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Opinion

Unravelling Watford's shock win over Liverpool

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Roar Rookie
1st April, 2020
2

What a shocking loss for Liverpool. What a magnificent triumph for Watford.

March 1, 2020 is a day that football fanatics around the world will never forget. Watford faced their biggest challenge this season, the undefeated Liverpool team, with a result neither side would expect. Three-nil to the underdogs ten minutes into the second half, three goals in 18 minutes, two by the youngster Ismaïla Sarr and one by the captain Troy Deeney.

With a game that could have never been predicted, let’s look at the points that defined this game so we can understand how Watford ended up securing the win.

What went wrong

Inability to perform under pressure and play to expectations
Liverpool crumbled under the pressure of losing before they could get their 19th win in a row, ending their record of the longest number of consecutive wins, which began in October 2019.

Pregame expectations of winning were on Liverpool’s mind, leading them to walk onto the pitch with an arrogant mindset, costing them the victory. This stemmed from the prospect of Watford soon being relegated to the English Football League Championship, displaying Watford as no threat to the top-of-the-league team Liverpool.

Liverpool have an invincible mindset that had them believing the game against Watford was already three points in their favour. Liverpool played nowhere near their usual capacity.

In the post-game interview with the Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp, he stated: “We didn’t perform like we should have and Watford performed like they wanted.”

Virgil Van Dijk
Virgil Van Dijk, the praised defender, was thought to dominate this game with his previous history of results. But on the contrary, he under-performed and is one of the people to blame for this disaster.

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Van Dijk was asleep at the wheel in the 53rd minute, letting a throw-in reach Abdoulaye Doucouré, who athletically passed across goal to an oncoming run from Ismaïla Sarr, opening the scoring. If Van Dijk reacted slightly earlier and tackled Doucouré, this would’ve reduced the risk drastically. Liverpool’s defence was sub-par, unable to keep the fierce Watford attackers out. This loss is good for Liverpool as they can re-evaluate who they are and why they are number one on the ladder.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.

(Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Another catastrophe occurred in the 59th minute when Van Dijk openly moaned about Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum’s sloppy defence. While Van Dijk was flustered, Will Hughes managed to offload to Troy Deeney, taking a wide but controlled swing and booting the ball down the line to the quick and agile Sarr waiting to pounce.

In all this kerfuffle, Van Dijk was late to accelerate, putting him on the back foot against Sarr. The irony of this moment was painful for Reds supporters that night.

Andy Roberston and Trent Alexander-Arnold
Liverpool’s left back and right back, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, were up for a tough match they weren’t expecting. Liverpool’s ego was very high as this match, if won, would put another win on a record-breaking streak. But little did these overconfident defenders know that the young Sarr would ruin their glory.

In the 46th minute, Sarr and Robertson ran side by side, galloping towards goal but sadly as Sarr draws back his leg, Robertson begins to back off, leaving Alisson to have a one on one, which if not for Sarr’s minor mistake would have resulted in a game-changing opportunity. Robertson’s lack of fitness and persistence nearly cost them here.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was tasked with defending the right side of the pitch, however on multiple occasions he lacked key components such as intensity and pressure. Deeney’s open-goal opportunity in the 71st minute was only possible due to Alexander-Arnold simply ball-watching and low efforts to throw himself in front of the attacker.

What went right

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Ismaïla Sarr and his accomplices
Watford’s magnificent forward produced two goals within six minutes. This was an incredible triumph for the youngster, but on the other hand quite devastating as he was just shy of a legend-forming hat trick numerous times during this match. He worked with the passion of his teammates to pull them from the rubble of relegation.

Having only joined the team in August last year, the 22-year-old Senegalese player has been making waves. His agility to get around opposing defenders’ bodies, and faking his direction of movement, leaves defenders in a cloud of dust. His ability to accelerate with such an explosive effect often puts him a couple paces ahead of his opponent before they are able to react.

An amazing display of team chemistry was shown in the 53rd minute, with an exquisite hold-up play from Hughes, managing to find Deeney, who knows Sarr is waiting to pounce at any moment. He fires a ball blindly up the line, managing to lead onto Sarr, who explodes with pace and secures his second of the match. This piece of chemistry shows how in-tune the team is with their relationships. It shows how much the club, and captain Troy Deeney, focus their attention on knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each individual and the team as a group.

Watford’s team chemistry was again highlighted when in the 71st minute, Sarr manages to read and intercept a pass back to Liverpool’s keeper Alisson, holding up the game and waiting to pass to Deeney, who directs it perfectly into the net. This little play shows chemistry as Sarr, despite his youth, has the discipline to not be greedy but trustingly pass to another teammate in a better position.

Sarr – being a recent addition to the Watford side, joining the club in 2019 – is already showing his worth through his ability to read a game, his acceleration, speed and agility. During the 71st minute he managed to spot and intercept a pass back to Alisson, capitalising ruthlessly on that goal-scoring opportunity.

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There are multiple points where Sarr displays his acceleration, speed and agility. One that stands out is in the 43rd minute. Sarr accelerates and sprints to a through-ball coming from Gerard Deulofeu. While Sarr could not convert this goal it still depicts his attributes in a sublime manner. You can see him break away from the defensive with a desperate Robertson chasing him down.

A mighty Watford on the verge of relegation triumphed against the seemingly invincible Premier League leaders Liverpool, securing the win. This 3-0 victory is the epitome of the underdog, showing how a team facing dreaded relegation can rise up through their own hard-earned self belief, and having nothing to lose and everything to gain, can embarrass a professional group of highly trained athletes, who are found out in a moment of complacency and ill discipline.