Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool to collect a really precious win and got all the three points at the Vicarage Road against a Watford side that put in quite an impressive performance defensively – especially in the first half. While Mo Salah, who just can’t stop scoring against Watford, opened the scoring after a fine set of passes, Alexander Arnold’s fantastic effort from a free-kick added up and Firmino’s tapping in after a devastating counter ensured that the Reds secured the three points with a clean sheet. In this tactical analysis, I will be going over the talking points of the game and comment on the performances.
As seen in the graphic above, Jurgen Klopp opted to field his team in a 4-2-3-1 shape that turned into a 4-3-3 while defending. On the other hand, Watford manager Javi Garcia preferred a 4-4-2 shape that turned into a kind of 4-2-2-2 in the attacking situations and set up a brilliant team defending with a well-organized 4-4-2.
This display of compact, careful and brilliant defensive set up by Watford caused a lot of troubles for the Liverpool side especially in the first half, actually. When the two midfielders, Doucoure and Capoue, played narrow and deep using their physical superiority and supporting the defensive unit with the help of Pereyra and Hughes, Liverpool struggled to find a way to break it down. As a result, they passed the ball from side to side in order to be able to find some opportunities to send the ball to the dangerous areas where Mane, Salah, Firmino, or Shaqiri can benefit from that as Jurgen Klopp preferred an attacking unit of 4 players with Firmino joining Mo Salah up front from time to time. Shaqiri was the player who was responsible for getting the ball and creating chances for his teammates by moving into central areas to link up the play and provide some key passes.
In the graphic above, we see one of those key-pass tries from Shaqiri. Firmino picks up the ball and passes it to Mo Salah with a back heel and then Shaqiri plays close to Salah to get the ball and create an opportunity. In fact, this position was one the very few opportunities created like this in the first half as the compact team shape of Watford did not let that happen quite so often. Capoue and Doucoure did fantastic efforts throughout the game in order to prevent Mo Salah, Firmino, Shaqiri and Mane from getting control of the ball. Here’s an example to see one of those situations in which Watford players managed to pocket the Liverpool attackers and made them look effortless.
Firmino tried to get the ball after initial passes as only Jordan Henderson’s and Wijnaldum’s efforts were not quite enough to set up the play sometimes but he also tried to contribute a lot to the attacks, especially in the second half. He was a bit lost in the first half and struggled to get positioned for causing danger as the Watford midfielders were very successful in keeping him in control and intercepting the passes coming from the likes of Henderson and Wijnaldum who also had great difficulty in the first half to initiate the Liverpool attacks in the Liverpool way.
When they weren’t successful in playing with direct, line-breaking passes from the central areas, they tried to find some space in the flanks. Virgil Van Dijk tried long balls to Shaqiri who was to try and create chances but as I mentioned earlier, this did not work so well either as the Watford wingers and fullbacks were so determined to keep them under control. Shaqiri started to play narrow and get unmarked, but it was really difficult for him to play comfortably. After all, though, he made some great efforts to take part in the Liverpool attacks by trying to link up with Salah and opening up some space on the right hand side for Alex Arnold to overlap.
Liverpool did not play their high pressing football with a blistering pace and power. They looked 4-3-3 in defence as Mane dropped in and helped his midfield. Only the front three of Firmino, Salah, and Shaqiri applied a tight press and there was a huge gap between them and the midfielders on the whole. They did not rush to get the ball back. They set up well defensively and the first proper attack of Watford came only in the 21st minute. Here’s a graphic to show the Liverpool midfield’s general defensive positioning in the first half:
Both teams started the second half with the same team shapes and players. Capoue and Doucoure continued to impress with their interceptions at the start of the second half but there was an alarming situation for Watford: Firmino was trying to find spaces where he could provide some great passes and after a few tries he was successful in delivering one of those passes to initiate the Mo Salah goal:
He dropped deep so well to pick up the ball and got himself free of markers. Then he sent a perfectly-timed pass to Sadio Mane who provided the assist for Mo Salah’s goal.
When Milner replaced Shaqiri, they turned to the familiar front three as Firmino went up front with Mo Salah going back to his traditional position, right flank. They changed to a 4-3-3 that would increase the intensity of press thanks to Milner’s contribution to the midfield but after Arnold’s sublime free-kick goal, Henderson got sent off and Jurgen Klopp’s side were reduced to ten men. Right from that point on, Watford were expected to produced something but they failed to do that. On the 88th minute, Liverpool did what they usually do best and they went 3-0 up with an outstanding counter attack that was finalized with Firmino’s effort. That surely sealed the win for the Reds.
Jurgen Klopp’s boys were not having their best day at the office but they managed to come home with 3 points. Watford had impressed everyone with their win against Tottenham Hotspur at the Vicarage Road and put in some eye-catching performances this season. As a result, no one expected the game to be an easy one. It’s always amazing to come away with a win playing a dominant, aggressive, and fast game but it must be noted that the ones who want to be crowned champions at the end of the season should win matches like this. In terms of performance, it might be one to forget especially considering Liverpool’s performances in other games but it was definitely one of those precious and decisive wins.