Liverpool 6 – Watford 1: Match Review

I’ll be honest, I was a little bit worried heading into this one. Despite being convinced that the Reds are going to win the league, I’m still not over my fear of slip ups and mistakes. Heading into the game plenty of other results had gone out way. Chelsea’s defeat of Everton aside, City and Arsenal both dropped points and we knew that a win would put us top of the league heading into the international break. Exactly the sort of time that Liverpool teams in the past have slipped up.

July 24, 2015- Shah Alam, Malaysia: Fans and supporters show their support for the visiting Liverpool team in their friendly match against Malaysia. Liverpool Football Club from UK is on an Asia tour.

July 24, 2015- Shah Alam, Malaysia: Fans and supporters show their support for the visiting Liverpool team in their friendly match against Malaysia. Liverpool Football Club from UK is on an Asia tour.

Not this lot. This Liverpool side is not to be messed with. They are deadly serious about the job they’ve got in front of them and they’re not letting anything or anyone stop them from doing it. The extent to which Jürgen Klopp has turned things around at Anfield cannot be under-stated. Some people might want to play it down, to make it seem as though because it’s November it doesn’t matter, but the Reds are are the top of the table because they’re playing the best football in the country and have been the most consistent side by a long, long distance. Here’s my take on the talking points from our win over Watford.

Teamwork Makes The Dreamwork

There’s a story about the aftermath of Liverpool’s 3-0 loss to Watford back in December of 2015. The Hornets out-fought, out-muscled and out-played us and the mood around the camp was one of disillusion. The players were supposed to have their Christmas party that night and feared that it would be cancelled on the back of their performance. Instead, they received a text from Jürgen Klopp that said, “Whatever we do, we do together. Tonight that means we party”.

That was not only the instruction the manager gave the team for that night but it also seems to be the mantra that the players have had drummed into them since the German took over in the dugout. The players are playing for each other every single week. They’re digging each other out of holes, supporting one another and, yes, having a go at one another if necessary.

The news of Danny Ings’ injury this week was proof positive of the togetherness in the squad. Every single player was quick to take to social media to offer the former Burnley man their support. Youth team players and lads like Joe Gomez who are yet to make a first-team appearance under Klopp were sending messages to him. This is a side that knows something positive is building. The manager has changed the mood around the place and everyone involved is more than aware that this is something that the want to be a part of.

smileimage9 / shutterstock.com

smileimage9 / shutterstock.com

They also seem to be making it look as though it’s the most fun thing to be doing in the world. They’re banging in goals, chasing down players and throwing in tackles as though the whole thing is a massive laugh. Sadio Mané, who was apparently inconsistent for Southampton last season, is playing as if this is the best thing he’s ever done. He scored two today and was part of an attack that Watford simple couldn’t deal with.

There is a growing school of thought that the title will go to the team that has the best balance this season. Manchester City, for all of their riches and the fact that they’ve got one of the best managers in the world in the dugout, still don’t seem to have that balance. Arsenal are still brilliant going forward but vulnerable at the back, whilst Tottenham are solid defensively but are consistently struggling to score enough goals to win matches rather than draw them.

The only team that looks as good as Liverpool right now is Chelsea, but it’s difficult not to imagine that an injury to Hazard or Costa could see their creativity dry up. Can the same be said about Liverpool? Right now there are goals all over the pitch and, as I said in my piece last week, it’s impossible for opposition managers to know who to target in order to stop our attacking fluidity. We have the balance that the other teams are lacking, in spite of the fact that we conceded yet another sloppy goal.

The players in this side not only know their individual jobs but they also know what they need to know as a team to give them the best possible chance of winning. The way they hunt in packs is a genuine joy to watch, closing down opposition players and swarming all over the place. They outrun teams to such an extent that it’s the equivalent of having an extra man. If Chelsea asked a question of our title credentials with their win over Everton yesterday then the Reds answered in the most emphatic way possible today.

It also needs to be pointed out that this wasn’t a Watford side that rolled over, either. The Hornets kept playing, kept harrying and kept trying to get back into the game for the entire ninety minutes. They deserved their goal in the end, as frustrating as it was to concede, and it was proof positive that they didn’t rollover and die just because we’d scored. We earned that win and our attacking creativity would have been too much for most teams in the land to deal with.

We’re Going To Improve

Here’s the scary thing for the rest of the teams in the league: I don’t think we’ve hit our peak yet. More importantly, neither does Jürgen Klopp. The manager said after the game that he was delighted with the result and the performance, but that we can improve in both attack and defence. Imagine what will happen when we do.

It’s certainly true that we could have been more clinical. Before the opening goal came we could and maybe should have scored two or three. It didn’t matter in the end, of course, but the German will know that it may do in the future in tighter games. It could also be important if this league continues to be close and goal difference becomes an issue in the closing stages of the campaign.

There are obviously still slight question marks surrounding the defence. It’s a boring topic to talk about, especially after watching the Reds score six, so I won’t spend long on it. But it’s true that we can improve on things at the back in order to stop other teams from feeling as though they might be able to take something from us in tighter games.

Lucas warming up before the home games against Crystal Palace

Lucas warming up before the home games against Crystal Palace

However the reality is that things will improve at the back the more that the defensive unit plays together. It would be unfair to criticise them for conceding without also pointing out that Dejan Lovren, one of our first-choice centre-backs, was missing today through illness. Lucas Leiva did virtually nothing wrong and I’d have no problem with him starting matches regularly at the back, but he hasn’t. That means that Loris Karius, Joel Matip, Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner (who was himself absent last week) are having to adjust their play to work alongside him.

The more games that the defensive unit gets to play the more they’ll learn what to expect from each other. Question marks may have been hanging over the goalkeeper on certain issues but I think he’s actually looked very impressive when you consider that he’s played less than a dozen games in England with his new teammates. Every time they train together and take to the field together they’re learning each others strengths and weaknesses and that can only be a good thing.

Mentally Ready For The Challenge

Klopp might have tried to downplay it after the game, but there was a lot of pressure on the players heading into the game. With close to a two week break in front of us for the international matches, it was important that we won by any means necessary to ensure that we didn’t ruminate on missing out on a good opportunity to put some distance between us and the chasing pack.

In years gone by that’s the sort of match that we have lost or drawn. Faced with an opportunity to go top we’ve ‘bottled it’, not doing enough to deserve to win. There was also the chance that we could have won but only by a goal or two, with a nervy last ten minutes to see out and people’s blood pressure shooting off the scale.

Instead we made a real statement of intent. The only people who will be thinking about our performance over the weekend are the other teams in the Premier League who have to try to figure out a way to stop us. This win was emphatic and our performance was mesmeric. If there were any question marks in the heads of the players about their ability to take on the challenge of heading to the top of the table then they didn’t show.

Make no mistake, this team is ready to take on the challenge of a tilt at the title. Bearing in mind that we reached two cup finals last year too, the signs of improvement have been there ever since Jürgen Klopp arrived on the scene and told us to turn from doubters to believers. This isn’t a flash in the pan;

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