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Watford 3 Liverpool 3 (12/08/2017) 13/08/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

1- Football, eh?  Blimey.

It’s a classic First Day of the Season.  Sunshine on your face walking down Vicarage Road.  Touts after tickets, programme vendors, charity buckets.  50/50 scarves on sale for a tenner (“who buys them?”).  Friends rock up, you’ve not seen them for three months…  “how was your summer?”.  Albert is here for the first time in even longer, it’s good to see him.  He’s stunned by how tall the girls are, they are nonplussed but grin anyway.  There are flags, and noise, a tremendous montage on the big screens.  And then, then the football.  As has been said many times if you rely solely on the sport itself for your enjoyment you’re going to be disappointed more often than not but still, football.  And it’s just brilliant…

2- There’s a caveat of course.  Pete, slightly tiresomely, called it almost perfectly… “I’m giving Janmaat twelve minutes…”, he’d said, in anticipating the season’s first injury.  Actually Janmaat lasts closer to 14 minutes but it’s still an extraordinary echo of last season’s bizarre injury track record when he limps off after a brief period of lumbering forlornly around on the right of the attack with Amrabat covering behind him.  By the end of the game Roberto Pereyra, alarmingly, has also been replaced and Younès Kaboul has gingerly re-entered the pitch with three subs already used.  New Performance Director Gavin Benjafield will hopefully be taking notes…

3- But that aside it’s a splendid afternoon, and is already going well when Pete’s call is proved accurate.  An early, visible statement of intent has been executed by Janmaat who hounds Sadio Mané towards his own corner flag with a disciplined bit of belligerence that typifies our approach.  This is one performance, one game, and lots can happen between now and May;  the preceding two seasons both had, to varying extents, high points before crumbling in the dying stages.  But if this is a template for how we’re going to be then there’s an awful lot to like…  we’re tough and aggressive but disciplined with it, keeping the Reds at arms length by hassling them out of space – wasn’t this supposed to be their thing?  Key in this is a fine performance by a midfield that suddenly has a convincing shape…  whilst it’s great to have Ben Watson back in the fold, there’s no doubt that Chalobah and the majestic Doucouré are going to take some shifting on this evidence, whilst Tom Cleverley puts in an impossibly dynamic display “in the hole”.  Roberto Pereyra has slalomed in from the left, his crisp shot deflected wide. In front of him Stefano Okaka looks mobile and brutal and gets little protection but keeps coming back for more.  He’s also there to convert José Holebas cross on eight minutes.  Helps if Liverpool can’t defend for toffee of course, but we’ve missed open goals before…

4- I mentioned after the Sociedad game that we looked as if we’d learned the verse of Marco Silva’s song but were struggling with the chorus.  Here there was clear evidence of further intensive rehearsal since, significantly, we had kept the Reds at arm’s length until they prised the space for the irrepressible Mané to equalise.  It was a patient unpicking on Liverpool’s part, a sliding around of tiles on a child’s puzzle until the picture revealed itself and the Senegalese was through on goal.  Too deliberate, our defending, a method being recited line by line rather than instinctive but that will come.

Impressively, we bit back straight away.  Ringleader Doucouré began the move, releasing Amrabat on the right.  The ball found its way to Cleverley bundling towards the touchline, his square ball found Doucouré who unfussily tucked it away, restoring our lead almost before we noticed we’d lost it.

4- If there was an annoyance it was Nordin Amrabat.  Increasingly a target for frustration at the end of last season, an olive branch was offered with a rendition of the na-na-na-na-na… song early in the first half.  Some characteristic hesitancy lost him the crowd’s goodwill in the second half, but the greater crime for me was his inability or unwillingness to challenge for the ball without giving away a foul – a tug on the shirt here, a shove there.  Further evidence of a lack of confidence in his own ability, but also a laziness… it’s the first day of the season for goodness’ sake, give it a bloody go man.

