11 August 2017

Liverpool at Watford 08.12.17

7:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 05.01.17
6-1 Liverpool (h) 11.06.16
2-0 Liverpool (h) 05.08.16
0-3 Watford (a) 12.20.15

Last three preseason matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 Athletic (n); 1-1 Atletico aet [4-5 pens] (n); 3-0 Bayern (a)
Watford: 0-0 Sociedad (h); 0-0 Villa (a); 1-0 Eibar (n)

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Guess at a line-up:
Alexander-Arnold Matip Lovren Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Can
Salah Firmino Mané

Hey, football's back! If nothing else, it'll be a welcomed respite from the summer transfer window.

Yes, yes, Coutinho wants to leave. That sucks. Can't do anything else except take FSG at their word and assume he's not getting sold for any price, and hope he responds as Luis Suarez responded after the Great Arsenal Release Clause Fiasco of 2013.

Let's worry about the football instead. It's a much more tangible worry.

Coutinho wasn't likely to play tomorrow any due to a back injury (yes, you can put back injury in sarcastic quotation marks if you'd like, it makes no difference to the situation). Neither will Sturridge, Lallana, or Clyne.

We've yet to start the season and Liverpool will be missing two absolutely certain starters, one starter-if-anyone's-missing-in-the front-five, and one of Liverpool's best attacking replacements.

This bodes ominously.

With those four absent, the line-up pretty much writes itself, at least in 10 of 11 positions. The only other question is at left-back: whether Klopp sticks with ol' reliable Milner, rewards Moreno for his preseason performances, or goes with the new signing. It's probably going to be Milner, at least in the beginning, and I'd hope that Andrew Robertson makes the position his own by the end of the season, but, screw it, I'm guessing Moreno, for how much possession Liverpool's going to have, for his pace, for how he's looked over the last month, for his potential partnership with Sadio Mané on that flank, and, admittedly, for the LOLs.

Despite all the hand-wringing and absentees and THE SKY IS FALLING, Liverpool still have that front three. This will be Mohamed Salah's full debut, and he'll have it alongside Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané. Liverpool have a reasonably secure and reasonably dynamic midfield, although it's okay to worry about the creativity without Coutinho and Lallana.

With that front six, even considering who's missing, and considering how Liverpool's defense ended last season, there should be reason for optimism. I know that's hard for us.

But Watford's more than ready to bring Liverpool back down to earth. A side that beat Liverpool 3-0 the first time they hosted Jürgen Klopp's side, in arguably Liverpool's worst performance of 2015-16. A fixture which Liverpool narrowly won last season thanks to Emre Can's unrepeatable acrobatics and Seb Prödl missing a clear-cut chance in second-half injury time. The type of side with the type of style which so often frustrates Liverpool. A new manager who embarrassed Liverpool last season, in charge for Hull's hilariously awful 2-0 win in February.

Watford have had a fairly busy summer – beside Marco Silva in the dugout, they've added Andre Gray and Richarlison up front, Nathaniel Chalobah and Will Hughes in midfield, Kiko Femenia at right-back, and Daniel Bachmann as Gomes' understudy in goal.

If preseason is any indication, tomorrow's XI seems likely to be a mix of old and new. Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Doucoure, Chalobah; Richarlison, Cleverley, Pereyra; Gray.

Watford have options. Prödl could start at center-back, Kiko Femenia at right-back. We could see either Capoue or Hughes in midfield, either part of the deeper two or as the more advanced. There's Amrabat or Success if Richarlison's not ready. There's Stefano Okaka or Jerome Sinclair if Andre Gray's not.

Club captain Troy Deeney will, however, miss out through injury, while both Cathcart and Kabasele are questionable.

This is probably Watford's strongest squad in years. That's a diligent, deep, and rugged back-line, and similar goes for the two defensive midfielders. Pereyra's incredibly tricky, and Richarlison's billed similarly. Andre Gray has punished Liverpool before in an early season away fixture.

As happened 12 months ago, Liverpool need to start as they mean to continue. They laid down a marker at Arsenal, a raucous 4-3 which highlighted both Liverpool's scoring prowess and defensive insecurity, and also foretold Liverpool's unbeaten run against the rest of the top seven that season.

Tomorrow, Liverpool can demonstrate that they're capable of winning more these matches this season, the ones we so often worried about last season. They can put themselves in the correct stead and mindset for Tuesday's oh-so-important Champions League qualifier.

They can show that, for all the drama over the last couple of months, this is still Liverpool, dammit, and Liverpool will be again be a force to be reckoned with this season.

Football's back. Don't make us regret it.

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