Vicarage Road, Watford – And so it begins, Liverpool’s 2017/2018 Premier League season kicked off with on Saturday afternoon with a trip to Watford. Much of the positivity heading into the match was disrupted when it was confirmed that Philippe Coutinho handed in a transfer request just one day prior. With distractions abundant, Klopp’s men struggled to find any real rhythm and were unable to take home all three points. Here are the five talking points from Liverpool’s 3-3 draw with Watford.
1 – Alberto Moreno Impressed
Coming off the back of a strong preseason, it strangely became evident that Alberto Moreno would be the starting left back for the season opener. With the signing of Andy Robertson in the summer, it seems that he, and Moreno will be the two senior left backs at the club for this campaign, with Milner moving back into midfield. This news hasn’t been met with optimism by plenty of supporters, especially when one considers the fact that last season Klopp moved Milner to left back just to keep Moreno out of the team. However, the Spaniard was in steady form on Saturday. Always providing an option on that left-hand-side and showing a defensive discipline that has typically been lacking from his game. Indeed it was a stark contrast to the shambolic performance Moreno put in at the Emirates for the opening game of last season. If he can keep up the solid form then Liverpool will have one major problem that they won’t have to worry about anymore.
2 – Front Three Looks Terrific
Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, and new signing Mohamed Salah all started on Saturday and all three of them managed to score a goal. It wasn’t perfect, early season rustiness was clearly evident for vast portions of the game but when that front three began to click they looked deadly. All three goals were as different as could be: one magical, one routine, and one scrappy. The frontline can score in so many different ways, which only bodes well for the rest of this season. Whether it’s a deep lying defence (Mane’s goal), or a high backline (Salah’s goal), these guys are ready to punish their opposition.
3 – The Midfield Didn’t Look Great
In stark contrast to the three men in front of them, Can, Henderson, and Wijnaldum failed to impress, the latter in particular having one of his worst games in a Liverpool shirt. Henderson wasn’t his usual efficient self on the ball, giving possession away far too easily. The skipper ended the much with a pass completion rate of 69%, for any Premier League midfielder’s standards that is poor, let alone his. Wijnaldum missed a wonderful chance to score the 4th goal and put the game to bed when it was 3-2. And on top of that he was responsible for not heading the ball away at the near post which led to Watford’s eventual equalizer. Can probably had the best game of the three, completing 80% of his passes and picking up an assist. However, the German was at fault for carelessly giving away the throw-in that eventually led to the opening goal of the game. It may seem harsh to try and attribute blame for the goal onto him but it’s little moments of sloppiness like that which result in disastrous goals being conceded. And even despite all the individual shortcomings of Saturday’s midfield three, probably most damning is how dysfunctional they looked as an offensive unit. Fluidity and creativity was sorely lacking in a midfield that missed Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho.
4 – Set Pieces Again
Where to begin? One game in and already two goals conceded directly from set pieces. Keep this up and we’ll be in May looking back at the groundbreaking 76 set piece goals that The Reds conceded this season. The woes at the back have been much talked about at Liverpool ever since Brendan Rodgers was still in charge. Entire defences have been changed (personnel wise) multiple times since then and still to no avail. Quality defenders signed from elsewhere seem to forget how to do their job once they put on a Liverpool shirt. The point has been reached surely where one starts to question the tactics over the personnel. There was an interesting (and quite comical at times) debate between Jamie Carragher and Jamie Redknapp immediately following the game. Redknapp wanted to suggest that the purchase of more ‘leaders’ and better quality defenders is the answer to the problems at the back while Carragher was pointing out that this issue likely stems deeper. Indeed, it does seem that Liverpool’s defensive issues are deeply systemic and come part-and-parcel with the style of play that the team wants to play. If you put Boateng and Hummels in this defence they would still concede plenty of goals. On a positive note however, set-piece defending is something that can be improved upon without drastically altering the team’s identity. Time for excuses is over, improvements need to be made quickly as Hoffenheim and Palace will be licking their lips ahead of their meetings with Klopp’s men in the week ahead.
5 – Will Coutinho Stay Or Will He Go?
Touching on this subject was inevitable, the papers have been dominated by this story and likewise the minds of supporters. All throughout the summer there had been absolutely no qualms about the Brazilian’s future, with the popular belief being that he wouldn’t mind a move to Barcelona but he would love to stay at Liverpool as well. Most of the worry came from fans not trusting FSG’s resolve to reject ‘any’ offer that was made for the midfielder. However, after the bombshell which was his transfer request, many have begun to fear the worst. Word has started to spread that Coutinho has been unhappy with how he’s been treated by Klopp and that their relationship had been worsening over the past several months. These stories were in the back of every fan’s head during the Watford game and therefore no doubt were in the minds of the players too. Klopp seemed resigned in his post match press conference. The German made it clear that no matter if Coutinho stays or goes, he has absolutely no control over it. So much is riding on this transfer story, and after watching The Reds fail to stamp any real authority over Watford on Saturday, the importance of Philippe Coutinho to this team can not be overstated.