There were unbelievable scenes at the end of the Watford vs Liverpool match on Saturday evening. The last match of February was played on a leap day and the uniqueness of the leap day brought with it a once-in-a-while drubbing.
The match could not even have been considered a clash, seeing that Liverpool had won 7 of the last 8 matches between the two with an aggregate scoreline of 27 – 4, a run since 2016.
Prior to the match and after the previous fixtures of the matchday, Watford were in need of a highly improbable 3-goal win to lift them out of relegation places.
Very few could have predicted that highflying and top-of-the-table Liverpool who had been invincible throughout the league season would lose to relegation-battling Watford. In no fantasy land could even the biggest and most optimistic Watford fan have predicted the way the match went and the scoreline it produced.
Absolutely noone could have predicted that Watford would hand Liverpool their first league defeat in a year and their biggest league loss since a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in October, 2017.
Liverpool had been so perfect that they had not tasted league defeat in 422 days before the match. And yet, it was seemingly unlikely Watford who handed them their first season league defeat, thereby making it impossible for them to match “the Invincibles” tag the 2003/2004 Arsenal team achieved.
Being just 4 wins away from clinching their first EPL title in 30 years, the Reds were largely expected to continue their relentless surge towards the title. Even after an unusually drab performance from Jurgen Klopp’s men in the first half, the expectations were that they would show, as they had done all season, that they could be delayed but not stopped and nick a season-characteristic win.
Watford and their manager, Nigel Pearson, however had different ideas. Despite an early injury to their biggest attacking threat in Gerard Deulofeu in the first half, Watford still had all they needed to give the Reds a drubbing reminiscent of their clash in December, 2015.
The entire Watford team, especially the defence, fought fiercely throughout the match against a Liverpool team that looked totally out of sorts.
As it would be, it was Ismaila Sarr, just returning from injury, with two goals and an assist, captain Troy Deeney with the finishing blow and some compact and no-nonsense defending from the Watford team that reminded the Anfield lads that not showing up to a game is not tolerated in the Premier league.
On a day that the Reds were clearly below their best and out of shape, the Hornets were on top and could have even scored more. Lacklustre attacking, lack of cutting-edge incisive passing and defensive inefficiencies and errors ultimately ensured that the Reds suffered a thoroughly deserved beating.
Normally when such upsets happen, the better team is usually very unlucky and the loss is not all that deserved.
This was not the case however, as Liverpool were poor and outplayed, man-to-man by the Watford players. To stress that point, Liverpool even with 78% of the ball had 7 shots with only 1 on target in the entirety of the match. Watford on the other hand had 14 shots with 5 of those on target.
Liverpool simply couldn’t match the vibrancy and tenacity the Hornets brought into the game. Every Red, from Mohammed Salah, to Sadio Mane, to Roberto Firmino, and to even Virgil van Dijk was sub-par and that outlined the way the events of the match transpired.
As a result of that performance and result, Liverpool’s consecutive 18-match winning streak has ended. So has their 44-match unbeaten run. However, their title march is still intact with Manchester City still behind them with 22 points with 10 matches left to play, albeit City have a game in hand.
Liverpool’s loss to Watford highlights one reason why the English Premier league is considered the toughest in the world; a lapse in concentration and desire is punished without pity.
In all, I expect this is just a slip from the amazing Reds as they are where they are on merit and not by fluke. Playing and winning game after game increases pressure and fatigue, and this probably played a part.
Besides, amassing 79 points from 28 matches is not by chance. Besides, they surely can’t play that badly again this season. They would surely return to winning ways, although it’s very unlikely that they can match the level of perfection they were on throughout the run.