16 March 2018

Liverpool v Watford 03.17.18

1:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-3 (a) 08.12.17
1-0 Liverpool (a) 05.01.17
6-1 Liverpool (h) 11.06.16
2-0 Liverpool (h) 05.08.16

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 United (a); 0-0 Porto (h); 2-0 Newcastle (h)
Watford: 0-3 Arsenal (a); 1-0 West Brom (h); 1-0 Everton (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 24; Firmino 13; Mané 8; Coutinho 7; Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Watford: Doucoure 7; Deeney, Richarlison 5; Gray 4; Janmaat 3; Hughes, Kabasele, Pereyra 2; Britos, Capoue, Carrillo, Cleverley, Deulofeu, Okaka, Wague 1

Referee: Anthony Taylor (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Lovren van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Mané

Thanks to the FA Cup, none of Liverpool's nearest rivals play this weekend. Tottenham, Chelsea, and United are still in the competition, while City and Arsenal were scheduled to play teams still in the competition.

Time to put some points on the board.

The lineup questions have become routine. The composition of the midfield, Matip or Lovren partnering van Dijk. It's not as if rotation's an issue; Liverpool don't have another match until March 31 because of an international break before we get into a super fun Palace-City-Everton-City run over 12 days. It's not as if injuries are an issue; only Woodburn's assuredly out, while it's still probably too early for Clyne to make his return.

Maybe we get a fit-again Wijnaldum in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain or Can. Maybe we get Matip preferred to Lovren after last Saturday's issues. Maybe Gomez instead of Alexander-Arnold for similar reasons. But it seems easiest to guess what's seemingly become Liverpool's "preferred XI."

And it shouldn't matter if Liverpool do what Liverpool are capable of doing. If Liverpool respond to last Saturday's setback in the correct, and incredibly vicious, manner.

There seems an easy calculus with Watford. Watford are yet to lose at home in 2018, Watford are yet to win away in 2018. Watford haven't won away since a 3-0 victory over Newcastle back in November, and have drawn just once away during that span – a 0-0 at Stoke in Javi Gracia's first match. Watford have conceded at least two goals in four of their last five league games, against Arsenal, West Ham, Stoke, Leicester, and City. Liverpool's attack is better than four of those teams, and I guess we'll find out the fifth twice and for all next month.

Most importantly for this time of year, at least from Watford's perspective, Watford are almost certainly safe. 10th place, nine points and goal difference outside the relegation zone.

Even though Watford lost 0-3 at Arsenal a week ago, it's hard to see a much different XI. They've too many absentees – Kabasale, Cleverley, Chalobah, Deulofeu, Kaboul, and Wague are all out. So it'd be Karnezis; Janmaat, Prödl, Mariappa, Holebas; Doucoure, Capoue; Femenia, Pereyra, Richarlison; Deeney.

The only alternatives seem to be Andre Carrillo on the right rather than Kiko Femenia – who's ostensibly a right back – and Will Hughes in midfield. Okaka and Gray are options up front, but it's hard to see Watford leaving out Troy Deeney and it's hard to see Watford playing 4-4-2. That Cathcart's back from injury maybe means that Watford could play three at the back, with either Cathcart or Britos joining Mariappa and Prödl; Gracia used that formation in both the 4-1 win over Chelsea and 0-2 loss at West Ham, but that formation also matched that which both Chelsea and West Ham deployed.

But we also can't forget the last time these sides spoke. Opening day, and almost a perfect encapsulation of the season to follow. Liverpool, rightly favored, fall behind early to a set play. Liverpool equalize, but concede again almost immediately, unnecessarily, when the ball unluckily ricochets off two Liverpool players to an opposition attacker. But then Liverpool are good! But then Liverpool's attack fires to life! All three of Liverpool's front three score in the first match of the season, something they'd go on to do five more times so far this season. But then Liverpool slowly retreat. And then Liverpool concede a last minute equalizer that's both offside and with Mignolet probably fouled. Helter and skelter and heart attacks and injustice and Liverpool.

But it's "almost a perfect encapsulation." Because while we've seen some of the issues all season long, we've seen far fewer than in this game, far fewer than last season, and far fewer as the season's gone on – last week notwithstanding. And we've seen a vastly more potent attack, even more firepower than that shown on August 12. We've seen drama, but Liverpool have usually been on the correct end of said drama, even if that drama still seems like it's going to kill us all in the process.

We know what Liverpool can do. Liverpool know what Liverpool have to do. What the opposition do shouldn't matter.

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