Greater annoyance still was offered by our visitors, who seemed determined to scorn me for suggesting that they’d become halfway likeable in our season preview. You can forgive Jürgen Klopp for being narked at losing a lead at the death, less so for bleating about his side’s rough treatment (check this Jürgen, we didn’t even pick up a booking, unlike Sadio Mané who might not have got away with a yellow) and for two “offside” goals that were optimistic and very marginal calls respectively.  The offside law is there to prevent goalhanging not for use as a defensive weapon;  if you rely on it for the latter then you’re going to get burned sometimes.  Live with it.

Alberto Moreno meanwhile left onlookers in yellow comfortable with the outcome of our reported attempts to sign him, a narky little gobshite who responded to periods in which the game went against Liverpool with petulant and occasionally nasty confrontation.

5- So the second half starts, and here’s the evidence that we’ve still got some lines to learn.  Actually, in fairness, the first blow is the loss of Pereyra in his first competitive game since limping out of his last one in Manchester six months ago.  The home stands swore in unison and the players can be forgiven for being deflated by the development momentarily.

That’s all it took.  Liverpool may have looked ponderous defensively but going forward they were quick and mobile. They got themselves level when Salah, who had a little run in the first half of getting himself onto the end of a move and finding new ways to miss the target, first drew a foul from Gomes to win a penalty converted efficiently by Firmino, and shortly afterwards bundled in a looping ball to give the visitors the lead for the first time.  We looked rattled, we lost our focus and surrendered the initiative – but as an aside, yet another positive from the game was Marco Silva’s blunt assessment of our failings.  Not wishing to rake over old ground, a candid and accurate account inspires more confidence than the alternative.  Whatever,  in truth Liverpool could have had more once released from their mental funk

6- So it’s to our huge credit that they didn’t run away with it and the three subs, all new boys, all played a role.  Kiko Femenía was as advertised… quick and positive going forward but exposed defensively – two of the three goals against originated from his position, and Alberto Moreno shouldn’t have been allowed to take a pot shot that Gomes pushed over at 3-2… nonetheless, he got stuck in.  Richarlison, on for Pereyra, looked hugely exciting… clever and quick but strong  and physical also, more to come from him. And Andre Gray, on to give Liverpool’s defence something else to think about after a bruising hour from Okaka, demonstrated what we’ve got with aggression and mobility.

The theme of the afternoon however was character.  This is a bunch of scrappers and no mistake, a big tough team capable of bullying opponents but with a sharp and deft knife to stick in as well, no blunt instrument.  That we were still in the game in the dying minutes meant that this would have been a positive match report whatever, but the fact that Miguel Britos’ swivel and shot won a corner and that the same player was able to capitalise from Richarlison’s bullishness in the box reflected hugely well on the team’s effort.  It was a goal that echoed Nathan Aké’s opener in this fixture two seasons ago…  a goalkeeper exposed and flapping and fumbling at the ball, a scruffy conversion, an explosion of noise from an already boisterous home crowd.  Everyone deserved it.

It’s only a point, obviously, albeit against a strong side.  But the personality of the team and the manner of the performance matter more at this stage as an indicator of what is to come.  There were empty seats in the Family Stand, in part another annual feature of the first day of the season and holiday time.  Those seats won’t be empty for long on this evidence.



Gomes 4, Janmaat 0, Holebas 3, Kaboul 4, Britos 3, Chalobah 3, *Doucouré 4*, Amrabat 2, Cleverley 4, Pereyra 4, Okaka 4

Subs: Femenía (for Janmaat, 18) 3, Richarlison (for Pereyra, 49) 3, Gray (for Okaka, 63) 3, Prödl, Watson, Capoue, Pantilimon


1. Keith Hannigan - 13/08/2017

I thought briefly about your girls during the match (perhaps because my youngest daughter is about to head off for college and leave me bereft). What must it be like for them to have grown into their Hornet inheritance during these five years? The steady improvement, the glorious moments, the sense that, when there are problems or deficiencies, sensible, intelligent men will take reasonable, effective steps to fix them. It’s all rather optimistic, isn’t it? I hope that this wonderful experience (shared so closely with their beloved dad) helps them grow into hopeful, resilient young women. We need more of those.

