There’s a point in most relationships where you reach the period of most things becoming predictable. For many, that’s a source of comfort. You can predict how your mate is going to react to particular things and can feel content that all will remain the same. That is, of course, also a note of caution to most, who understand just which topics not to engage on or suggest if they don’t really feel like throwing down at that particular moment. But predictability can also result in boredom or dolor or the nod of weary frustration that equates to: “Oh. This again.” In that respect, the question of whether we were surprised by The Hodgson having Watford play the very definition of Route 1 football is as predictable as anything else about the match: Were we surprised? No. No, we were not.
One can make all of the concessions one wants to the reality of the situation; in that the talent gap between Watford and Liverpool is as obvious as the gap between them on the table (18th to 1st/2nd, respectively) and that the Hornets therefore must play like that in order to compete and so on. That, of course, brings me back to my usual argument (predictable!) that there are simply too many clubs in the top division and this is the most obvious reason why. Yes, I know it makes me sound like a Super League proponent but that’s not what I’m arguing, even if there is a tiny bit of validity to the overall concept. You can look across the big 5 leagues and see that there are simply clubs that cannot compete there, no matter how successful they may have been in 1950. Similarly, Hodgson’s day is long, long past and Watford recruiting him to save their status in the top flight is a sign not only of that talent disparity but also the utter chaos that has been Watford’s management under Gino Pozzo’s ownership. To this point, Jim Proudfoot pointed out that the last time Watford actually scored in PL match was the manager-before-last. This season.
All of that uncomfortable/boring reality spoken of, it’s also fair to suggest that the Reds did not play that well for much of the match and produced some of the grindy nature of it as a consequence. The fact that we still utterly dominated it only reinforces my point about quality and who belongs in the PL and who doesn’t. On the other hand, it’s also a testament to the mentality that Jürgen Klopp has instilled in this squad that, even with the early kickoff right after an international break, they can work through the gears and secure a 10th straight victory in the PL. Only two clubs have managed that five times in the PL era: Liverpool and Manchester City, with 3 of those streaks coming under Jürgen and 4 coming under Pep Guardiola, if that gives you any indication of what consistent quality looks like from clubs that have every reason to be in and at the top. It’s almost to the point where it’s become predictable.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Watford
The goals were easy to explain, although the first one was a bit surprising. The mild complaint about Joe Gomez standing in for Trent Alexander-Arnold is that the former simply can’t reproduce the offensive brilliance of the latter, because no one really can, even though Joe is really solid in the defensive role at RB. In those instances, it’s common for my expectations to be lowered about production on that side, but there’s no arguing that this cross
was brilliant. That’s inch-perfect and Diogo Jota’s header is no less good, as he redirects it just enough to give Ben Foster no chance at it. Joe’s delivery was good enough for the rest of the bench to end up telling Trent that it’s clearly not him, but just the man playing the position that makes it work for us. (System player!) That was Diogo’s 20th goal this season, which is a personal high, as well as his fourth headed goal of the PL season, which is leading the league. The other goal was almost as skillful when it comes to placement.
I’d be perfectly fine with Fabinho taking penalties any time he’s on the pitch, quite honestly. He’s 19 for 19 at them from his time at both Monaco and Liverpool and he’s clearly quite good at it; so much so that he was willing to do the Panenka (PANENKA!) in the League Cup final and this one is just as good, giving Foster no chance and planting it in the upper left corner. I love that NBC included The Hodgson’s wry smile in that clip, too, since his comments after the match noted that the penalty was the one “sour moment”. I’m assuming that’s because he didn’t think the obvious rugby-style tackle of Diogo by Juraj Kucka was worthy of a foul, probably because it happens all the time on corners in the PL. That is, of course, exactly the point in that it shouldn’t happen all the time without being whistled for what it is: a foul in the box which is a penalty. But if you’re a Stone Age troll like The Hodgson, that’s just part of the game. Another highlight of that event is that that’s exactly what VAR was intended for and, amazingly, it worked as intended because Stewart Atwell was willing to swallow his pride and listen to what was coming from Stockley Park. Continued blowback from what happened to Luis Diaz against Brighton? Maybe. (LiVARpool!)
Meanwhile, some pretty stuff was happening away from the goal, too. MotM for me was Thiago Alcãntara, who basically controlled the middle third and the offensive progression out of it while Captain Jordan Henderson was at the 6. 14 of those passes were entries into the offensive third and another 32 were passes in that offensive zone which is, admittedly, where most of the game was played. 8 of those completions were long passes and there were a couple more that almost came off that would have freed Mo Salah or Diogo for good opportunities. This is a great visual representation of that:
You can see the emphasis on the right side because Mo is the best about making those dangerous runs, but the dispersal across the field is excellent. He just has to stay healthy and good things will happen. Great to see Joel Matip among the leaders there, too, as was Joe.
We should also point out Joe’s continued all-round excellent play, since our last chance to do so for the season might be in the upcoming fixture at Benfica, if even then. That’s the price you pay for having the best right back in the world as the starter. But his rare appearances also have to be another signal about Joel’s continued excellence. The latter was involved in 12 duels in this match, winning 9 of them. (Virgil Van Dijk, of course, won 6 of 6.) Combine that with his continued progression on offense and it’s possible to argue that Joel has, in fact, been the best CB in the league this season.
He’s able to cover the right with impunity because the rock that is Virg keeps everyone away from the left. But he’s also a natural at being The Dribbler:
However, notice who the two superior threats in progression for the match were? Joe and Hendo. This squad is a machine. All of the parts work together and improve each other. You could look at the above diagram and suggest that Mo had an off day, especially because he didn’t score and didn’t have a shot on target. But he also had more touches in the opposing box than Watford did. Yes, Watford’s whole team. Again, because of the way the match was played (Troll hiding under his bridge, waiting for someone to walk over), it’s not surprising that some of these offensive stats are so slanted. But that’s also a testament to how Liverpool play and the high success on the counter-press that Jürgen cited after the match, which allows us to continue the offensive pressure.
It’s worth pointing out Roberto Firmino’s involvement in that graph, as well. The time off during the break will have done him well and you could see his energy all over the pitch, as he was constantly doing Bob things on both the offensive and defensive ends. It’s also worth citing Alisson Becker’s performance, especially around the first goal. He was left in a 1v1 when Kucka came barreling in from the left side and smothered it and immediately moved the ball out right into the attack for Diogo’s goal. There was a great piece on Medium the other day that pointed out how Alisson’s propensity for coming out on top in 1v1 situations might be part of LFC’s whole defensive approach. It’s definitely worth the read. Today’s result means that Alisson and Ederson are still tied atop the league with 16 clean sheets each.
That was probably a lot more than needed to be said about a fairly pedestrian game, but it’s been two weeks without real football. We’re at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday for the first leg against Benfica and then it’s the game for all the marbles next Sunday at the Etihad. I have no predictions to make.