Watford 3 Ake 3', Ighalo 15' 85'
On the heels of an emotional winning draw with West Brom, and after a full week of training, this had to be an unexpected result for Jürgen Klopp. Quique Sanchez Flores' Watford side were fast, physical, and opportunistic in putting three past Adam Bogdan, while shutting down a toothless Red attack. With the holiday period now upon us, it is the sort of result that may sent Herr Klopp back to the drawing board when it comes to potential transfer targets.
Adam Bogdan started in place of the injured Simon Mignolet, as Liverpool set up in a 4-5-1 that would flex to 4-3-3 throughout the match. Mamadou Sakho made a return to Liverpool's preferred backline of Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, and Alberto Moreno. Lucas would have his screening role in midfield with a marauding Emre Can next to him. Jordan Henderson was pushed wide ride, but often times dropped deeper to give the midfield numbers defensively. The attacking band of Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, and Roberto Firmino was selected to start, but showed none of the combination, incisiveness, and creativity that had made it so deadly against Manchester City.
Things would turn south almost immediately as Sakho would make a bad error in possession, the Reds would cede an early corner, and Adam Bogdan would demonstrate he's been paying close attention to Mignolet's set piece technique in practice. The Hungarian mishandled his take, allowing the sharp Nathan Ake room to swing his foot in and direct the ball goalwards. Some will claim foul, but it was poetic justice for the manner in which Liverpool's keeper mishandled the play in the first place. It would also not be his only faff of the day.
Liverpool's response was calm, and threatened to build something approaching progressive. But it was all for nothing when
platinum recording artist, and Toronto native Drake Troy Deeney outmuscled Lucas in Liverpool's half, and played a ball over the top for the dangerous Odion Ighalo to chase on to. Skrtel would fail with a shoulder barged clearance, leaving just enough daylight for Ighalo to wrap an angled right foot through the ball, and down to Bogdan's lower-right hand corner. It was an exquisite pass and finish from the Hornets, but Lucas and Skrtel's inability to deal with danger was simply unacceptable.
Suddenly, at 2-0 up, and with the crowd behind them, Watford demonstrated the sort of form you'd expect from a Champions League challenger. More physical, quicker to the ball, more capable of snuffing out danger, and unafraid to attack Liverpool's areas of supposed strength, the Hornets were cruising. Skrtel would go down with an apparent hamstring injury while attempting to corral Deeney and clear in one movement. Klopp's solution was to move Lucas to central defence, and bring Divock Origi into the game. Spoiler alert: it would not lead to goals for the Reds.
The rest of the game would include some more terrible play from Sakho and Bogdan, plenty of Deeney putting himself about, and a rather worrying lack of spark from Liverpool's danger men going forward. There were moments: a nice save from Bogdan to spare Sakho's blushes, some good movement from Moreno and Clyne along the flanks, a very nice crossfield connection between Henderson and Moreno, and a bit of involvement from Lallana to stitch play together. But, ultimately, this was Watford's day, and there wasn't anything Klopp was going to be able to do about it, no matter how much he screamed and gesticulated on that sideline.
Ighalo cinched the game off a perfectly crossed ball from subsitute Valon Behrami, putting paid to Liverpool's desperation mode of bringing Jordon Ibe and Christian Benteke on for Adam Lallana and the completely ineffectual Roberto Firmino.
There won't be many more comprehensive losses for Jürgen Klopp as manager of this club, and hats off to Sanchez Flores for what he's done putting that Watford team together. Some of Liverpool's mistakes -- Sakho's rustiness, Lucas' getting outplayed -- won't be the norm. However, the weekly set piece mistakes and the apparent genetic predisposition for Liverpool goalkeepers to mishandle aerial threats is something that may not be solvable with the current pieces in this squad. The January transfer window beckons, perhaps?