Matt Rowson - 13/08/2017

Thanks Keith. I’ll remember your kind words and hopes and the word “resilience” next time I’m coping with a meltdown in a shopping centre (theirs or mine…)

2. Pete - 13/08/2017

I’ll shut up then!

Matt Rowson - 13/08/2017


3. Simon - 13/08/2017

I don’t get the complaints about the “offsides”. If anything the officials should be roundly praised as both decisions were right. For the third goal, Richarlison actually played the ball back and it only went towards the goal because it deflected of the Liverpool defender. If that was what the official saw it was a great spot.

Matt Rowson - 13/08/2017

Agree, but the point is not whether such marginal decisions were right or not. The point is that if you live by the sword you die by the sword… offside calls are going to be got wrong sometimes so don’t bitch when it happens if you go relying on them.

Robin - 14/08/2017

It’s not true that you cannot be offside if the ball is played backwards. That is not one of the exceptions specified in the offside law: http://www.thefa.com/football-rules-governance/lawsandrules/laws/football-11-11/law-11—offside . It is your position with respect to the ball that matters, not the direction the ball is played.

It was the fact that Britos was arguably level with the ball when it was played (although possibly marginally offside by a few inches) that made him onside.

On point 1 – the start of the season seems to get earlier every year. How long before it starts before the start of August?

Matt Rowson - 14/08/2017

Re start date… sorry, not true. Last season started on 13th (ie one day later). Otherwise, this is the latest start to a season since 2006.

Re offside… to repeat the point of the article, it doesn’t matter whether he was offside or not. It’s immaterial. What matters is whether the officials give it and there’s always a chance that they’ll get tight decisions wrong. So if you rely on those tight decisions in the knowledge that this might happen you’re really in no position to whinge about them going against you.

4. Jim of the Rookery - 13/08/2017

I really want Amrabat to be that player that arrived in the Jan 2016 window – somehow that uses his low centre of gravity to shuffle and scythe his way pat full backs before nudging over pacy crosses of varying trajectories for our capable midfielders and forwarders to run onto.

Problem is, he is entirely broken and a mere remnant of that player. I cannot understand what is going through his mind when, for the fifth or sixth time in a game he receives a “winger’s dream” through ball to feet only to literally stop on his tracks as he comes face to face with his opponent.

His is a wasted place in the squad and more concerningly, an expensive wasted spot in the XI

Has to go I’m afraid, simply not good enough.

Otherwise, an opening day performance full of character and guile, and never knew okaka or cleverley had engines like that – more please lads, a great start.

5. James - 13/08/2017

I’ve rather more sympathy with Amrabat. While it obviously never helps to lose your rag and give away obvious fouls, he was clearly short changed by the officials in the first half. Two hand-balls given against him when he controlled the ball with his shoulder and when clearly fouled on the edge of the area (given by the linesman) the ref dragged it back for an earlier infringement, despite appearing to have played advantage.
I don’t want to criticise the ref too much though, he got all the key decisions right. – particularly that last goal. What all of the post-match analysis seems to have missed is that the shot from Richarlison doesn’t go forward, so Britos’ position is irrelevant.

lewyloses - 14/08/2017

the laws don’t say anything about ball going forward, so that’s not correct. it’s about where the player is, not the direction of the ball.

SteveG - 14/08/2017

Hmmm… but let’s say Britos was in front of the ball for the sake of argument. If the ball is then played backwards, you can hardly argue that it was being played to Britos and therefore at that moment he’s not offside, surely.

If he then gets the ball because of some comedy defending by Liverpool, the ball has been played to him by the defending side and therefore he’s not offside at that point either.

While I’ve seen, both here and elsewhere, the point made that the laws don’t explicitly mention that the ball must be passed forward for a player to be offside, present practice is almost always to wait until the attacker touches the ball for the offside decision to be given and it’s therefore difficult to envisage circumstances in which a backward pass could lead to a player being offside – even if he’s in an offside position, something else has to happen first, since by definition if the ball is going backwards it can’t possibly reach the ‘offending’ player directly.

