07 May 2016

Liverpool v Watford 05.08.16

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
0-3 Watford (a) 12.20.15
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.13.07
2-0 Liverpool (h) 12.23.06
1-0 Liverpool (a, League Cup) 01.25.05

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Villarreal (h); 1-3 Swansea (a); 0-1 Villarreal (a)
Watford: 3-2 Villa (h); 1-2 Palace (n); 1-3 West Ham (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Firmino 9; Benteke, Coutinho, Sturridge 8; Milner, Origi 5; Lallana 4; Henderson, Ings 2; Allen, Can, Clyne, Moreno, Sakho, Skrtel, Toure 1
Watford: Ighalo 14; Deeney 11; Abdi, Watson 2; Ake, Cathcart, Holebas, Layun, Prodl 1

Referee: Lee Mason

Guess at a line-up:
Randall Skrtel Lucas Clyne
Stewart Allen
Ojo Firmino Ibe

*finally stops watching highlights of the Villarreal game*

Oh, right. Liverpool still have league matches left. Fine. Who's available, who didn't play on Thursday, who's usually featured in these fixtures over the last month?

There'll be no Europa League match next Thursday, but Liverpool still have a midweek fixture: the rearranged contest with Chelsea. As much as I'm tempted to think Liverpool will stop playing a weakened shadow squad in the league, it doesn't seem likely. Am I afraid we'll get last week's result at Swansea again? Of course – I live in a constant state of pessimism, after all – but a heavily rotated side still seems the smarter option.

Ward or Mignolet? Sure, give Danny Ward another chance. Brad Smith's suspended, so probably Clyne on the left with Randall on the right (or Flanagan? does Flanagan still exist?), but maybe it's Moreno, or maybe it's Clyne and Moreno. Center-back will be Skrtel (sigh) and someone else, probably Lovren (Skrtel and Lovren together are bad, please don't do that) or Lucas.

Midfield seems the easiest to predict. It'll be Stewart and Allen. Maybe Lucas instead of one of them, or with both if Liverpool play 4-3-3, but Can's definitely getting rested, Milner almost certainly is too, and Chirivella will be on the bench at best after last weekend.

And then there's the attack. Ojo and Ibe again? Sure. Benteke? Why not; Sturridge probably isn't starting again, especially with Chelsea to come on Wednesday. The only question seems whether Liverpool start Firmino, Coutinho, or Lallana behind Benteke – all three played at least 82 minutes on Thursday – because Liverpool don't really have a replacement for that position, or if Liverpool play the aforementioned 4-3-3 with *just* Benteke, Ibe, and Ojo up front.

As much as I'd love to see Danny Ings feature, if not from the start then at least off the bench, I'd imagine he'll be protected as much as possible, maybe featuring in the final league match against West Brom if at all this season. But I couldn't be happier that he's at least back in training.

Meanwhile, Watford have hit the late-season wall typical of over-performing promoted teams, winning just two league matches since the start of March, with one draw and five losses. And that's been exacerbated by Watford's FA Cup run. Like Liverpool, they've prioritized the possibility of a trophy with the league place pretty much secure. Unlike Liverpool, they fell at the last hurdle before the final, losing to Crystal Palace two weeks ago.

Maybe Watford will be better in the league now that they're out of the cup, without any "distractions" and trying to finish the season as well as possible. We saw that last week, twice coming back from a deficit, equalizing for the second time in injury time before a winner just a minute later. Of course, that was against Aston Villa, who also had Cissokho sent off with 20 minutes left, so maybe I shouldn't read too much into it.

Watford are without Capoue, who's been one of their best players this season, but will have Deeney and Ighalo. Which is pretty much all they've needed. They've been the Poor Man's Vardy and Mahrez, responsible for almost three-fourths of Watford's 34 goals. Watford will play 4-4-2, with a likely starting XI of Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, Britos, Ake; Abdi, M Suarez, Watson, Jurado; Deeney, Ighalo. Anya or Amrabat are options on the flanks, Paredes could come in at full-back, Guedioura could play in midfield, but Watford's used a small squad this season, and has played a settled line-up when injuries have allowed.

Liverpool's loss at Watford in December was arguably Liverpool's worst performance of the season, along with the loss at West Ham two weeks later and last week's debacle at Swansea. It was Peak Everything's The Worst Liverpool: Watford scored early from a set play thanks to a from a goalkeeper error, Watford scored a second when Lucas and Skrtel were embarrassed by Deeney and Ighalo, and then Watford sat deep. Liverpool couldn't break through Watford's two banks of four, Liverpool's couldn't create a damned thing, with just two (two!) shots in the first half (both before Watford's second goal), and Liverpool eventually conceded a counter-attack third late on to cap off proceedings. Watford took just six shots, but put five on-target, and scored from three.

Liverpool have gotten better, sometimes only marginally but sometimes much more, against this type of opposition. They faced, and beat, an even better version of it last Thursday, albeit with a much stronger XI than we'll see tomorrow.

Let's be honest – the result doesn't matter much tomorrow. Sure, if Liverpool drop points, Liverpool probably end the season equalling their worst Premier League finish in eighth, but league results have been inconsequential for almost a month because of what came before. But even if the result matters little, performance does not. This is another chance for players to impress – especially Benteke, Allen, Ward, Ibe, and Ojo – to stake a claim, to demonstrate that they deserve more time and a place in the squad going forward.

And it's a chance for revenge, to make up for December's result, even if many of tomorrow's starters didn't feature. Vengeance can be the best of motivators, after all.

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