Liverpool Football Club opened their 2017/18 Premier League campaign with a bitterly disappointing 3-3 draw away to Watford.
A new season generally equals new hope.
Such was the feeling in the atmosphere as Liverpool emerged from the tunnel onto the pitch at Vicarage Road. The Reds were looking to kick on from a largely impressive pre-season showing, as well as put their summer problems to bed with a win against their opponents.
However, a tense start from both sides was followed up by the first goal of the match, coming from Watford’s Stefano Okaka, who took advantage of his freedom in the box to head in a corner; 1-0 Watford.
Liverpool, who had barely made an arrival in the game, were given a lifeline in the 29th minute when an Emre Can flick played in Sadio Mané, who excellently scored the equaliser.
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Even so, the home side just wouldn’t go away, as Abdoulaye Doucoure became the second Watford man to benefit from sloppy defending by poking in a second goal to put Watford in the lead heading into half-time.
The second half began with an air of desperation coming from the travelling supporters and there was yet more hope when Watford ‘keeper Heurelho Gomes brought down Mohamed Salah in his box to concede a penalty.
Up stepped new number 9 Roberto Firmino, who sent Gomes the wrong way to make it 2-2 and not long after that it would be 3-3, as Firmino assisted Salah for the Egyptian’s first competitive goal for Liverpool.
Jürgen Klopp’s men then seemed to have some control over the game, as the sloppiness now came from their opponents and the likelihood of an opening day win growing as time ran out. However, it wouldn’t end as Liverpool hoped it would as the Reds would conceded in injury time, yet again from a corner, with Watford ensuring the points were shared at Vicarage Road.
Here then are five things we learned, and yet already knew well.
New season, same old problems
It seemed almost inconceivable before kick-off that Liverpool, after a successful first full season filled with major lessons under Klopp, would fall to the very same problem of desperately poor performances in defence.
However, with all things considered, it was perhaps very nonsensical to bear such a thought because after all the Reds’ defence has not changed even a single bit in terms of personnel, therefore even in a new season, the same old problems were bound to occur.
First it was Watford’s eighth-minute corner, which saw Okaka – the eventual goal-scorer – enjoy the feeling of having a free run inside an 18-yard box filled with red shirts that were no different from spectators (not even a single man could jump 30 centimetres off the ground).
Before that, Okaka had played in teammate Roberto Pereyra, who caught right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold napping and could’ve punished the youngster had it not been for a Dejan Lovren corner (the Croatian had to sort his own feet out before doing something about the attack).
Throughout the game there were more than a few mishaps from Liverpool that could be noted, with both Watford’s second and third goal easily avoidable, though, without mentioning them all, the main point remains that the Reds’ problems of past seasons are still the Reds’ problems in this new season.
Salah comes to the party after slow start
Such was the familiarity of Klopp’s starting eleven that Mohamed Salah was the only new face in the side.
The Egyptian had produced a fine pre-season which had seen him score four goals and look very much a settled figure in the Liverpool team, however, for much of the first half at Vicarage Road, he had the look of a man who was allowing his Chelsea critics to get to him.
Salah only made eleven touches of the ball in the first half, none of which had a significant impact on the game, as they were either a loose touch, a tame pass or a horrible effort at goal.
Thankfully, the second half saw him come into it a whole lot more, as he won Liverpool the penalty that brought them level on the scoreline, before nodding in his first goal for the club and overall being the pacey threat he was brought in to be.
The former Roma winger will look to build on from this display by putting in a more consistent performance over that vital 90 minute period.
Front-three is fit and firing
It’s quite fair to view this Liverpool team as having two sides to it: the jolly good side and the awfully frustrating one.
Nonetheless, both showed themselves on Saturday afternoon, with the front three of Mané, Firmino and Salah making up the jolly good side.
The trio is easily Reds manager Klopp’s main source of goals and each got off to a good season individually by getting on the score-sheet.
More than that, though, Klopp would’ve been pleased to see them display just how well they can link-up with the ball in their possession, as Watford were caused a few problems themselves in a good second half spell.
Though the overall outcome of the match was disappointing, Mané, Firmino and Salah will take individual confidence from their efforts, which will surely spur them on to become a deadly unit.
Strong midfield misses a creative spark
Try your best not to think of you-know-who in this topic, but Liverpool’s midfield is in desperate need of a creative spark.
Against Watford, it comprised of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum. The trio’s biggest strength as a unit is undoubtedly their strength and exceptional work-rate, however, the downside of playing all three in the same lineup is a lack of natural creativity.
Keep in mind the emphasis on ‘natural’, because the point that is being made here isn’t that Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum lack creativity but rather their creativity isn’t instinctive.
As was on display at Vicarage Road, a midfield player with the ability to take men on by dribbling and threading quality balls through to the front three all in the name of chance creation is needed. Add to that not only an eye for goal but clinical execution – Wijnaldum bottled an open chance to make the score 4-2 by shooting wide late in the second half – and Liverpool would look and be a far better side.
Naby Keïta, anyone?
Major improvement is needed from top to bottom
It may be the entire match at Vicarage Road that is being reviewed here, however, it only took half of it to determine that major improvement is needed from top to bottom at Liverpool.
It obviously all revolves around what is happening on the pitch, though, bearing in mind that what happens off it affects the overall outcome, major decisions have to be taken in order to improve that outcome.
For a good example, Liverpool are still a defensive mess and although purchasing a single player may not quite clean that mess up, according to Jamie Carragher it would go a long way to establishing that much-needed foundation for improvement.
Let’s be honest, players such as Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, even a young and inexperienced Alexander-Arnold don’t necessarily inspire the utmost confidence.
The improvement that manager Klopp clearly has to make is in bringing in better players to fill these positions both now and in future transfer windows.
As for club owners Fenway Sports Group, pragmatism is needed. That is, instead of purchasing players with the view of making a profit on them when they’re sold (which has often led to Liverpool purchasing young and inexperienced players) purchasing players who are ready-made with the view that they immediately slot into the squad, ridding it of all the deadwood it still carries should be targeted.
If there should be any focus between now and the end of the transfer window for Liverpool, it has to be such an improvement.