Liverpool comfortably beat Watford 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday afternoon – a victory that came as a result of Jurgen Klopp‘s perfect rotation.
With Klopp confirming another changed side would be named against the Hornets, fans feared the worst pre-match with memories of the Swansea horror show lingering.
But fears proved unfounded as a heavily rotated Liverpool strolled to a comfortable 2-0 victory against Quique Sanchez Flores’ men, thanks to goals from Joe Allen and Roberto Firmino.
Winning in such commanding fashion in comparison to last week’s events will no doubt have left certain sections wondering why the difference – with that firmly down to Klopp’s perfect calls this time around.
Arriving at the Liberty Stadium around 57 hours after falling to defeat in Villarreal, it always felt a tough afternoon faced the Reds as they looked to bounce back – especially with the much-changed side Klopp would pick.
But it unfolded into one of the worst of the season, with major changes in numbers and suitability of personnel making for a woeful performance in Wales.
The changed Reds, featuring six academy players, were completely overawed – especially in midfield where Pedro Chirivella and Kevin Stewart endured the harshest lessons of their short careers – against a first-choice Swansea centre who pounced on their inexperience.
With Jordon Ibe and Sheyi Ojo also having little impact in attack – where they spent more time chasing back to their own goal than Swansea’s – an altered defence including Brad Smith, buckled under the pressure with the Australian eventually sent off.
Danny Ward did his best to at least keep the score-line respectable but there was little the Welshman could do but pick the ball out of his net.
It was a nightmare day all-round as the Reds finished with 10-men, and after another week of European activity, fans feared a repeat as Watford arrived at Anfield.
But Klopp recognised his misjudged experiment backfired against Swans and acted accordingly with lessons from a tough afternoon learned perfectly.
After seeing his side out-played seven days ago, Klopp made the crucial call to operate with more balance against the Hornets.
Though the Reds’ boss actually made the same number of changes Anfield – eight – the deployment of key personnel in key positions made the difference.
Simon Mignolet, Philippe Coutinho and Alberto Moreno were the only survivors from Thursday’s Villarreal victory, but crucially it was the midfield selection that proved decisive.
Operating with an inexperienced pivot of Chirivella and Stewart proved a big reason behind Liverpool’s undoing last week, though that, it must be stressed, is less to do with the talents of the youngsters and more to do with their deployment up against a first-choice Swans midfield.
It prompted Klopp – who perhaps regretted that he didn’t pick one of Lucas, Joe Allen or James Milner to start – to intervene at half-time introducing the Brazilian for Chirivella, fielding one academy graduate alongside a senior option for the second half.
It made a difference as Liverpool grabbed a foot-hold in the contest despite still losing 3-1, and Klopp clearly noted that reflecting so in his Watford team.
Starting with just three youngsters, Klopp also deployed the format with which he ended in Wales, with the youth of Stewart this time supported by the experience, and class, of Allen.
It made for a much better balance as Liverpool enjoyed a productivity in possession that lacked last week, while the Reds defence were better protected – Stewart in particular excelling here – as Allen roamed forward to provide an invaluable link between defence and attack.
Knitting an equally-changed side together from the middle of the park provided the catalyst for a pleasing victory.
Though not a game boasting the same level of excitement and anticipation as Thursday’s affair, it proved an equally useful exercise against the Hornets nonetheless.
At the fourth time of asking this season Liverpool saw out a two-goal lead to claim victory and it was the deserved rewards for a much-changed but perfectly balanced team.
Academy players, better supplemented by senior figures, were visibly more confident – perhaps also the effect of playing at Anfield – with Stewart impressing with another accomplished performance in the heart of midfield.
In attack, Ojo showed his raw potential again in flashes, while Ibe enjoyed an educational afternoon in a central role for 60 minutes, where he at least felt at ease on a day of experiment, before moving to a natural wide berth.
It was a useful outing for the trio – with Connor Randall and Cameron Brannagan also enjoying much more comfortable cameos – and aided development another step, as well as providing welcome run-outs for back-up men such as Martin Skrtel, Lucas and Christian Benteke.
The afternoon couldn’t have gone much better for Klopp and his squad, who benefited from the Liverpool manager’s perfect rotation to pick up a pleasing three points.