Liverpool welcome Watford to Anfield on Saturday lunchtime, with Hornets supporters understandably pessimistic ahead of the game.
The Reds clinched qualification for the Champions League last-16 in midweek, seeing off Salzburg with a professional 2-0 victory.
Attention turns back to Premier League duties this weekend, as bottom-placed Watford make the daunting trip to Anfield.
Nigel Pearson has taken over from Quique Sanchez Flores in a bid to avoid relegation, but have they given themselves too much to do?
Ahead of the game, we spoke to From the Rookery End’s Mike Parkin (@RookeryMike) to hear all about Watford‘s malaise, Liverpool’s title charge and more.
Watford sit bottom of the Premier League – where has it gone wrong this season?
I think the rot set in last season; the moment Watford beat Wolves in that memorable FA Cup Semi-Final to be exact.
Up until that point, Javi Gracia’s team had been enjoying an excellent season, with genuine hopes of qualifying for Europe.
Having made it to the FA Cup Final, however, form fell off a cliff, with a string of disastrous results and poor performances, culminating in humiliation at Wembley.
That malaise clearly wasn’t addressed over the summer, with this season starting exactly how the last had ended.
The squad is the same as the one that did so well for large parts of last season, but injuries have been an issue; we’ve been denied the services of Danny Wellbeck, Troy Deeney, Etienne Capoue and a whole host of defenders on a regular basis.
This, coupled with a crippling lack of confidence has led to what can only be described as an abysmal season so far.
VAR has conspired against us at key moments which hasn’t helped either, but the bottom line is that this squad has performed at nowhere near the levels they are capable of.
Are you pleased with the appointment of Nigel Pearson?
Yes. I was surprised when Nigel Pearson’s name was mentioned initially, but after learning more about the work he did at Leicester, which crucially seems to be centred around a culture and ethos that is still in place at the King Power today, it appears to be a good appointment.
This will probably have been one of the toughest appointments of the Giampaolo Pozzo era; I can’t imagine too many head coaches were wildly enthusiastic about taking over a team that is floundering so badly, especially with the well-publicised short shelf life of bosses at Vicarage Road, so I actually think getting Pearson and Craig Shakespeare in represents something of a coup.
He is yet to take charge of a game yet, of course, but there was certainly a more positive atmosphere around Vicarage Road on Saturday, which after such a prolonged period of doom and gloom, is something to cling onto.
Which players have stood out most for the Hornets, if any?
The reason Watford are in this mess is because the squad, almost to a man, haven’t played a well as everyone knows they can.
Ben Foster has had to be at his best to keep scorelines respectable and has turned in some terrific performances.
It is telling that at this stage of the season he is probably the only serious contender for player of the season.
That said, record signing Ismaila Sarr has shown glimpses of just why the club were prepared to pay over £30 million for him in the summer in the last few games – his trickery and pace against Crystal Palace were a real highlight.
If Watford are to pull off an improbable escape, I think the young Senegal international will have a large and important part to play.
Any who have struggled?
Sorry for the general nature of this answer, but there are genuinely far too many to mention.
Watford have a squad full of players who are more than capable of turning a game, but we’ve seen precious little all too often.
Confidence has certainly played a part, and turning round such an awful run of form is incredibly difficult.
There’s no magic formula, but come the end of the season I do wonder how many of the squad will look back and be able to say they have given their all for the cause in every game.
How do you rate Liverpool’s start to the season? Strong title favourites?
What is there to say that hasn’t been said already?
While Watford have continued their poor run of form, Liverpool have continued their relentless march towards success.
Jurgen Klopp and his team appear to have finally beaten Man City into submission and that elusive Premier League title is the Reds’ to lose.
If the key protagonists stay fit, then I can’t see the title heading anywhere other than Anfield.
Who do you fear most for the Reds on Saturday?
I love watching Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The way they get forward and the quality of ball they get into the box is great to see and ghastly to defend against.
Virgil van Dijk is heroic in both boxes and the striking threat is now rightly recognised as one of the most potent in Europe.
It’s not overstating the case to suggest that Watford will be under serious threat from virtually every position on the field.
It’s a daunting and most unappealing prospect.
Where will the key battles take place?
Nobody in their right mind will expect Watford to get anything out of this game, so I suspect most Hornets fans will be looking for an organised, committed and spirited performance – something to give the supporters some hope and the players some confidence.
That will require a huge defensive effort, so this is where the key battle will be for Watford.
The game plan must be to stay competitive for as long as possible, something that Watford have failed miserably at in their last few embarrassing visits to Anfield, conceding an average of over four goals per game in their last four visits.
It will be a long and trying afternoon for the defensive unit, but if the Pearson regime is going to get off to a positive start, they are going to have to perform.
Finally, hit us with your prediction…
Since arriving back in the Premier League, Watford’s visits to Anfield have ended 2-0, 6-1, 5-0 and 5-0 – an aggregate score of 18-1.
You want a prediction? Think of a number and double it.
That said, football has the power to spring the most unlikely of shocks, and as supporters, if we haven’t got hope, what is there?
Watford’s 1-0 win at Liverpool in 1999 is still fondly remembered in Hertfordshire, and while I won’t be betting the mortgage on it, I’m going to potentially embarrass myself by going for a repeat this weekend.
The great escape starts here…perhaps.