23 December 2006

Liverpool 2-0 Watford

It wasn’t as thorough as Fulham or Charlton, but it’s 3 points in the bag, and with fixtures coming fast and thick, 3 points will do no matter how they’re won.

I was a little surprised to see what is pretty much the strongest eleven today. With so much said about rotation and the amount of games coming up, it’s odd that Liverpool went with the exact same starting line-up that went out against Fulham. Having nearly reached the New Year, Rafa may very well have decided upon a first choice XI at home, rotation be damned. Looking at the team’s home record, that can only be a good thing.

The first half was a nervy affair. Liverpool never saw enough possession, never took enough shots on goal, and Watford saw a fair share of the ball. There were a few decent chances: Ben Foster, who was easily Watford’s best player, made good saves on shots from Alonso and Kuyt, and Bellamy tantalizingly cut the ball across the face of goal only for it to go untouched, but Liverpool never did enough to take the lead. At the same time, every now and then Watford looked likely to threaten on the break, with Reina flapping at a couple of balls and Bangura shooting over an open net. Once in a while, there were those recurring fears that there would be a defensive breakdown like those given up earlier in the season, but Watford was never able to take advantage of the few frailties, and the first half ended 0-0.

It was greatly relieving to see the opening goal come so soon after half time. Bellamy, who had continually threatened with his pace and work ethic, had tons of space and time after a Gerrard through ball from a Kuyt flick-on, and accordingly put it past Foster with a clinical finish.

The goal seemed to encourage Liverpool, but for 40 minutes nothing came of it. The second half saw better chances created as Watford was forced to come out of their shell to look for an equalizer every so often. Liverpool was able to put together some slick passing moves and good counter-attacks, which was encouraging after the opening 45 minutes. Gonzalez came on for Pennant midway through the half and nearly headed in from the rebound off of Bellamy’s shot. Soon after, Carragher was unlucky not to score for the second time in three games, forcing Foster into making one of his many excellent saves.

As has happened before, it took until after the 80th minute to seal the win. Not long after Crouch (who again came on as a late substitute) crashed a shot against the post, Alonso finally beat Foster (who got a hand to it) with a swerving shot into the top left corner.

2-0 was more than deserved even though the team was far from their best. Watford was tough to break down, content to sit back and play head tennis, and kept possession away from Liverpool while rarely threatening. Players weren’t at their best today; no one was overly influential, not much was coming off as hoped, but Liverpool still won. With five games coming in a little over two weeks, that will do.

MOM: Bellamy

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