Reds lack “all virtues” as winter break proves counter-productive – Media on Watford 3-0 Liverpool

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The media were shocked at Liverpool’s non-performance in the deserved 3-0 loss to Watford but explained that the loss had been coming since the derailing winter break.

The Reds suffered a first Premier League defeat in 423 days after an uncharacteristically poor performance at Vicarage Road.

Ismaila Sarr’s brace and Troy Deeney inflicted the shock loss, ending ambitions of an invincible season and denying Liverpool what would have been a Premier League record 19th consecutive win.

It will provide a huge shock to the system for Jurgen Klopp and his players, and now the Reds must remain calm and composed to bounce back and ensure no slump arrives.

Here’s how the media assessed a rare defeat for the Reds.

 

The media were in disbelief at the result but pointed out that it’s ultimately “superficial damage”…

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk looks dejected as Watford score the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

First of all, the Mirror’s Mike Walters assessed that loss was “as deserved as it was unexpected” after a “pedestrian, lethargic” performance:

But Liverpool’s first bump in the road on the way to the title was as deserved as it was unexpected. They were anaemic, pedestrian, lethargic.

The Mail’s Oliver Holt wrote how the defeat is more of a blow to Liverpool’s pride than anything else, and rightly noted how it won’t matter one iota when the title inevitably arrives at Anfield:

This was a blow to their pride but it probably only means they will clinch the league in early April rather than late March.

[…]

None of that will matter to them particularly when they are holding the Premier League trophy.

Following suit, Neil Jones for Goal.com, was quick to remind that the defeat is ultimately ‘superficial damage’ as a sense of perspective needs to be retained with the Reds closing in on the league title:

Of course the damage done is only superficial.

[…]

Even the best teams have to take their medicine sometimes. Even the greatest can fall.

Meanwhile, the Liverpool Echo’s Paul Gorst pointed out how this was another contest that once again highlighted the strength of the Premier League, as Watford “made a mockery” of that jibe:

After tough battles with Norwich and West Ham since the return of football following its mid-season break, Watford became the latest to make an utter mockery of those so-called weak jibes the Premier League is having thrown at it in light of Liverpool’s dominance.

 

Reporters were shocked at the manner of the loss as Liverpool lacked all trademark characteristics…

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino (L) and Sadio Mané challenge Watford's Étienne Capoue during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Gorst was most disappointed in how the Reds let their usually immaculate standards slip so heavily:

This, from start to finish, was a ghastly display from the champions-elect as they left all their virtues at the Vicarage Road door.

To a man, standards slipped alarmingly and the Reds looked lost without their captain Jordan Henderson.

ESPN’s Harry Kettle was surprised by how easily the Reds were “bullied on and off the ball” by the home side:

Liverpool were bullied on and off the ball by Watford who got stuck in and introduced an element of doubt into the visitors’ play whenever they went into 50-50 challenges.

The Liverpool Echo’s Ian Doyle thought the difference in the level of desire between the two sides was the crucial difference, noting how the Reds had an “alarming” lack of fight:

Ultimately, this gruesome 90 minutes highlighted the importance of desire.

[…]

The most alarming aspect of this game wasn’t that Liverpool were outplayed, but that they were outfought and bullied by Watford from almost the first whistle. Being competitive in the wake of a physical challenge has been a real strength for the Reds this season but here they were too weak too often.

Gorst reflected on the disappearance of the never-say-die mentality that has been such a key factor behind Liverpool’s success this season:

A seemingly unshakable mentality that has rescued the Reds time and again never even got on the team coach as Kopites were given a blunt reminder of just what a league loss feels like.

The Telegraph’s Sam Wallace was most surprised at how Klopp’s side completely failed to click in the final third against a relegation-threatened opponent:

It is simply the nature of the defeat that is so shocking, by three goals against a struggling team against whom his players barely created a chance worthy of the name.

