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Liverpool 2 Watford 0 (02/04/2022) 03/04/2022

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- Sometimes things don’t turn out quite as you expect.

For instance.  In as much as I ever thought about it, I always expected to need to coerce my children into exam revision.   I don’t know why… as so often I’m guided by a mental image of uncertain origin depicting how I’m supposed to behave as a parent.

Instead, Daughter 1 is on an urgent, ferocious mission.  Her last set of GCSE mocks having just been cleared she’s into a run in towards the exams themselves for which she has drawn up a merciless revision timetable.  If anything I fear I need to tell her to calm down a bit – is that wrong?  Who knows.  Today – and admittedly after some soul searching – she has conceded to the inevitable in the face of a dedicated Science day at school, sacrificed the trip north and so allowed her younger sister to catch her up, both now counting 113 Watford games in their back catalogue.

Daughter 2 isn’t in her teens yet, but an impending three-year GCSE programme means she’s got options to choose from herself which she contemplates thoughtfully as we pick our way through a bright, sunny Stanley Park to Anfield.  I’m relieved that the latest grave turning over of the various permutations available abates as we enter the famous stadium and the day’s business becomes the focus.  I’ve done something right.

2- Will’s here too with his two herberts, the younger of whom boasting a new “signature hairdo” (her words), consciously and appropriately inspired by Björk.  The elder is full of bold predictions and bravado but he’s atypical of an away end who have either been trying to avoid thinking about the actual football too much or are resigned to the traditional and are in a zen-state of acceptance.

Team selection is influenced, almost certainly, by the physical consequences of a heavy programme of international duty including plenty of key World Cup qualifiers and far too much extra time for anyone’s liking.  Emmanuel Dennis and Joshua King are on the bench, for instance, whilst Peter Etebo and William Troost-Ekong don’t even make it that far.  That aside there remains evidence of Roy having established a set of key personnel; pejoratively you might call them “favourites”,  Cucho, Kabasele, and even Kucka and João Pedro are more prominent – game triers all – whilst Shaq Forde has been singled out amongst the youngsters. I’ve not seen enough of Shaq to comment but whether his judgement proves sound on not it’s a Good Thing that Roy’s perspective is broad enough to make one despite his presumed summer departure.

3- Game triers are essential in this team though.  If we’re yet to discover any home form (which, as should be obvious, will be non-negotiable) then our defensive shape away from home is almost Borg-like (a nuance owing to Roy’s considerable coaching experience in Sweden perhaps?).  One player steps away, another is there to take his place… you’re not facing group of individuals, you’re facing a collective consciousness and if you were a betting man you’d wager that Ray Lewington, patrolling the Anfield touchline like an attentive general as he was on my first visit here 17 years ago, was the brain at the centre.

The game settles into a pattern very quickly.  The home side will dominate possession throughout but are largely kept at arm’s length due to the diligent scurrying and closing and getting in the way of those in yellow and black.  Jota and Jones will both fling shots lazily, impatiently over the bar and to whatever degree this reflects complacency or containment on the part of the team in red it suits us down to the ground.  About face, shape up, do it again.  Meanwhile the universal expectation of an effortlessly comfortable home victory is given a serious jolt when Ismaïla Sarr slugs a dipping shot over the advancing Alisson Becker after some gnarled challenges burgle him a bit of space.  It’s too high but it’s really not that far too high at all.

Which isn’t to say we’re comfortable.  The brilliant Thiago is causing all kinds of mischief around the edge of the box – if it’s going to come, it’s going to come there you suspect.  Bodies are constantly put on the line, the imperious Samir’s not least.  The attacking players are diligent and attentive also, hence the need for game triers… Sarr is cajoling and harrying and watching the space behind him.  Cucho contests a corner with Van Dijk and comes off worst, appearing to receive the full force of the Dutchman’s neck muscles and briefly lying dizzied in the penalty with small birds flitting around his head.  Sissoko aborts one incursion into our box directly in front of the away end with a superhuman tackle before unfussily shepherding the ball away.

But we’re throwing punches of our own.  Louza, our own budget version of Thiago, is terrific…. snapping into a challenge one minute, skipping into a gap and salvaging possession the next, swinging a ball the width of the pitch to change the focus the next, dropping a corner onto Cucho’s head requiring Alisson to be attentive the next.  There’s some quick, sharp passing on the break too that always looks like it might create something and does so when JP plays a galloping Kucka in down the left.  Alisson is out quickly, Kucka doesn’t have the guile to finish. It’s a proper chane.

Cruelly Liverpool’s breakthrough comes immediately.  Gomez – or more precisely the neglected space over his right shoulder – has been the focus of much of our attacking play but he pops up high on the right flank and is afforded too much space to swing his cross in.  It’s a bomb of a ball, Foster has a fraction of a second to make a call, gets it wrong and Diogo Jota has sprung across him to flick the ball home.  Foster redeems himself shortly afterwards with a fine save from the same opponent but we’re behind at the break if, against all expectation, slightly unfortunate to be so.

4- If you’re going to play that contain and destroy game, the question is always “so what if you go behind?”.  The team’s not set up to commit forward but to counter attack – how quickly do you change things up?

There was no decision to make here.  Liverpool are too good with the ball, have too many good players in attacking positions and won’t be sitting back yet anyway.  It’s tempting to look at what was a 1-0 scoreline for much of the second half and say “we should have given it more welly” but such analysis boils down to “win good, lose bad”.  We’ve been demonstrably incapable of imposing ourselves at home against much less accomplished opponents but had done a reasonable job of frustrating the home side here.  No cause to change it up yet.

