Match Report: Watford 3-0 Liverpool
By Kevin Affleck
It was one of those 'I was there' days at a freezing cold Vicarage Road, one of those you'll tell the grandkids about in years to come.
The Hornets didn't just beat the champions-elect and one of the greatest teams in Premier League history – they absolutely wiped the floor with them. It was easily their best ever Premier League win, especially when you put the barmy events that took place into some kind of perspective.
Liverpool had not been beaten since January 3 last year, they had not dropped a single point since October 20 and rolled into Vicarage Road on the back of a 44-game unbeaten run. There was talk of them doing the treble, of matching Arsenal's 'Invincibles' achievement and going down as one of the great Liverpool teams.
But the Hornets absolutely took them to the cleaners. This was no fluke, it was just the evening everything this group of players had been threatening all season but never able to put together. Liverpool just couldn't handle the pumped-up Hornets and the varied threat they had to offer. Ismaïla Sarr was unquestionably the hero and will emerge as a star on back of this electric performance. His second goal was taken with all the poise of a top, top player.
Sadio Mané asked Troy Deeney, who got the third here, to look after Sarr following the game at Anfield in December, but it was Liverpool who couldn't handle Sarr here. The Senegal flyer was unplayable at times and could have had a hat-trick before he left the field to a standing ovation on 82 minutes. His pace just gives the team another dimension, frightens the life out of the opposition and creates space for others. Frighteningly there is more to come from a player who only turned 22 this week.
Sarr will get all the headlines but everyone was atleast at eight out of ten. Some produced performances of the season, some performances of their lives and the whole thing was summed up by the tireless Étienne Capoue running from side to side late in the second half in a herculean one-man press. Liverpool just couldn't handle the Hornets and didn't know what had hit them.
The first half was up there with the best of the season. It was certainly tough to remember a better first 25 minutes. Everyone was at it. You had the returning Kiko Femenía winning duels with Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané like he had never been away; Capoue using his octopus legs to thwart Alex Oxlade-Chamblerain on his own by-line and then Sarr tracking all the way to deny the overlapping Andy Robertson.
It was Gerard Deulofeu who set the tone and was at the heartbeat of everything the team did well early on. He did his usual creative stuff at the business end – curling one just the wrong side of the near post and then landing another on the roof of the net – but it was the ability to get stuck into the other side of the game that caught the eye. One interception on Mohammed Salah, that resulted in a chance for Doucouré, was his standout moment. It was therefore a real shame when he ws carried off on a stretcher eight minutes before half-time with what looked a serious knee injury. It took the wind out of everybody's sails, particularly the home crowd who had a created a cacophonos noise early on, really sensing the need to get right behind the team.
Roberto Pereyra, on as a sub, was straight into this work with two bits of defensive play deep in his own half while Sarr, always a threat at the other end, ripped one over the bar. The gameplan was being executed just as Pearson had envisaged it would, with the Reds making as many misplaced places as they probably had done in a half all season while they were also limited to just one shot on target, the fewest under Jürgen Klopp since he took charge in 2015. That was a result of the sort of sweetly-timed tackle Adam Masina put in on Trent Alexander-Arnold towards the end of the half.
It would have been the perfect half had one from Deeney, given a second bite of the cherry by an uncharacteristic sloppy piece of handling by Alisson Becker, not dropped just the wrong side of the post. The team fully deserved the hearty round of applause they received at the break.
Not resting on their laurels, the Hornets were back on the front foot at the start of the second half, Sarr forcing Alisson to tip one over within 60 seconds of the restart. Sarr wasn't going to miss from much, much close range seven minutes later, tucking one in from a Doucouré. Vicarage Road went wild.
The roof almost came off on the hour mark when Sarr, sent clean through by Deeney, chipped one over the on-rushing Alisson. It was finish of the highest, highest class. The home crowd couldn't believe what they were watching. It could have been three just four minutes later but Sarr, inadvertantly, got in the way of a certain goal-bound effort from Will Hughes.
Given what happened against the lot from the blue half of Merseyside here in the last home game, a third goal was needed to settle nerves. Deeney, who else, supplied it on 72 minutes with an assist from man-of-the-moment Sarr of course. The Hornets fans were in dreamland and were afforded the final 15 minutes to run through their back catalogue of songs. It was done nd dusted so early that Klopp even came over before the final whistle to congratulate Pearson and Craig Shakespeare.
There is still a lot of work still be done but, boy, didn't this feel good. Super Nigel Pearson does indeed know what we need: plenty more of this, please.
HORNETS: Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Capoue, Hughes, Doucouré (Chalobah 89) Sarr (Pussetto 82), Deeney (C), Deulofeu (Pereyra 37).
Subs not used: Gomes, Dawson, Welbeck, Gray.