08 May 2016

Liverpool 2-0 Watford

Allen 35'
Firmino 76'

Hey, Liverpool actually held onto a 2-0 lead at Anfield!

It wasn't great, but it was fairly comfortable. It was an end-of-season match between a mid-table away side safe from relegation and a much-changed home side focused on their upcoming European final.

And that's all that Liverpool needed. The second-string side came in and simply did their jobs. They might not have done it with aplomb at either end of the pitch - unsurprisingly, Liverpool were best in midfield and in pressing (*winks at Joe Allen and Joe Allen's top knot*) - but they did it efficiently and securely.

A first half goal to take a lead into the interval, a second-half goal to make things safer. Mignolet had to make one enormous save at 1-0 on Ighalo in the 55th, while Skrtel, Lucas, and Moreno had to make a few important blocks, but this certainly wasn't the Watford attack we saw back in December. Liverpool controlled tempo and tenor, Liverpool did well to limit Watford's potentially dangerous counter-attacks. Liverpool kept a clean sheet with a back four of Flanagan, Skrtel, Lucas, and Moreno. Liverpool probably should have scored more, with notable missed chances from Coutinho and Benteke, but at least Liverpool created decent opportunities, something they'd struggled with at Bournemouth and Swansea, and against Newcastle, with a similar XI.

The fear was that Skrtel and Lucas would Skrtel and Lucas. They didn't. The fear was that Watford's speed would bypass Liverpool's midfield and defense. It didn't. Watford didn't press, which helped Stewart have what was probably his best game for the club, also aided by Joe Allen being Joe Allen.

The fear was that Liverpool would be blunt up front with Benteke leading the line, with Ibe surprisingly used at the #10 so Coutinho could continue playing on the left. And Liverpool was, a little, but not painfully so. Coutinho again appeared the best suited to playing with Benteke, each creating half-chances for the other. And both Benteke and Coutinho played a crucial roles in Liverpool's opener: the Brazilian's quick, clever deep free kick before Watford got into position, the big Belgian's a perfect knock-down for an on-rushing Joe Allen.

Coutinho should have extended the lead just after the interval, mishitting an open side-foot from Benteke's center, a nice break between Stewart, Ibe, Coutinho, and Benteke. Ighalo should have equalized from the aforementioned 55th minute chance, a wonderful save from Mignolet but also demonstrating why he's only scored one league goal in 2016, back in mid-January.

Watford's subs made Watford better - Guedioura, Berghuis, and Amrabat for Suarez, Jurado, and Abdi - the away side with much more possession in Liverpool's half, but it still didn't lead to concrete opportunities: Guedioura wide from distance, Abdi over from a free kick, Berghuis tame from wide right.

And then Liverpool's substitute settled matters. It was slightly fortunate, and slightly scruffy, as more than a few of Firmino's goals seem to be, but they all count the same. Ojo pressed Anya into a mistake, blocking his hoofed clearance, which fell directly to Firmino with space to run. He strode forward and smacked a shot from the top of box with good direction and decent pace, but Gomes still should have saved it. Gomes didn't. It's Firmino's 10th goal of the campaign, to go along with his seven assists. Not bad for an overpriced foreign flop.

From there, cruise control. Benteke missed a couple more chances, Ibe hit the post from no angle. Watford did nothing. We got a final 15 minutes without any heart palpitations. Which is exactly how I'd like my Sunday afternoon to go, thank you. Liverpool strolled to its first 2-0 league win of the season, neither conceding stupidly nor adding more, Liverpool made amends for last week's debacle at Swansea, Liverpool made amends for last December's debacle at Watford.

Job done, move on. No one really stood out (except Joe Allen and Joe Allen's hair, of course), but no one played anywhere near badly either. Liverpool are a point behind West Ham, two points behind Southampton with a game in hand.

Chelsea on Wednesday, in the last home match of the season.

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