For this to pay off we needed to ride our luck a bit – as we did when Jota and ?Matip? sent unchallenged headers safely off target.  Secondly we needed to continue to dig in – the indefatigable Kamara in his element here, relentless charging around as much his thing as it was at Wembley earlier in the week and in both cases the token one bad error per game is probably worth spending on such high levels of energy and personality.

But finally we needed to be clinical when the chance came, and we weren’t.  It’s easy to underplay the quality that went into the chance… Cucho, Isma and JP spinning and turning and the latter doing well to snap a shot past Alisson under challenge but it had to go in and it didn’t.

Cucho was booked shortly afterwards.  I’d have subbed him then, I think…. he’s a lesser beast on a yellow card and was tiring.  As it was, when the triple-sub came after a prolonged period of Liverpool possession and pressure it was almost wholly ineffective – Roy and Ray will have needed to judge quite whose legs needed protecting for how long, but none of King, Cleverley or Dennis made the required impact.

5- Early in the second half a thought had popped into my head:  given the choice, would you take a win here or a win at Man City in three weeks’ time.  Man City, I concluded, partly because we need to beat them at some point but largely because an encouraging performance was already in the bag here;  this, plus three points at City knocks a win at Anfield and another humiliation by City into a hat.  You can thank me later.

Nonetheless, the late penalty was harsh I think.  Not a harsh call – a tired challenge from Kucka.  But yielding a harsh scoreline.  You’d struggle to argue that we were worth a point – coulda certainly, shoulda never.  But we deserved the grudging credit of a 1-0 margin and can feel hard done by by a 2-0 that will surely be written off as “routine” by those not really paying attention.  Foster went the right way, Fabinho went even further.

“We can see you sneaking out” piped up from the stand to our right which was a little rich given that the stream of Hornets trudging towards the exit was dwarfed by the floods of salt-of-the-earth, best fans in the world vacating the same home stand.  Any accusations of lack of self-awareness wouldn’t really have stood up to scrutiny however, given that earlier in proceedings one of several lulls in what was generally a boisterous atmosphere was greeted with “is this a library?” from an away end that barely stirred itself from its lunchtime slumber throughout.

Will took his herberts down the front at the whistle, the younger coyly suggesting that Ben Foster might give her his shirt if she were to smile sweetly at him.  Terrifying.  We then made our way homeward, with Daughter 2 enjoying a first “chips with curry sauce” as part of her ongoing pre-GCSE education.

Not, then, what was expected, not entirely, even if it boils down to the same thing more or less in the end.  But there’s clearly something here, Sarr’s return bringing a bit more devilment to our attacking play even against the strongest of opponents.  In reality, last chance saloon was always going to be opening its doors with that extraordinary run of fixtures at Vicarage Road, starting on Saturday.

No excuses for it to be anything other than febrile.

Yoooorns.

Foster 3, Femenía 3, Kamara 4, Kabasele 4, *Samir 4*, Louza 4, Sissoko 4, Kucka 3, Sarr 3, Hernández 3, João Pedro 3
Subs: King (for João Pedro, 68) 2, Cleverley (for Louza, 68) 3, Dennis (for Hernández, 68) 2, Sema, Kayembe, Cathcart, Masina, Ngakia, Bachmann

Comments»

1. iamthesunking - 03/04/2022

I think you did well to hold them off for as long as you did. Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks for Watford-Brentford. 🐝

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2022

Indeed. You did ok yourselves yesterday I understand?

iamthesunking - 03/04/2022

I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about it!

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2022

😊

2. Tadcaster Hornet - 03/04/2022

Isma Start, cing right to the away end and applauding/ giviyhis shirt to the crows. Never thought I’d see that after a defeat. Whatever Roy and Ray are doing, there’s a definite and hugely welcome’team’ thing going on here and it’s a delight to see.

Tadcaster Hornet - 03/04/2022

Dreadful typing, my apologies. Isma Sarr. Giving his shirt. Crowd.

3. Harefield Hornet - 03/04/2022

As unnecessary as it was, how many times do you see the Kucka incident go unpunished – usually dismissed as six of one and half a dozen of the other etc. If consistency is applied there will half a dozen penalties in every match from now on. Can understand RH’s niggle on that one.

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2022

Obvs had no view at the time. Only seen once since.

Peter - 03/04/2022

That’s my issue with the decision, Matt. Nobody in the ground knew why the penalty had been given, including the Liverpool supporters at the Kop end who we asked. The man looking at the video created controversy where none existed before his intervention and nobody had the courtesy to explain the decision to those in the stadium.

Matt Rowson - 04/04/2022

All true. Still a foul tho…

4. Jeff Lloyd - 03/04/2022

Am I wrong in thinking that Kucka has 60 decent minutes in him? What was he still on the pitch for at the time of the penalty?

Matt Rowson - 03/04/2022

Mitigation is that many others had played 120 minutes during the week and/or had long journeys. Louza had been with Morocco while Kucka had had a fortnight off. Not an easy right decision in those circumstances.

5. skipton65 - 04/04/2022

I was grateful both for the performance and the low score – its just possible that goal difference might be a factor this season especially if Burnley beat Everton on Weds. We always seem to be nervous – team and fans – but I must admit the Brentford game is now looking much less of a possibility for redemption.

6. Crisb - 05/04/2022

It’s amazing how many times I needed to check teletext page 312 (where any Watford news would be) during a gcse revision session..


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