First Team 2 weeks ago

Gracia: “The Game Was Closer Than The Result”

By Kevin Affleck

Javi Gracia felt the margin of the defeat against Liverpool was harsh on his side and that the Hornets can feel aggrieved at not getting the rub of the green in the penalty box in the last two matches.

The Golden Boys went toe-to-toe with the unbeaten Reds for long periods and while they only mustered one shot on target, they never looked like being on the receiving end of such a comprehensive scoreline. 

Jürgen Klopp's side plundered three goals – left foot, right foot and one with the head – in the last 23 minutes to claim a deserved victory, but the outcome may have been different had Troy Deeney been given the chance to slam in a penalty when the game was deadlocked.

Will Hughes cut across the corner of the penalty area at pace only to be tripped by Andrew Robertson. The Hornets pleaded with the assistant and referee Jon Moss to point to the spot, but, like at St Mary's in the last round of matches, the man in the middle waved play on.

“In the last two games we have been unlucky with some decisions,” said Gracia. “I prefer to support always the referee and I think if I don't say anything about their work in these two games, I will not do so for the rest of the season.

“In the last two games there were some decisions that we can feel unlucky about. If we keep the same attitude and same way of work, I don't have doubt we are able to win quickly.”

Klopp was asked if he saw the penalty incident and said: “I saw they were excited about it. I didn't see it, I have no clue. I thought when Sadio [Mané] went down [in the first half], it looked penalty as well. None of my players moaned about that situation.”

The Hornets cannot really grumble about the defeat as Liverpool enjoyed 64 per cent of the ball and had double the number of shots, but the scoreline did not really reflect the part they played in the game.

“It was a closer than the scoreline, but you know playing against this team it is a very good team and they are able to do this,” said Gracia. “We try to do our work, to do our best but after scoring the first goal, they are dangerous with more space.”

Ben Foster was again excellent in the Hornets' goal and he can be proud of his afternoon's work. He almost kept out the third and produced an array of fine stops in the first period.

“It is not a surprise for me,” said Gracia. “I expect always the best from Ben because I train with him every day. I know what he is able to do.”

As he promised, Gracia stuck to his guns and played 4-4-2, resisting the temptation to match Liverpool and play three in midfield. The Hornets kept pace with Liverpool for three quarters of the match before running out of puff at the end.

“We did good defensive work in the first half,” said the Head Coach. “Maybe we lose possession very quickly. We need to counter-attack on the first pass better. In the second we tried to keep doing the same way. We tried to press higher, but in the open spaces they have a lot of different qualities. It was a tough moment for us.”

First Team 2 weeks ago

Match Report: Watford 0-3 Liverpool

By Kevin Affleck

You would have thought Mohamed Salah had inflicted enough damage on the Hornets after his four-goal haul at Anfield in March, but he dished out some more this afternoon.

With one swing of his can opener of a left foot, the Egyptian put the Reds on their way to a 10th win in 12 matches between these two sides. Salah did not really do much either side of that, but that's what players of his calibre do: they pop up and settle a match in an instant. 

Yes, Trent Alexander-Arnold made the game safe with a corker of a free-kick nine minutes later and Roberto Firmino rubbed salt into some exposed wounds with a third late on, but it was Salah who got that all-important first goal, the one that punctured the Hornets' hope of getting something, anything, while the game was goalless. Up until then the Golden Boys were just about always in with a shout. 

The Hornets can have few complaints about the result as the Reds were the more inventive, the more progressive and the more mobile of the two sides. Indeed, it was only the brilliance of Ben Foster that prevented the visitors going ahead before they eventually did on 67 minutes. But the margin of the Reds' win was definitely harsh and hinted the game was more one-sided than it actually was.

Premier League points against Liverpool are hard to come by these days. Only Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham have managed to avoid defeat against the unbeaten Reds so far this season so this Watford side can take great heart from the fact they held a side which has had more than £380m lavished on it since October 2015.

But perhaps the one regret is that they did not throw enough punches and really test Liverpool's new-found mettle. The closest they came to scoring was just before half-time when Alisson Becker pulled off a smart save to deny Roberto Pereyra. Apart from that the expensively-signed Brazilian didn't really have a lot to do.

Alisson could and possibly should have been facing a penalty, though. Will Hughes was convinced he was tripped in the box by Andrew Robertson just minutes before Salah scored, but referee Jon Moss was having none of it. What with the penalty given to Dele Alli at Milton Keynes and the one not given to Nathaniel Chalobah last time out at Southampton, the Hornets are not really getting the rub of the green when it comes to fouls in the box.

We could have been talking about a completely different result had Troy Deeney been given the chance to ram in a penalty. As it was, Liverpool ran out handsome winners and there will be no asterix in the record books about how Watford should have had a penalty when the game was 0-0.

There was nothing really to shout about in a first half that never really caught fire, despite the big buildup. It was a bit chess-like, with Liverpool moving around their expensive set of pieces only to find the Hornets blocking most of their moves.

The game threatened to be burst into life after just two minutes when Gerard Deulofeu had the ball in the net, but the goal was ruled out following a belated offside flag. But from then on it was really a tale of Liverpool monopolising possession (they had 70 per cent of the ball at one stage) and Foster earning his corn.

The England international was out well to punch the ball off the toe of Firmino, was off his line again like a greyhound to stop Salah running onto a defence-splitting pass, he produced a key punch from a Georginio Wijnaldum cross, got down low to save one from Firmino, pulled off a smart reaction save to keep out an acrobatic effort from Sadio Mané and then clawed out a Salah header right at the end of the half. He definitely deserved his half-time break.

The Hornets were largely on the back foot, there was no question about that, but they were never over-run or at full stretch. It wasn't one-way traffic. They were just mindful of the danger Liverpool posed and wanted to ensure they still remained in the game at half-time.

They could, had things gone their way, got their noses in front at the break, but Alisson clawed away an effort from Pereyra after Deulofeu had teed him up. 

You sensed Liverpool would come back for more in the second half and that they wouldn't be as wasteful this time. Mané served notice when he slammed one against the post at the start of the second half and you always felt a goal for the visitors was coming.

Jürgen Klopp's side were lucky to survive the penalty shout on 56 minutes, but, like all good sides, they made the most of their reprieve. Salah side-footed in the first from a cutback from Mané and Alexander-Arnold dipped in a lovely free-kick.

Jordan Henderson was sent off for a second bookable offence and the Hornets had a chance to come back, but then Firmino piled on the pain by heading in the fourth. That was rough on the excellent Foster. He didn't deserve that, but then football can be a cruel game sometimes.


HORNETS | Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina; Hughes (Gray 75), Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra; Deulofeu (Success 57), Deeney (C). 

Subs not used | Gomes, Chalobah, Quina, Navarro, Kabasele.