Some pundits say that the Premier League is made of two sub-leagues – The Big Six and the Other 14. On Wednesday, the two teams that top these two leagues will play against each other. Liverpool, who regained the top position with a draw against United at Old Trafford on Sunday, will host Watford, whose 5-1 win against Cardiff City was the highlight of the weekend.
Liverpool must be ruing the missed opportunity of not being able to secure three points against Manchester United, who were injury-hampered. Their inability to win on Sunday has handed the initiative to Manchester City in the title race, although as of now, Liverpool remain at the top as City are busy in cup competitions. The Reds’ last two games have ended in 0-0 draws, which is good in a way as the defence kept out the attacks of Bayern Munich and Manchester United over 180 minutes. But it is also a negative as their usually rampaging attack drew blank in the same time. With home games against Chelsea and Tottenham, as well as the Merseyside derby at Goodison, yet to be played, Liverpool cannot afford any more slip-ups and dropped points. And if Jurgen Klopp’s side are to beat Watford on Wednesday, they will need to be more creative than they were on Sunday.
Watford find themselves seventh in the Premier League table, thanks to their 5-1 victory over Cardiff City on Sunday. They have had a good February, winning thrice and drawing once in four games (all competitions) in the month so far. The Hornets had reached this high in the table in October end – the first week of November but then they fell to the tenth position before rebounding recently. Although starting with this game against the Reds a difficult set of fixtures approach, where they will also play Leicester and Manchester City in the two games after Wednesday, the Hornets’ fans will be happy with their team’s progress so far. In fact, it is expected that the Watford team visiting Anfield on Wednesday will be far more confident this time than they were in their in their last few trips to Liverpool. That confidence can help them create an upset or two.
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last six league meetings with Watford (W5 D1), scoring 20 goals (11 in just two of them) and keeping four clean sheets int hat run. In fact, under Jurgen Klopp at Anfield Liverpool have scored more goals (15) only against Arsenal than they have against the Hornets (13).
- Not only is Watford’s record at Anfield bad – they have lost 10 of their 11 top-flight away games against Liverpool, with a 1-0 victory way back in 1999 being the only exception in the run – but their recent form against the Big Six is also lacklustre. Watford have lost 11 away Premier League games against the Big Six teams since beating Arsenal at the Emirates in January 2017.
- Despite their current form, Liverpool’s front three have been Watford’s prime tormentors in recent times as Salah has six goals and one assist in three games, Sadio Mane has three goals and three assists in four games, and Roberto Firmino has five goals and three assists in seven games against the Hornets.
- Watford have not beaten a side starting the day at the top of the league table in ten games since September 1986.
Liverpool’s attack needs to regain form and to do that they should be able to depend on the attacker who scored in four consecutive games prior to the two most recent blanks. Of Sadio Mane’s 13 goals and one assist in the league, four goals were scored in four games between Jan 19 and Feb 09. Mane has had a successful showing against Watford too so far – scoring three goals and three assists in just four games against the Hornets. His xG90 + xA90 is 0.53, which although trails both Salah and Firmino, is still valuable. In the absence of the Brazilian forward, Mane’s movement on the wing, combined with Salah’s presence on the other wing is going to be key for Liverpool.
Gerard Deulofeu has a total of six goals scored and four assists in 20 appearances. Of those, he has scored three and assisted one in the very last game, in Watford’s 5-1 win against Cardiff City. In that games, Deulofeu became the first Watford player to score a top-flight hattrick since Mark Falco in 1986. From the xG perspective, he is quite productive as his xG90 + xA90 is 0.64, which means a 64% chance of a goal contribution from Deulofeu in 90 minutes. He also likes to play away from home as several of his more memorable performances (West Ham, Crystal Palace, Cardiff City) this season have come away from Vicarage Road.
Roberto Firmino limped off at Old Trafford on Sunday after suffering an ankle injury, ruling himself out of this fixture at least. He was replaced on Sunday by Daniel Sturridge but on Wednesday night, Klopp might start with Xherdan Shaqiri. Lovren’s return to the squad is imminent but he will find it tough to break into it given the increasingly confident gameplay from Joel Matip. Trent Alexander Arnold and Naby Keita, both will be keen to start after starting the game on Sunday on a bench.
Other than Jose Holebaas, who is serving a suspension, Javi Garcia will have a fully-fit squad to select from. Having said that, the Spaniard is unlikely to tweak the side that won at Cardiff City on the weekend, by much.
While the history suggests that Liverpool will hand Watford another big loss on Wednesday. However, given the Reds’ current form, Jurgen Klopp will be a happy man if Liverpool just score a couple and keep Watford out, preferably throughout the game.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Watford