The Premier League is finally back and Liverpool started their 2017-18 campaign on the road at Vicarage Road facing Watford. This match was not only special for being the season opener for The Reds but also because it was Klopp’s 100th match as Head Coach of Liverpool.
Last time The Reds visited Watford for a Premier League match was on the 1st of May 2017 where Liverpool sealed a 0-1 victory thanks to a magnificent shot from Emre Can.
Marco Silva decided to play with a 1-4-2-3-1 formation where Okaka acted alone up front. Cleverley, in the middle; Amrabat, on the right and Pereyra, on the left; formed the line of 3 behind Okaka.
Jürgen Klopp opted for his usual 1-4-3-3 where Mané, Firmino and Salah formed the attacking trident. Henderson, Emre Can and Wijnaldum in the middle and Alberto Moreno, Lovren, Matip and Alexander-Arnold teaming up in the back line of four defenders.
The Reds normally tried to play out from the back where Henderson was dropping in between Lovren and Matip forming a line of three while Alberto Moreno and Alexander-Arnold immediately were pushing high on wide areas adopting a 1-3-4-3 formation when on possession.
Watford’s shape out of possession was going to change depending on where Liverpool’s players had the ball. The Hornets were happy to let The Reds centre-backs to receive from Mignolet to play out from the back but as soon as Lovren, Matip or Henderson were on possession, Okaka and Cleverley formed a line of two changing Watford shape to a 1-4-4-2 as you can see in the following picture.
In the picture above, Matip is on possession while forming a line of three with Henderson and Lovren. Watford shape when Liverpool on possession in their own half.
The objective of Okaka and Cleverley when Liverpool played out from the back was to apply a soft pressure and try to cut lines of passing to the midfielders or strikers. Behind Okaka and Cleverley, a line of 4 midfielders was formed (Pereyra, Chalobah, Doucouré and Amrabat) to avoid gaps for Alexander-Arnold, Emre Can, Wijnaldum and Alberto Moreno to receive and force Liverpool to play long balls.
Finally, Watford back line of four formed by Holebas, Britos, Kaboul and Janmaat, main defensive duty was to stop Mané, Salah and Firmino. Janmaat was going to be substituted for Kiko Femenia after 18 minutes due to injury but this substitution did not change Watford set up.
When Liverpool had possession on The Hornets half after breaking their first defensive line, Cleverley was constantly dropping in to support defensively and again, Watford shape was changing to a 1-4-5-1, 1-5-4-1 or 1-4-4-1-1 depending how high on the pitch were Liverpool full-backs.
In the picture above, Watford adopting a 1-5-4-1 defensive shape when Liverpool on possession on the final third.
Notice in the picture above, Watford 1-4-4-1-1 defensive shape when Liverpool on possession on Watford’s half. Okaka (out of the picture) stayed alone up front while Cleverley in front of the 2 lines of 4 players.
Watford kept an organised, compact and strong defensive block through the match allowing only 5 shots on target to Liverpool. Salah, Firmino and Mané were constantly swapping positions up front and dropping in to receive passes to try to break lines. Salah and Mané were also moving inside to create space on wide channels for Alexander-Arnold, on the right; and Alberto Moreno, on the left side to provide width to Liverpool when on possession.
In the picture above, notice how narrow and compact Watford players were defending.
The 3 pictures above show how Mané, Firmino and Salah were constantly swapping their positions on the pitch.
The 2 pictures above show Firmino dropping in to receive the ball but also Salah (on the left picture) and Mané (on the right picture) have moved inside to create space on the right side for Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno on the left side to join the attack and provide width to Liverpool when on possession.
Watford match plan when on possession was very predictable and was based mainly on two principles:
1. Long balls from the back, being Okaka the target player.
2. Attack on the right side through Amrabat or Kiko Femenia overlaps to deliver crosses to Liverpool 18-yard box.
As you saw in the last video, Gomes often played long ball looking for Okaka (later Gray) while Pereyra (Richarlison), Amrabat and Cleverley were going to support the target player closely to win any rebounds from him.
Watford hit first, thanks to Okaka header inside Liverpool 6-yard box from a corner kick in the 8th minute delivered by Holebas.
Amrabat is a crucial piece on this corner because he blocks Mignolet’s run inside the 6-yard box but Liverpool defence is very poor because Okaka and Kaboul who are the major aerial threats for Watford made their run to the 6-yard box extremely easy.
Liverpool kept their match plan and after a good link up play between Mané, Alberto Moreno and Emre Can, the Senegalese was going to level the match in the 29th minute but The Hornets hit back again just three minutes after the equaliser.
Watford’s second goal is a result of the lack of concentration and work rate from Wijnaldum and Henderson who let their runners (Doucouré and Cleverley) completely free. Henderson never tracked back Cleverley as he made his run into the 18-yard box where he had plenty of space and time to make the low cross and Wijnaldum is too slow to follow Doucouré who found himself without any opposition inside Liverpool’s 6-yard box to finish the play.
On the 37th minute, Salah had a great opportunity to level the match again after a combination between Matip and Firmino but the Egyptian’s shot was too high. This link up play between these three players worked later on the match but this time Salah was going to be the victim of Gomes and win a penalty for Liverpool which Firmino scored to equalise the match one more time. In the following video, you will watch both plays.
After the 2-2, Liverpool looked revitalised and Salah was going to score the third goal for The Reds, just five minutes later the Brazilian scored the penalty.
On the video of Liverpool’s 3rd goal, you can notice Watford’s defensive shape (1-4-4-2) when The Reds had possession on their own half cutting options for Wijnaldum, Emre Can or Henderson to receive but the movement off the ball by Liverpool strikers is amazing where Mané was moving between Watford midfield and defensive line while Firmino stayed wide to make his run on the blind side of Kiko Femenia and exploit the space behind The Hornets defensive line. Firmino’s finish wasn’t great but Salah never stopped supporting the play to score his first Premier League goal for Liverpool.
After the 3rd goal, Liverpool had many chances to score another goal and seal the victory but the lack of accuracy, the cross bar and Gomes kept Watford alive until the end of the match as you will see in the following video.
But Britos, in the 93rd minute, scored the final equaliser from another corner where Liverpool were not capable of clearing their lines and Watford players took advantage of the situation.
Jürgen Klopp’s quote during the post-match press conference sums up Liverpool’s 1st Premier League match of the 2017-18 season; “We know we can do better, we have to do better”.
No doubt, The Reds will have to do much better, especially, on defending phases if Liverpool want to win titles during the newborn season.