If Liverpool really are to challenge for the Premier League title this season, as both their owners and their fans demand that they do, Jurgen Klopp has some serious work to do both on the training field and in the transfer market. An all too familiar defensive horror show gifted Watford a point in the club’s first game of the Premier League season, to deny Jurgen Klopp victory in his 100th competitive game in charge of the club.
Three times Liverpool’s defence was found wanting, as Watford twice led before Miguel Britos snatched a valuable point at the very death. Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip’s centre-half partnership looked anything but stable, while Alberto Moreno and Trent Alexander-Arnold both had their respective weaknesses exposed by Liverpool’s expansive 4-3-3 formation.
Fortunately for Liverpool, their recently renovated front-line was on hand to bail them out of trouble, as Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and record-signing Mohamed Salah grabbed a goal apiece to give the side the lead after goals from Stefano Okaka and Abdoulaye Doucoure. But they did not have to rescue Klopp for a third time, as Britos nodded the ball in from a Jose Holebas corner which Liverpool failed to clear.
It had taken Liverpool’s front three a while to click into this place, and the club’s less than convincing backline almost threw this game away before they had the chance. Lovren and Matip found the burly Stefano Okaka far too hot to handle in the opening exchanges, and the pair were nowhere to be seen when the Italian thumped a powerful header beyond a rooted Simon Mignolet to hand his side the lead.
The goal was no more than Watford deserved. They started this match superbly, with Roberto Pereyra — recently returned from injury and cheered with the gusto of a new signing at the start of the match — unlucky to see an early shot deflected wide by Dejan Lovren, and Nordin Amrabat terrorising Alberto Moreno down the wing.
The Spanish full-back, little more than a bit-part player last season, was especially poor: lightweight against the physical heft of a marauding Amrabat and ponderous in attack. It made Klopp’s decision to exclude a fit Andrew Robertson, signed this summer from Hull for £8m, all the more peculiar.
It took a moment of utter genius from Mane to drag Liverpool back into the game. The forward — who was dropping deeper than usual in an attempt to spark his side into life — skipped into space and exchanged neat passes with Moreno, before running onto Emre Can’s cute flick and curling the ball around Heurelho Gomes.
However, his goal was not to be the moment that sparked Liverpool into life. Less than five minutes later and Watford led again, Abdoulaye Doucoure taking advantage of Trent Alexander-Arnold’s comical fall while attempting to clear a low cross, and slotting the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
Herein Liverpool’s problem lies. For all their considerable talent going forward, their defence looks just as ropy as it did last season. If the club really are to mount a title challenge this season, they surely have to invest in another defensive player before the window swings shut
Klopp has his front line to thank for dragging Liverpool back into this match, and in particular Mohamed Salah. After a quiet first-half, the winger sprung into action in the second, and made his first significant contribution when he nicked the ball ahead of Gomes in the box, before drawing the foul. Firmino converted for his first goal of the season, and Liverpool were level.
Seconds later and the roles were reversed, as Firmino turned provider. Racing onto a long Lovren punt forward, the Brazilian caught Gomes in no-man’s-land with a deft chip across the face of goal. Gomes was stranded, and Salah smartly ran in behind him to bundle the ball home from all of two yards.
Liverpool looked on course for victory, and Salah had more than one chance to double his tally and put the away side out of sight. But once again, the club’s defence was to prove their undoing.
In the fourth minute of additional time at the end of the match, Holebas whipped in a corner which Liverpool failed to clear. Georginio Wijnaldum inexplicably booted his clearance directly at Amrabat, who squeezed a shot on goal from a tight angle. The effort beat Mignolet before bouncing back off the crossbar, with centre-back Britos on hand to nod in the rebound.
It was a fitting end to a depressingly familiar Liverpool performance. The club must urgently address the issues with their back line if they are to have any hope of challenging for silverware this season.