05 November 2016

Liverpool v Watford 11.06.16

9:15am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (h) 05.08.16
0-3 Watford (a) 12.20.15
3-0 Liverpool (a) 01.13.07
2-0 Liverpool (h) 12.23.06

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-2 Palace (a); 2-1 Tottenham (h); 2-1 West Brom (h)
Watford: 1-0 Hull (h); 0-0 Swansea (a); 1-0 Boro (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Coutinho, Firmino, Mané, Milner 4; Lallana 3; Lovren 2; Can, Henderson Matip 1
Watford: Capoue 4; Deeney 3; Holebas 2; Ighalo, Pereyra, Success, Zuñiga 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Mané Firmino Coutinho

The Liverpool line-up guessing game's gone a bit stale. Milner will return from illness. Sturridge will almost certainly again have to make do with a spot on the bench. The front three's seemingly set in stone, and Lallana, Henderson, Lovren, Matip, Clyne, and Karius are all guaranteed starters as well.

The only question seems Can or Wijnaldum as the third midfielder. The former's played well in his last two starts, opening the scoring at Crystal Palace, and his height and physicality have helped when defending long balls and set plays, but the latter seems a better link player in attack, and I'm beginning to suspect it's not coincidence that Lallana's looked less effective in the last two matches that Can started.

Both Can and Wijnaldum are rumored to have suffered with illness this week, as Milner did last week, but rumors also suggest both will be available. In the small chance they're not, it'll probably be Coutinho in midfield with either Sturridge or Origi in the front three, as Liverpool had to do against United with both Lallana and Wijnaldum out.

I still have bad memories of Watford from last season. This fixture, at Anfield, was a routine 2-0 win during that end-of-campaign run-in, with a much-changed Liverpool XI and Watford basically on vacation after assuring Premiership safety. But that away match. Ugh. The absolute terror.

Watford have a new manager: Walter Mazzarri, previously of Napoli and Inter Milan, who had never before managed outside of Italy. Watford have a new system: 3-5-2/5-3-2. Odion Ighalo, who had seven goals by this point last season, has just one. And yet, just like last season, they've been one of the surprise packages so far, currently in seventh place, actually above Manchester United (who they beat 3-1).

For the most part, Watford have done it with defense, they've done it with that new system. They've lost just once away from home this season: a 2-0 defeat at Burnley, which sounds all too familiar. After conceding at least once in the first seven matches, they've kept three consecutive clean sheets, two 1-0 wins and a 0-0 draw.

In those last three games, Watford have a combined four shots on-target: two at Boro, two against Swansea, and none against Hull. And yet they won two of those, albeit the last with an own goal. As I'm sure you're aware, it doesn't often take many shots on-target to score against Liverpool.

They can score – bad attacks don't win 4-2 at West Ham and 3-1 against United – but West Ham's defending was laughably bad and United were twice exposed in the final 10 minutes when pushing forward for first a winner at 1-1, then an equalizer at 1-2. Defensive mistakes played a big part in goals against both of those sides. As I'm sure you're aware, Liverpool can be prone to defensive mistakes, especially when pushing forward in search of goals. Because Liverpool are always pushing forward in search of goals.

With defenders Prödl and Cathcart absent (along with Isaac Success and Kenedy), Watford's XI will probably be Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos; Amrabat, Pereyra, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas; Ighalo, Deeney. There's a small chance that Watford revert to 4-1-4-1 with those two central defenders absent, Janmaat and Holebas as orthodox fullbacks and Guedioura or Zuñiga replacing Ighalo, but I doubt it. Dance with what brung you, etc.

Either way, they'll look to clog the spaces where Coutinho, Firmino, and Lallana thrive, allow time on the ball but limit passes into dangerous areas, smother the middle third of the pitch and force Liverpool to play back and wide, force Liverpool into frustrated shots from distance. You know, all the things that Burnley did to such effect a bit more than two months ago.

Once again, it's a battle of systems, a battle that Liverpool won against Hull, Leicester, West Brom, and (eventually) Swansea, a battle that Liverpool lost at Burnley and drew against United. And it's a battle with Liverpool's past demons: last season's horrific, maybe-the-worst-of-the-campaign loss at Watford, as well as Liverpool's too frequent ability to fail when we expect success, at least in past seasons.

Liverpool have been beating those demons at almost every time of asking so far in this short season, aside from that one match that I'm sick of writing about and you're sick of reading about. Liverpool are unbeaten since then, with 20 points from 24. Liverpool have taken 10 points from a possible 12 at home. Liverpool have scored at least twice in eight of this season's 10 league matches and 11 of this season's 13 matches in all competitions.

So even though it may well kill us all long before the end of the season, just keep doing you, Liverpool.

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