LONDON: After 422 days Liverpool can start building up again on the run-in to their first league championship in 30 years. The 3-0 defeat at Watford – a repeat of Jurgen Klopp’s first game in charge – can serve as a perfect wake-up call at just the right time of the campaign.
An unbeaten run in the Premier League which had stretched back to the start of last year had to come to an end at some time. It was remarkable, given the competitive nature of English football and intensity of the modern game, that Liverpool had lasted so long. But it had become clear that all the talk of records was bringing its own pressure to bear on the manager and his team.
Klopp has insisted that the focus has never been on records and always, and only, on the next game. But it was impossible for the players to escape the expectations among media and fans which they had aroused by their own brilliance.
For several weeks it has been clear that Liverpool are not at their best. That they continued winning in the league was a testament to the quality of their individual players and the confidence which both results and Klopp himself had instilled. Notably, Liverpool have been more fragile in the Champions League. They lost 2:0 at Napoli in the group stage and must overturn a 1-0 defeat away to Atletico Madrid in next week’s second round second leg at Anfield.
Liverpool started slowly, as has become their custom. Ex-Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu went close twice before being injured and substituted. Goalkeeper Alisson Becker saved at second attempt from Troy Deeney just before halftime and Liverpool did not test Ben Foster until the 53rd minute through a shot from Andrew Robertson.
Moments later Watford scored the goal they deserved. It was too easy. A simple throw-in then a cross from Olivier Doucoure for Ismaila Sarr to convert. Six minutes later Liverpool were caught wide open again as Deeney sent in the Senegal international for his second goal. Klopp, chasing the game, sent on Adam Lallana and Divock Origi but that just left Liverpool vulnerable to another counter-attack. Trent Alexander-Arnold gave the ball away for Sarr to set up Deeney.
Watford thus edged out of the relegation zone by ending a run of five games without a win in the most spectacular fashion.
Klopp could have pointed to the injury absence of captain Jordan Henderson and the late need to replace Joe Gomez with the out-of-practice Dejan Lovren.
He said: “We were not good enough, simple as that. Watford did exactly what they wanted to do, we didn’t do exactly what we should have done. Congratulations to Watford. Really well done and well deserved. We have to accept it.
“The first half was a lot of running, a lot of second balls, a lot of open situations. We had more of the ball but didn’t cross at the right moment, didn’t pass at the right moment because our positioning was not as it should have been.
“We changed at half-time and started better but then we conceded a goal. One-nil is not decisive if you react well but then we conceded a second one. It’s still not decisive, but then a third one, which we helped.”
Liverpool’s first defeat since losing at Manchester City in January 2019 ended a 44-game unbeaten run and prevented the champions-elect equalling Manchester City’s run of 19 consecutive wins. They thus ended five games, and more than 100 days, short of Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten run – including the Invincibles season of 2003-04 – which is the record for any club since the Football League began in 1888.
It was the first time they had failed to score in the league since a goalless draw against neighbours Everton in March 2019. They have conceded as many goals in their last two league games (five) as they had in their previous 14. This was also the first time they managed only one shot on target in since February 2019 in a goalless draw against Manchester United.
Of course Liverpool still sit 22 points above Manchester City, with no real danger of missing out on the title. They can even break the European points record. If they regain winning form through to the end of term then they can total 109 points, three more than Celtic’s 106 in Scotland in 2016-17.
As Virgil van Dijk said: “Records are only for the media. We want to win our next game, that’s the FA Cup (at Chelsea) and then we have Bournemouth at home. We want to show what we’ve been doing the whole season and that’s the only way. We want to strike back straight away — and we will as well.”