Watford 0 – Liverpool 1: Match Review

It’s easy to get frustrated by results like last week’s 2-1 home loss to Crystal Palace. Like Swansea and Bournemouth before them, Palace aren’t a team that should be leaving Anfield with any points, let alone all three. Yet if we weren’t as inconsistent as we have been this season then we’d likely be winning our first title of the Premier League era. Instead all the talk has been about whether or not we’ll be able to claim a top four place, with plenty of Liverpool supporters ignoring the fact that Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal have been just as inconsistent as us. Whichever way you look at it, though, this was a massive game that we needed to win.

Prior to a ball being kicked we had an 80% chance of finishing in the top four. Had we lost then that would have dropped to 58%, whilst a draw would have put it on 72%. A win, on the other hand, has moved us to having a 90% chance of watching Champions League football next season. You have to feel at this point, sitting nine points behind us, that Arsenal will struggle to overtake us from here even if they have got two games in hand. Manchester United, meanwhile, have one game in hand but are four points away from us. Given that the two teams play each other this weekend and United also have to head to White Hart Lane, it will take something impressive for them to catch us, too. With all that in mind, then, what are the major talking points from our win over Watford?

Henderson’s Absence Has Seen Can Grow

Earlier in the season Emre Can couldn’t get a look in. Jordan Henderson was not only the club captain but also in the sort of form that meant he deserved his place in the side. Having been reinvented as a deep-lying playmaker by Jürgen Klopp. the former Sunderland man was a crucial part of how we played our football. He set the tempo in a way that Emre Can struggles to, driving us forward when he needed to and helping players like Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino to unlock the parked buses. Can wasn’t helped by the fact that he was nursing an injury, so any time he did get a chance he looked woefully off the pace.

Though Liverpool have obviously suffered because of Henderson’s subsequent absence through injury, Can has definitely benefitted. A run in the team for the German has seem him develop into one of our most important players, with his play aided by the fact that he’s also managed to shake off the injury he was suffering with. That Can is now playing so well doesn’t mean that supporters were wrong to be critical of him early on, of course. The reality is that he was poor at the start of the season, even if there were mitigating factors that contributed to that.

But right now it’s all about looking at the positives. Can may still struggle to set the tempo against teams that are determined to defend deep, yet when there’s a battle on our hands there’s no one better to have in our midfield. He plays the deep-lying midfield role in an entirely different way to Henderson when he’s put in there and he also seems to enjoy the fight in the middle of the park more than other players. One thing he’s needed to add to his game has been goals. He’s scored a few before last night, yet too often he hasn’t added enough when we’ve needed someone in the middle to help out the more attacking players.

Sufficed to say he changed that last night. His goal was truly sensational; the sort of goal that deserves to win any match. That’s not always the case, though – just ask Daniel Sturridge after the Europa League final, Philippe Coutinho against Palace last week and even Sebastian Coates against QPR back in 2012. Having scored such a wonderful goal against a team that hadn’t conceded at home in more than five hours, it was vital that we benefit from it for once rather than let it be a footnote in your history. We did just that, so now it’s over to Liverpool to get Emre Can’s contract sorted this summer.

Several Players Underperformed

We won 1-0 and it could have been more, yet I can’t escape the feeling that too many players are having a bad patch of form at exactly the wrong time. I’ve been a massive fan of Gini Wijnaldum this season, but I thought he was very poor last night. He was slow in possession and his passing was all over the show. More than once he gave the ball away really sloppily and put us under pressure. I’m ok with players taking risks if it will open up the play if it comes off, yet Wijnaldum was failing at basic passes. He’s one of the lads who has been a revelation since arriving from Newcastle, but just at the moment he’s struggling.

I also thought Divock Origi was well off the pace last night. It’s tricky, of course, because you don’t know what job the manager has asked him to do. Yet he failed to hold the ball up as well as you’d want him to and on numerous occasions he attempted to take on a man but didn’t pull it off. The frustration with the Belgian comes about because of the sort of player he could be if he applied himself. Imagine a footballer with his strength and finishing and the drive to succeed of the likes of Luis Suarez? He’d be unstoppable. Instead he seems to be far more similar to Andy Carroll; willing to turn it on every now and then but generally found wanting.

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the good thing for Origi, as I’ve mentioned time and again in pieces I’ve written, is that he’s still young. Should he develop his game a bit more over the coming year or so you’d fancy him to become world-class. It’s far from guaranteed, however, and at times last night I found myself wondering whether he really wants it all that much. The 22-year-old comes across really well in interviews and on social media and I can’t help thinking that he takes that ‘nice guy’ persona onto the pitch with him. Does he want to do whatever it takes to win? Recovering from an injury or not, Daniel Sturridge must have been watching Origi’s performance and wondering why he didn’t get on for him for at least the last half-an-hour.

I will be amazed if Daniel Sturridge is still a Liverpool player next year. Even when he hasn’t been frustratingly absent through injury, Jürgen Klopp just doesn’t seem to trust him. He was unlucky not to score, producing a decent save from Gomes having done little wrong with his approach play or his shot. Yet I don’t expect to see him start against Southampton next weekend. I think Origi will still be on our books next time out and I’ve got no real problem with that – as long as he’s our third-choice striker. Of the two players he’s the one I think we can rely on to, at the very least, get on the pitch. The important thing is that he rediscovers the form that made him such a dangerous weapon against the likes of Borussia Dortmund last season.

We’ve Really Missed Adam Lallana

Virtually every team except Chelsea has suffered injury to key players this season, but the extent to which it seems to have happened to us at the worst possible times has been ridiculous. Yes, Sadio Mané’s absence to the African Cup of Nations should have been predicted and there’s an extent to which you have to allow for a certain amount of injuries, but no one could have foreseen that Jordan Henderson would miss the best part of the season, or that Coutinho would be taken out for so long. Equally, Adam Lallana’s recent issue has left us short of creativity in the middle of the park.

Coutinho suffering a dead-leg last night is a good example of the sort of bad fortune we’ve had in this campaign. For the first time in what feels like ages we had a decent looking bench, only to have to turn to it within the first ten minutes of the game. Even ignoring Mané, we haven’t seen the trio of Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana on the pitch anywhere near as much as we would have liked. I thought we might get 45 minutes or so from the former Southampton man alongside the two Brazilians, but it wasn’t to be. Rather than a cameo he ended up playing a much more significant role and it served as a reminder of just how good he actually is.

It took Lallana some time to settle into life at Liverpool, as it has for many players before him. In fact, he deserves credit in settling at all when you consider how many players struggle to do even that. It is a bigger step up than many realise and the England midfielder probably benefitted more immediately than most with the arrival of Klopp in the manager’s position. The type of game that the German likes to play suits Lallana perfectly, with his pressing game one of the highlights of his style under Klopp. Last night he didn’t have the legs to press much, but he brought added calm and composure to our attacking moves. He is a skilful, intelligent player and it’s great to see him back in the fold.

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