Liverpool are not yet capable of mounting a Premier League title assault, but their Brazilians spell danger, according to Watford supporter Mike Parkin.
The Reds and the Hornets do battle at Vicarage Road on Monday evening, with the visitors desperate for three points in the top-four battle.
The 2-1 defeat at home Crystal Palace last Sunday was a shocker of a result, and it has given Jurgen Klopp‘s side no room for error in their final four matches.
Watford, meanwhile, have ensured safety for another season, although their campaign has petered out into a rather forgettable one, if you’re being ultra-critical.
Ahead of the match, we spoke to Mike (@RookeryMike) to get his thoughts on both sides’ seasons and his prediction for the game.
How would you rate Watford‘s season out of 10? Better or worse than expected?
With Watford sat comfortably placed in 10th place, it would be churlish to suggest that Watford’s season has been anything other than a success.
The sole aim was always to stay in the division, and for the second successive season they seem to have achieved it with ease.
This is particularly admirable when taking into account the unprecedented list of injuries the Hornets have had to contend with this term.
There are reservations, with numerous dismal displays (your readers might remember one in particular!) peppered throughout the campaign.
There have been too many well below-par showings for the season to be an unqualified success, so I’ll give them a mark of 6.5.
Are you happy with the job Walter Mazzarri is doing?
Mazzarri has kept Watford in the division with games to spare and has done so in the face of an almost season-long injury crisis.
He’s been denied key players such as Roberto Pereyra, Mordin Amrabat and Mauro Zarate for long periods, while there’s been an almost constant rotation of other players missing. It’s telling that the Italian has only named the same starting lineup in successive games once all season.
On the other hand, he’s done little to ingratiate himself to the supporters by communicating only in Italian. One suspects that this will change if he is at the club next season, but it has meant a failure to develop a meaningful relationship with the Vicarage Road faithful.
This has been exacerbated by an increasingly attritional style of play, with a paucity of entertainment causing some supporters to grow impatient and disillusioned.
It’s impossible to knock him for keeping Watford up, but if his career at WD18 is extended, there will be plenty keeping a watchful eye on Mazzarri and hoping for improved communication and better football.
Who have been the Hornets’ three best players this season?
Heurelho Gomes has continued to make a mockery of the reputation he had while at Spurs. Solid and reliable throughout, the Brazilian stopper has been a consistent performer behind a defensive lineup that has changed all too often.
Jose Holebas has surged into contention for the Player of the Season award after a swathe of ever-improving performances at left back. Hot-headed and passionate, he heads the league table in bookings, but in a team that has sometimes appeared to lack passion, this is perhaps no bad thing.
He’s been increasingly disciplined in his defensive duties, while threatening in the opposition half, too. He’s one not many opposition supporters will have heard of but is definitely a player to watch.
A late arrival, joining on loan in January, M’Baye Niang has caught the eye. Always looking to get forward and incredibly comfortable on the ball, the AC Milan man has provided a welcome bright spark in a team shorn of creativity.
A special mention must also go to Tom Cleverley, who has been wholehearted and committed since arriving from the blue side of Merseyside. A canny signing, and one that will be made permanent over the summer.
Any who have really struggled?
It will have surprised few that Odion Ighalo was unable to continue his blistering form of last season, and he was sold to China for an eye-watering profit.
Miguel Britos has found the going tough in defence, and hasn’t been able to capture the levels of form that saw him so vital to the Hornets last season. Amrabat has shown flashes of form, but his end product has been found wanting all too often during an injury-hit season.
The real conundrum has been the superbly-named Isaac Success, who despite looking fantastic during his numerous substitute appearances, has only started two games. It isn’t clear if the Nigerian has struggled with fitness or if Mazzarri has other reasons for not selecting him, but the fact he hasn’t been able to make an impact this season has been a big disappointment.
What have you made of Liverpool’s campaign? Things have changed a little since those heady days of beating you lot 6-1 back in November.
After being present at the drubbing Watford received at Anfield, Liverpool have slipped off my radar almost completely.
The Reds haven’t been in contention at the top since the turn of the year, and it felt as though the season ended with defeat in the League Cup semi-finals.
As an outsider, it strikes me that Liverpool are several players short of mounting anything approaching a serious title challenge. Sorry!
Looking ahead to Monday, where do you see the key battles taking place? Any Reds you fear, in particular?
Typically, Watford need to start well if they are to turn in a decent performance. They can carve out early chances if the opposition are not switched on straight away, with plenty of players willing to get forward.
The problems are likely to be at the other end of the pitch, though. Despite being set up with a defensive mindset, the back-line has been worryingly porous for large parts of the season.
The Hornets can be slightly robust in the challenge, so visitors will always get chances from set-pieces. With this in mind, players like Philippe Coutinho are going to be a threat on Monday.
Roberto Firmino will also relish coming up against a defence that can be indecisive and unsure.
To finish off, I need two predictions from you – how will the match pan out and where will both sides finish the season?
I’m hoping for a good game.
Liverpool have to end the season strongly and will have identified this as a great opportunity for three points. Watford will want to bounce back from a limp and listless showing away at Hull City, so both teams should go for it.
I’m going to go for an exhilarating 2-2 draw. This obviously means that you should put your May salary on a drab 0-0.
Watford have an incredibly hard run-in, with some more pessimistic fans predicting that we won’t add to our current points tally.
I think we will pick up a few points but will finish the season around 15th in the table. As for Liverpool, I foresee a fifth-place finish.
Mike is co-host of the ‘From The Rookery End’ podcast (@watfordpodcast), dedicated to all things Watford. Listen HERE.