19 December 2015

Liverpool at Watford 12.20.15

8:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.13.07
2-0 Liverpool (h) 12.23.06
1-0 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 01.25.05
1-0 Liverpool (h; League Cup) 01.11.05

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 West Brom (h), 0-0 Sion (a); 0-2 Newcastle (a)
Watford: 1-0 Sunderland (a), 2-0 Norwich (h), 3-2 Villa (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Coutinho 5; Benteke 4; Ings, Milner, Sturridge 2; Firmino, Henderson, Origi, Skrtel 1
Watford: Igahlo 10; Deeney 5; Abdi, Layun 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Sakho Moreno
Henderson Lucas Can
Lallana Coutinho

Finally, a week between Liverpool matches. A time for players to rest, to recuperate, to return to action.

What? Crap. Sakho's back – which is no small matter – but Sturridge, Lovren, Rossiter, and Flanagan are still at least a match or two away, at best, while Milner has picked up a calf injury which'll rule him out tomorrow.

Liverpool don't have a ton of options, but Liverpool still have a few options. Unfortunately, none of those options have impressed of late.

Christian Benteke's come in for the most criticism this week – mainly from the likes of us on the internet, but even a bit from Klopp – and rightfully so. For the most part, he's still unable to adapt to Liverpool's preferred style of play, and Liverpool haven't done a great job – whether they even want to or should – adapting to his. I've said that I think he's better as a substitute for a while now and I've seen nothing in the last few matches to convince me otherwise.

Maybe my suspicion is fueled by my personal preference, but I suspect – read: hope – that Benteke's taken out of the firing line this weekend, Liverpool reverting to the front three which tore Manchester City apart a month ago, especially now that Coutinho's fit. Admittedly, Firmino's struggled as much as Benteke of late, but that's also been without Coutinho, and when used as a #10 or wide attacker. We haven't seen him as a central striker since that City match.

Watford, even at home, won't open up as Chelsea or City did, but there should be a bit more space than we saw when Liverpool traveled to Newcastle or hosted West Brom. And, to be bluntly honest, even if there isn't, Liverpool with Firmino up top can't be any worse than Liverpool with Benteke up top in the recent matches.

And no matter who plays up front, having Coutinho back should make a massive difference, ideally back to form after a substitute appearance against Sion, 70 minutes against West Brom, and a full week of training since Liverpool's last match.

So maybe's it's 4-2-3-1 with Benteke up front again, with three from Coutinho, Lallana, Ibe, and Firmino behind him. Maybe Klopp stays with that formation but with Origi up front, giving another chance to the youngster who scored a hat-trick in his last domestic start and a late, lucky equalizer in his last appearance. Maybe Liverpool revert to the 4-Diamond-2 from the Southampton league cup quarterfinal, although that seems most unlikely.

We're still not sure what Liverpool's best formation or best XI is. Which isn't surprising given the injuries, squad turnover, and mid-season managerial change, but it remains annoying.

Meanwhile, Watford have a best formation and best XI, one that's been relatively untroubled by injury. It's a big reason why they're currently seventh with 25 points, one point ahead of Liverpool.

Tomorrow's XI will almost certainly be Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, Britos, Ake; Abdi, Capoue, Watson, Jurado; Ighalo, Deeney. Anya, Paredes (more often a full-back), and Behrami (who's a slight doubt through injury) are also options out wide. Prodl could also return from injury – he's been out for the last two months – in central defense, but I doubt that he'd start in his first game back.

It will be 4-4-2 and Watford will be reliant on their two strikers. If not Ighalo or Deeney, then no one. Four players have scored league goals for Watford, and one of those four is currently out on loan. Abdi has one. Ighalo and Deeney have the other 15.

Unlike Liverpool's last opponents, Watford don't often score from crosses: just once, in the last match at Sunderland. Watford don't often score from set plays: just once, Ighalo's 1-0 winner against Swansea three months ago, converting Deeney's knock-down of a free kick. Watford score from open play (with a few penalties), Watford score from clear-cut chances, Watford score from their two strikers linking together. Unsurprisingly, Deeney and Ighalo also lead the club in assists, as with goals, the only two players to have registered more than one.

Watford have been decent at home – with three wins, two draws, and three losses – but they've been much more impressive away. To be fair, they've faced a tougher slate of games at Vicarage Road, the losses coming against Arsenal, Palace, and United. They've conceded more than once at home against just Arsenal (three) and United (two). Otherwise: one 2-0 win, two 1-0 wins, two 0-0 draws, and one 0-1 loss. Five clean sheets in eight matches, holding West Brom, Southampton, Swansea, West Ham, and Norwich scoreless. As Bass Tuned to Red pointed out yesterday, only Old Trafford has seen fewer league goals this season than Vicarage Road.

There will be some similarities, most likely in how Liverpool will dominate possession and need to deal with counter attacks, but coping with a 4-4-2 and two in-form strikers presents a different challenge than either Newcastle or West Brom posed. But, once again, the biggest concern is how Liverpool will break down a stingy defense. You know, the same concern we've voiced for *checks watch* about 16 months now.

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