Sunday, December 5, 2021

Prediction: Watford vs Liverpool

Verdict: Away goals over 2.5

Best odds: 5/4

Bookmaker: Unibet

The international break is (finally) over and the business resumes this weekend in top leagues around the world. In the Premier League, Watford will be welcoming Liverpool to the Vicarage in what will be the opening match of the eighth round of the season.

Watford

Back in the English top flight after a year’s absence, Watford’s start to the campaign has been rather mixed, and it’s perception probably varies from different points of view. One could say that sitting 15th in the table with seven points from seven matches isn’t exactly what’s usually considered a success, but for a newly promoted team to be outside the relegation zone is certainly something.

Nonetheless, the people in charge at the club obviously felt differently, and last round’s 1-0 defeat to Leeds United saw Xisco Munoz receive his marching orders to be replaced by Claudio Ranieri. The experienced Italian, who led Leicester City to the shocking Premier League title in 2016, would have probably wanted an easier fixture to break into his fourth managerial stint in the league, but he will likely cherish a duel against Jurgen Klopp nonetheless.

Munoz led the team to two wins, one draw and four defeats this term. It started well enough; Aston Villa were beaten at the Vicarage in the opening round, and later Norwich City suffered the same fate at Carrow Road. On the other hand, Brighton and Hove Albion, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leeds all emerged victorious from their duels with the Hornets, and the only time when the points were shared was at home against Newcastle.

Team News

Both managers will have to find ways of arranging their teams with some important players missing for this clash. Ranieri will have to make do without centre-backs Francisco Sierralta (hamstring) and Christian Kabasele (thigh). It means Craig Cathcart is likely to start in the heart of defence next to William Troost-Ekong, with newcomer Nicolas N’Kolou needing time to adapt after his arrival as a free agent a week ago.

Midfielder Peter Etebo is out for the rest of the year, and Ranieri could decide to go with two players boasting plenty of experience in playing against Liverpool – Moussa Sissoko, who arrived from Tottenham Hotspur this summer, and Tom Cleverly, formerly of Manchester United. Juraj Kucka will, however, be hoping for a start himself.

Upfront, winger Ismaila Sarr will likely be the man Liverpool’s defence will be paying the most attention. Josh King faces a late test after injuring his knee against Leeds, and if he isn’t ready in time, Joao Pedro would be the obvious choice to step into the breach, with Emmanuel Dennis also in the lineup.

Liverpool

Many of those who doubted Liverpool’s ability to compete as genuine title contenders before the season started will have realized their mistake by now; the Reds are the only team in the Premier League yet to suffer defeat this term, and their obvious power to match defending champions Manchester City was on display at Anfield in the thrilling encounter between the two sides in the previous round.  Twice Liverpool led, first through Sadio Mane, then Mohamed Salah, but Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne managed to secure a point for Pep Guardiola’s team.

Be that as it may, Liverpool are currently second with 15 points, secured through four wins (Norwich City, Burnley, Leeds and Crystal Palace) and three draws (Chelsea, Brentford and Manchester City). Chelsea lead the pack with 16, while the two Manchester teams sit beside Everton and Brighton – all four teams are on 14.

Having finished inside the top four last term against all odds, Liverpool also play in the Champions League, where they’ve already beaten AC Milan at home and FC Porto away, and they travel to Madrid to face Atletico next week.

Team News

Klopp is likely to be without goalkeeper Alisson Becker and midfielder Fabinho. The two Brazilians represented their country during the break and their last game was played just after midnight UK time between Thursday and Friday, and it would be a miracle if they manage to return and rest sufficiently by kickoff time. Harvey Elliott will be out for several months yet after having a dislocated ankle and ligament damage fixed through surgery.

The German tactician has already confirmed that right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold and forward Diogo Jota are back in contention after overcoming different injury issues, but midfielder Thiago Alcantara misses out. The Atletico clash, scheduled for Tuesday, should not be forgotten; Klopp could decide to rotate his team to try and keep them as fresh as possible.

Caoimhin Kelleher will start between the posts, and captain Jordan Henderson will have to play a little deeper than he has so far this season in order to provide protection to the back line instead of Fabinho.

Conclusion

Watford were the first team to beat Liverpool in what turned out to have been a title-winning season for the Merseysiders (2019-20), but it was a huge surprise then and it would certainly be a surprise now. The visitors will push hard straight away and likely score several goals.

Verdict: Away goals over 2.5

Best odds: 5/4

Bookmaker: Unibet

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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