From a tactical viewpoint, the BBC’s Gary Rose assessed that the match showed how Liverpool can still be vulnerable when pressed, and that more opponents should follow Watford’s approach:

The Hammers showed that if teams attack the Reds defence then they stand a better chance of upsetting them and that was the case on Saturday as they struggled to deal with the Hornets’ high press.

Meanwhile, Wallace assessed that it was Watford’s “pace and power” – particularly in midfield – that caught Liverpool off-guard:

They [Liverpool] recovered from the Atlético defeat this month to beat West Ham earlier in the week, but you could make the case that the pace and power of Watford just got to them. As the fixtures pile up, there will be others who feel they can do the same to the European champions.

[…]

They [Liverpool] were stopped in part by a five-man Watford midfield that snarled and snapped around the red shirts with a good deal more energy than many others have summoned in this Premier League walkover season for Liverpool.

 

Certain journalists felt this defeat was coming and explained how it can change Liverpool’s future ambitions…

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Doyle was one of those to conclude that this defeat was on the cards, and stated that the Reds must rediscover their best form:

The worst of performances from the best of teams, although recent displays have indicated this wasn’t quite the surprise many will make it out to be.

[…]

But with their FA Cup and Champions League destinies in the balance over the next fortnight, Liverpool need to rediscover their verve quickly.

Standard Sport’s David Lynch made an interesting point on the winter break having had a negative effect, as the Reds have lost rhythm leading to a ‘mini rut’ of sluggish performances:

The Reds have been nowhere near their best since the Premier League winter break, and it has felt in recent weeks like they were simply waiting for an opponent like Watford to punish them for it.

Unconvincing wins over Norwich City and West Ham United sandwiched a defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League prior to this game, and none of those outings featured the sort of performance we have become accustomed to. Defeat to the Hornets isn’t, of course, the start of a crisis, but Klopp’s men are in a mini-rut they must hope does not last.

And Lynch thinks Klopp may now give more focus to the FA Cup tie with Chelsea, seeing as prospects of an unbeaten league season are now gone but with a dream treble still alive:

However, while an invincible campaign is off the cards, a treble trophy success is not, and that might tempt Klopp into shuffling his pack less significantly.

The threat of a morale-sapping second consecutive loss could also play its part in swaying the German’s thinking.

 

Reporters criticised several Reds for poor displays, with Dejan Lovren receiving most of the unwanted attention…

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

First off, Jones was adamant that every single player was below-par, therefore holding the whole team culpable for the dire display as not one Red “emerged with any credit”:

The names were the same, but the performances were unrecognisable. Nobody in red emerged with credit.

Kettle – perhaps generously – gave Lovren a 3/10 rating for his “disaster” of a performance and was bemused by Klopp’s decision to opt for the Croatian over Joel Matip:

His [Lovren’s] first-half composure turned into a second-half disaster with the Croatian being too static for the first goal. From that point on he was caught chasing shadows for the second and showed poor strength in the air for the hosts’ third goal of the evening.

[…]

Some big questions are going to be raised regarding why Jurgen Klopp went with Lovren ahead of Joel Matip, but outside of that, he stuck to the status quo with the standard 4-3-3 and put a lot of face in his midfield — and it just didn’t pay off.

Gorst pondered whether this latest horror show may in fact prove to be Lovren’s last in a red shirt, with this potentially the straw that broke the camel’s back:

It will be interesting to see if this Liverpool project continues with Lovren in the ranks next season.

There was Serie A interest back in the summer months and despite Klopp’s consistent declarations over his four years at Anfield, a decent offer may just bring about an end to the Croat’s six years at the club.

Lynch thought Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to impress, and felt Liverpool sorely missed Jordan Henderson’s influence in midfield:

So wasteful whenever he turned into space on the rare occasions Liverpool found any. The influence of Jordan Henderson has been laid bare in the last two games.

And Lynch was equally as unimpressed with Trent Alexander-Arnold:

Endured a ropey start up against Gerard Deulofeu and couldn’t particularly influence things further up the pitch even when the Spaniard went off the field. A horrible giveaway from the defender led to the third Watford goal.

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