9 out of the last 11 (D1 L1), keeping a clean sheet in 7 of those victories. Since that December 2015 victory, Watford have shipped 17 goals to the Reds in the league and have managed to score just five.
- Watford have lost 15 of their 17 Premier League matches against sides starting the day in top two. But, their recent home form is great. They have won five of their last seven home Premier League games, losing only to Manchester United and Bournemouth.
- Liverpool have not conceded more than once in any of their last fifteen Premier League games since a 2-2 draw with West Brom in April. That kind of record increases their chances of extending their unbeaten start to 13 matches, which would be a first since 2007-08.
- Watford are one of those teams that seem to be pressing even more than Liverpool this season. Their PPDA stands at 10.74 (Understat), while Liverpool’s PPDA is 12.65. Thus, Liverpool allow their opponents more actions in the opponents’ three-fifths of the pitch. However, their OPPDA is 20.69, second only to Manchester City (25.55), meaning that they themselves put in 20 passes before an opponent defensive action.
It was a José Holebas cross from which Watford scored their first goal in the same fixture last season. This season, the left back seems to be getting into a habit of finding the right person in the box with his pinpoint free kicks, crosses, and corner kicks. In 10 appearances, he has assisted four goals and scored two for the Hornets. His xG90 + xA90 is 0.37, which means that if he plays full 90 minutes, he is likely to contribute a goal once in every three games. His defending is also pretty good as he wins 61.1% of his aerial duels and 81.8% % of his tackles – two qualities that can help him in tracking Mohamed Salah on his flank. He is currently one of the best performers in this Watford team and has the potential to trouble Liverpool on Saturday.
Roberto Firmino is nowhere near his top form. He has not scored or assisted a goal since he scored against Red Star Belgrade at home almost a month back – a run that stretches over more than 400 minutes. But, when out of form players get to play against some of their favourite opponents, there is a possibility for them to jump back into form. From that perspective, Firmino cannot ask for a better opponent than Watford. The Brazilian has scored four goals and assisted three against Watford in just five games – including a goal plus assist pair in the same fixture last season. His current xG90 + xA90 is still 0.64, which reflects his underlying quality. He just might be able to highlight it once again on Saturday.
Will Hughes seems to be a major doubt for Watford, but Etienne Capoue returns from suspension and should start. Sebastian Prodl and Tom Cleverley are still injured but Daryl Janmaat is close to a return following his knee injury. Garcia has preferred Gerard Deulofeu and Isaac Success in attack recently but Troy Deeney or Andre Gray might be fancied given Liverpool’s traditional weakness against set plays.
For Liverpool, Jordan Henderson has been declared fit to start so Jurgen Klopp has almost his entire squad fit to choose from – the only absence being that of Oxlade Chamberlain. Shaqiri’s international form might win him a place in the starting-lineup and Fabinho should also keep his place in the team ahead of Naby Keita, especially if Klopp goes ahead with a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Liverpool have not had the best of the times at Vicarage Road recently. However, this Liverpool team has shown that even if they cannot dominate their opponents, they have it in them to eke out a win when required. Watford, in their current form, represent a banana skin for Liverpool but the Reds have enough firepower and sturdiness in defence to win the game.
Watford 1 – 2 Liverpool