Watford's powerful strike duo steamroll Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool

Posted Dec 20, 2015 by Tyrrell Meertins
Liverpool may have trailed Watford within the opening two minutes of kick-off, but Mamadou Sakho’s shaky touches on the ball prior to the goal summarized the Reds’ afternoon.
Courtesy of Flickr/Franziska
Quique Sanchez Flores’ Watford are extremely organized out of possession, and Liverpool’s inability to break down compact back-lines, along with their shoddy defending proved costly once again.
Without possession, Watford maintained two narrow blocks of four with powerful strikers Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo sitting off the centre-backs, but applying pressure when they attempted to push past the half-way line. On the rare occasion the Watford forwards pressed higher with the wingers closing down the Liverpool full-backs, but Flores’ often sat deeper to force Liverpool to break them down.
Nevertheless, the Watford forwards performed superbly, here, and Liverpool’s defenders were constantly out-muscled by the two. A simple Deeney ball over the defence saw Ighalo brush Martin Skrtel aside to double Watford’s lead. Then with minutes to spare in the second half, Ighalo charged through midfield to combine with Deeney, and the former nodded substitute Valon Behrami’s cross past Adam Bogdan.
Opposed to focusing on patient buildup play to bypass the Liverpool defence, Deeney and Ighalo constantly aimed to combine with each other on the counter-attack.
"They're [Deeney and Ighalo] not completely similar, but they're strikers with the same characteristics,” said Flores. “They're working a lot for the team in terms of the defence, so it's very important."
Sakho’s return to the lineup also proved beneficial to Watford. Liverpool’s constant changes in defence have prevented Klopp from building a reliable back-line, but this was more about the Frenchman’s poor performance than a lack of familiarity at the back. Frankly, Sakho’s lack of match sharpness and a sense of complacency enabled Watford’s front-men to dispossess the Liverpool centre-back and break swiftly on the counter.
The hosts didn’t need to create chances from open play due to his constant errors — one move saw Jose Jurado cut in from the left to slide a pass beyond Sakho, who slipped, to Ighalo, but Bogdan made a quality save. Flores’ men exploited Sakho’s culpable ball-carrying throughout, but vital last ditch tackles ensured Liverpool weren’t punished.
Liverpool encountered similar issues moving the ball into the forwards due to Watford’s reactive approach, but there was space in wide areas for the full-backs to exploit. Perhaps this was Flores’ preference considering the away side started the match without a recognized striker, as crosses into the box wouldn’t particularly harm the hosts.
Nathan Ake was often shuttling quickly to the flank to close down Nathaniel Clyne, whereas Liverpool’s best moves involved Jordan Henderson playing long diagonals to the left flank. Watford’s shape deprived Liverpool’s front three space between the lines, and Henderson’s space in pockets of space on the right served as the away side’s sole outlet.
Oddly, Klopp refused to change their overall attacking approach in the second half even with Divock Origi’s introduction prior to the break. Moreno fired a clipped Henderson pass into side netting, whereas Philippe Coutinho’s cross-field diagonal to the Liverpool captain forced Heurelho Gomes to make a stellar save.
Klopp should’ve expected to his centre-backs to encounter countless individual battles with Deeney and Ighalo, but apart from the rare Can intervention, his reluctance to instruct his midfield to sit a few yards deeper to aid their struggling centre-backs. Henderson maintained an advanced position on the right, whereas Lallana simply dropped deep to receive the ball and subsequently charged towards the box.
But the Liverpool manager’s initial approach lacked direction. With so much space provided in wide areas, this was the ideal game for Benteke to battle against a mediocre centre-back duo. The Reds, however, were clueless in the final third, and Watford’s shape and tireless work ethic ensured Klopp’s creative players couldn’t receive the ball in their preferred positions.
“I know how strong this team can be and it's my job to help them so they can show it much more often than they have,” said Klopp.
“Today was bad, the result was very bad. We lost our mind after the first goal, we lost our compact formation, we didn't play easy.”
While the top teams continue to search for a strong level of consistency, this was another performance that witnessed excellent organization and discipline prevail. Perhaps it’s time for the Premier League powerhouses to follow suit and go back to the basics.