Liverpool began their latest Premier League campaign with an away tie against Watford at Vicarage Road. Stefano Okaka opened the scoring for the Hornets before Sadio Mane equalized for the Reds.
Abdoulaye Doucore brought Watford back into the lead in the first-half. However, goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah looked to have won the game for Liverpool before Miguel Britos scored at the death to earn Watford a point.
Liverpool’s defensive weaknesses are well-documented and their dreadful backline was once again exposed today. Watford started the game stronger and played better football than Liverpool in the early stages.
The Hornets’ new manager, Marco Silva is known for building robust teams and his new side played the quick, silky play expected of Liverpool. This, combined with the Reds’ sloppy start, allowed Watford to score the first goal of the game. Liverpool switched off during the first corner of the match and Okaka duly punished them with a bullet header.
The second goal Liverpool conceded was another defensive mishap as the Reds defence failed to clear their lines and Doucore tucked home. The defensive frailties returned at the very end as the Reds once again conceded from a set-piece to drop two points.
Ever since Liverpool signed Mane, he has been a revelation. The Senegalese brings pace, dynamism and goals every time he is on the pitch. After an injury ended his season prematurely in April, he got back on the pitch for the first game of the new season.
In the first-half, only Mane looked like he belonged at the highest level as the rest of the team looked off colour. The wide attacker was the one to bring Liverpool level after brilliant interplay with Alberto Moreno and Emre Can. The latter played a delightful flick to set free the speedster and Mane scored to bring Liverpool level.
Despite the signing of Salah, Mane will continue to be the key man for Liverpool.
The second half saw a different Liverpool side step on the pitch as the Reds finally took the attack to Watford. Firstly, Salah was too quick for the Hornets keeper Heurelho Gomes as the latter fouled Liverpool’s club-record signing inside the box. Firmino scored an emphatic penalty to get Liverpool level.
A few minutes later, Firmino’s attempted chip was bundled in by Salah to open his Liverpool account. The Egyptian could have had a hat-trick had he shown a little more composure in front of goal. Liverpool had two more golden chances but Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren’s headers did not find the back of the net.
The Reds showed better concentration in the second half except for Georginio Wijnaldum who did not get better after the break. He shook off a tight hamstring at half-time but failed to impose himself on the game. Further, he should have scored from Mane’s cutback in the second-half and put the game to bed.
However, all the misses came back to haunt Liverpool and Wijnaldum was once again at fault for failing to clear the corner that led to Watford’s third goal. Thus, the Dutch international had an afternoon to forget.
The biggest takeaway for Liverpool from the match would be that their defence needs strengthening. If Virgil van Dijk is their top target, then the Reds need to get him by all means. Lovren continues to be inconsistent and a shaky defence constantly disrupts the team’s confidence.
Further, the team needs another creative midfielder irrespective of Coutinho’s fate. The trio of Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum provide dynamism and energy but lack the vision and creativity to release the front three. Injured Adam Lallana is one such player while 17-year old Ben Woodburn is the only other option.
Finally, the Reds’ defensive issues point out a much bigger problem than just personnel. This was the first time in nine games that the Reds conceded from a corner and only time will tell whether this is a blip or a major concern again.
Either way, Liverpool have to add to their squad if they are to embark on a successful season.