Liverpool are back on top of the Premier League, but the sizeable lead they boasted as 2018 drew to a close is now down to the bare minimum. Goalless draws against Bayern Munich and Manchester United are not bad results in as of themselves, but both those games exposed a serious lack of confidence and incision in the final third, with the Reds’ much-celebrated strikeforce currently looking as blunt as a typical Bill Shankly observation.
Keeping the likes of Bayern and United scoreless is fine, but Jurgen Klopp’s side need to rediscover their scoring touch when they host Watford in the Premier League on Wednesday night. It’s a fixture in which they have run riot in the last couple of seasons, as described in more detail further on in this piece, so the Kop natives will hope that the sight of the Hornets’ yellow and black colours will trigger the dam to burst once more for Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and co. Our statistical analysis looks back on the goal-laden recent history of matches between these two teams.
Last six Premier League games
Liverpool: W3, D3, L0, F10, A5, Pts 12
Watford: W3, D2, L1, F9, A4, Pts 11
A point at Old Trafford on Sunday was enough for Liverpool to return to the summit of the Premier League, but it now means that they’ve won only one of their last four in the competition after draws against Leicester and West Ham in the last month. While the Reds’ attacking radar is misfiring, at least they have shored up defensively after a leaky January, with clean sheets in their last three games in all competitions. The 0-0 against Manchester United ended their run of scoring in every Premier League away game this season and it was just the second league match of 2018/19 in which Liverpool didn’t score, with Manchester City also shutting them out in October.
Watford scored as many goals against Cardiff last Friday night as Liverpool have managed in their previous four matches combined, with Gerard Deulofeu’s hat-trick inspiring a 5-1 rout in the Welsh capital. Indeed, the Hornets scored more on that night than they had managed in five matches before it, their record Premier League away win taking them up to seventh. It was their third win since the turn of the year and they’ve only been beaten twice in their last 11 league games.
Premier League head-to-head record
As you may expect, Liverpool have largely bossed this fixture in the Premier League, but the first one resulted in a famous Watford victory at Anfield. In the Hornets’ first ever Premier League away match in August 1999, Tommy Mooney struck the winner for Graham Taylor’s side. The Hertfordshire club’s only other win over Liverpool in this competition was an emphatic one in December 2015, a 3-0 thrashing at Vicarage Road in which Adam Bogdan had a goalkeeping nightmare for the Reds.
The only other occasion on which Watford denied Liverpool victory was on the opening day of last season in a 3-3 draw, when a Simon Mignolet error in stoppage time cost the Reds two points. The last four Anfield meetings have all gone Liverpool’s way, with Watford losing by five-goal margins on their two most recent visits (6-1 and 5-0). When the teams last met in November, Klopp’s side struck thrice in the second half to win 3-0 at Vicarage Road, a game best remembered for a sumptuous Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick.
Last Anfield meeting
Liverpool 5-0 Watford, 17 March 2018
It might have been marked in the calendar as St Patrick’s Day, but Liverpool fans could well have been petitioning to rename it St Salah’s Day after the Egyptian maestro single-handedly destroyed the Hornets, who had been beaten 6-1 on their previous visit to Anfield. Four minutes was all Salah needed to open the scoring, making a fool of Miguel Britos on his way to scoring. The second goal came just before half-time, Salah tucking home a pinpoint cross from Andy Robertson to give the Reds some timely daylight.
Roberto Firmino added a third early in the second half and Liverpool were effectively out of sight. On 77 minutes, Salah’s superb slaloming solo effort was a fitting way for him to complete his hat-trick and he still wasn’t finished, with his fourth of the evening coming in the 85th minute after Danny Ings’ initial effort was blocked. On a weekend that many of the Reds’ nearest rivals were in FA Cup action, they took full advantage to move up to third in the Premier League, with this game the high watermark of a sensational first season at Liverpool for Salah.
Salah scores, Liverpool win. Salah doesn’t score…
Watford are probably still haunted by the sight of Salah, but the Egyptian has come under fire of late for a sequence of ineffective performances. He was completely neutralised by Luke Shaw at Old Trafford on Sunday and also had minimal influence against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last week. Having scored four in this fixture last season, his last four goals have spanned seven games, not a poor ratio in itself but well short of Salah’s lofty standards. Considering that three of those came against Brighton and Crystal Palace in January, he has netted just once in his last five matches, that coming in a 3-0 victory against Bournemouth earlier this month.
In a remarkable coincidence, Salah’s scoring statistics since before Christmas reflect Liverpool’s results. Going back to the 2-0 victory at Wolves in December, the Reds have won every game in which Salah has scored – and none in which the Egyptian wasn’t on the scoresheet. The last time Liverpool won without a goal from their top scorer was against Manchester United more than two months ago.
Salah has scored four goals in eight matches in 2019, during which he has registered 22 shots. That indicates a scoring ratio of one goal for every 5.5 shots, not a statistic that would mark him out to be one of the world’s top attackers. Also, in seven of those eight games, he has played for the full 90 minutes; the 0-0 against Manchester United on Sunday was the first time he was substituted since the Merseyside derby at the beginning of December.
Over the last two months, it has been a case of ‘Liverpool win only if Salah scores’. It might seem overly simplistic to suggest that Watford will get a result if they limit the Egyptian’s influence, but theories like these will only disappear if Salah – and his fellow attackers – get back to their best. If they don’t, the league title will remain elusive for a 29th successive year.