Tuesday 18 December 2018

Liverpool quicken to hit their stride after sluggish start

Watford 0 Liverpool 3

Roberto Firmino scores his side’s third goal despite the best efforts of Watford’s Ben Foster. Photo: PA
Roberto Firmino scores his side’s third goal despite the best efforts of Watford’s Ben Foster. Photo: PA

Paul Doyle

Liverpool may not yet have recaptured the spectacular form of last season but they collected three useful points here thanks to three fine goals. For most of the game the visitors lacked spark but they illuminated proceedings with a brilliant move in the 67th minute that culminated in Mo Salah opening the scoring.

Trent Alexander-Arnold added a second with an outstanding free-kick from 25 yards before Roberto Firmino topped off the scoring after a sweeping late counter-attack. Although those goals gave the scoreline an emphatic look and took Liverpool to an impressive points tally for the season, they are still not totally convincing as title challengers, a fact Jordan Henderson underlined by getting himself sent off for two shoddy tackles on his return from injury.

Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his team's second goal. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool celebrates after scoring his team's second goal. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Klopp's inclusion of Xherdan Shaqiri in midfield suggested the visitors intended to take an offensive approach but it took a long time for that to manifest itself. Most of the first half drifted by, with the teams not so much sizing each other up as showing each other their limitations. With both sides filing slowly to and fro in a rigid shape, the spectacle was about as uplifting as a line-dancing exhibition.

Alisson triggered a moment of panic around the Liverpool area with a slack pass to Firmino in the ninth minute but Gerard Deulofeu was unable to punish the goalkeeper.

The fact that Firmino had come all the way back to the edge of his own area in search of the ball spoke of the poverty of Liverpool's midfield play. Two-thirds of their midfield, actually, because while the hard-working Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum lacked imagination, Shaqiri tried continually to conjure. Nearly everything that Liverpool did well for the first hour went through the Swiss.

He hooked up with Salah with particular regularity. Ben Foster had to dash off his line in the 19th minute to tip the ball off the head of Salah after a fine diagonal pass by Shaqiri.

Mo Salah of Liverpool celebrates scoring Liverpool's first. Photo: Getty
Mo Salah of Liverpool celebrates scoring Liverpool's first. Photo: Getty

Five minutes later Shaqiri teed up Wijnaldum with a free-kick from the right but the Dutchman fluffed his volley from 10 yards. Neither goalkeeper had a serious shot to save until the 39th minute, when Firmino robbed Roberto Pereyra at the edge of the Watford box and fired off a low drive that Foster had to block. Pereyra nearly made immediate amends for his error, forcing a flying save from Alisson after a nimble run by Deulofeu.

Then Shaqiri created Liverpool's clearest chance yet, aiming another cutting pass from the right to Sadio Mané, who took a touch to tee himself up for an acrobatic volley on the run. Foster parried well.

Moments later the Shaqiri-Salah double-act took centre stage again, with the Swiss floating a corner to his team-mate at the back post. Salah got off a decent downward header from eight yards but Foster saved on the line.

Liverpool injected a little more tempo into their play after the break but Andy Robertson was caught out in the 54th minute by the speed of Will Hughes, who beat the left-back to a loose ball in the box and then went down as Robertson waved a stray foot towards him. Referee Jon Moss waved play on.

Watford manager Javi Gracia sensed fragility in the visitors and sent on Isaac Success to exploit it. Within moments Henderson was booked for chopping down the Nigerian. But soon Liverpool broke through thanks to their first classy move. The surprise was that Shaqiri was not involved. Instead, Robertson launched it with a dash down the left and then fed Firmino, who threaded a beautiful pass through to Mané. The Senegalese pulled it back to Salah, whose first-time shot gave no time for Foster to adjust.

Liverpool's second was a good deal more emphatic. Alexander-Arnold curled a 25-yard free-kick over the wall and into the corner of the net with such beguiling precision that Foster did not budge.

They might have had to endure edgy moments after they were reduced to 10 men when Henderson earned a second yellow card by clunking into Étienne Capoue near half-way. Instead they struck a third goal, Firmino nodding into the net after Foster turned away a shot by Mané.

Observer

 

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