To give offside here you’d have to blow in that fraction of a second before the Liverpool defender makes contact on the grounds that the ball might come to Britos having been struck by another Watford player. Too many ifs and maybes here – it was the right call by the officials.

And I know that’s not the point you were making originally, Matt!

James - 15/08/2017

It seems you’re right. Funnily enough I did check that definition before posting, but on Wikipedia, which must be out of date.

6. Lesley-Anne - 13/08/2017

Yes it is only a point but when we got none out of 6 from them last season, it’s a very important point!! I do hope we play the same way against Bournemouth next week. It would be so nice to get a good result there!

7. simmos - 14/08/2017

“……we’re tough and aggressive but disciplined with it”.

Absolutely spot on, Matt.What a change already where in the majority of the games last season we were none of those three.Delighted with a point but even if we had not equalised there were so many positives to take from the game.

8. john parslow - 14/08/2017

Welcome back. Thunk 1 is so poignant in today’s horribly result-orientated knee-jerking responses that can dominate social media.

As we entered the last 10 mins – my main thought was that we had regained that sense of purpose we had under Sanchez-Flores to be still in the game to the end, for something still to be possible. We lost that belief last season – so that will do for me. I might just enjoy this again.

But on Amrabat – I fear he is becoming the scapegoat. He works hard. He had a huge part in 2 goals. (The first he blocked Simone also).. but obviously there are deficiencies. But as a squad player he has value – especially in games like saturday’s. Meanwhile Kiko got the “new boy” get out of jail card despite losing his man for 2 of the goals. need Doyley back as a defensive coach methinks.

But on half and half scarves, they are bought by the Premier league tourists and I guess that makes sense as a souvenir – and allows the visiting Japanese Liverpool fan to sit amongst the watford fans with a bit of his own team support on show….. but it doesnt stop me every game going up to one of the traders and asking if they have one that is watford on both sides !!

9. Simon - 14/08/2017

To me it was the deflection from the defender that arguably made the difference on the rules. The rule makes reference to deflections from “an” opponent but not multiple opponents.

In any event, I agree that it’s churlish for anyone to argue they have been wronged by the officials when the margins are so small. I’m not sure Liverpool are particularly worse at that than others though and I don’t see that they were playing for the marginal decisions in those two instances at least.

john parslow - 16/08/2017

I think Matts main point was he wasn’t offside because the goal stood and the ref didnt give it. Same as that Reading goal. It was a goal because the ref gave it. It didnt actually have to be anywhere near going in or anything.

10. Dan - 14/08/2017

Nice to see the player ratings back, the BSAD glory days.

11. JohnF - 15/08/2017

Great report Matt.Just shows what an advantage it is to cross from the by-line as that makes it virtually impossible to be offside and, more important it is difficult to defend. A good performance and one to build on. I am sure that Marco Silva will be working on that. I agree with you and James about Amrabat who seems to have never fully recovered his confidence but I can’t complain about the new foreign players coming into their first premier league match, although Richarlison looks to have the total lack of fear that comes with youth. Clearly the defence needs work, as much with organisation as anything, but hey we kept going and Britos’ shot was worthy of a striker. We have others to return and a stronger squad than last year; so much to be optimistic about,including a coach who speaks English and looks and acts as though he actually wants to be here.

12. Graham Daly - 15/08/2017

I wasn’t at the game, so have relied on all the comments etc. It seems to me that we have all forgotten that for nearly half of last season we WERE ‘tough aggressive and disciplined with it’ and were easily top half of the table. Then again, I went to Anfield before Xmas, and we were shocking! I’m delighted that we are showing those good signs again – and sincerely hope it lasts all season this time. Having decent alternative players all over the pitch will certainly help maintain momentum.
Thanks for the report – it is about so much more than the football itself, it’s the best substitute for not being there!

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