After arguably the biggest threat to their unbeaten Premier League season, Liverpool look to right themselves and continue chasing history Saturday when they face relegation-threatened Watford at Vicarage Road in search of a record-setting 19th consecutive victory.
Perhaps it was the hangover from their midweek Champions League loss at Atletico Madrid, perhaps the pressure from trying to join Arsenal and Preston North End as the only unbeaten top-flight sides in English football history, but Monday’s match against West Ham was one of the few times this season Liverpool (26-1-0) were involved in a slog.
The Merseysiders rallied for a 3-2 victory on second-half goals by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, with right back Trent Alexander-Arnold playing a key role in the fightback with assists on Giorginio Wijnaldum’s first-half goal and Mane’s match-winner on 80 minutes. The 21-year-old has 12 assists – second only to Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne in the Premier League – while doing so as a defender.
«I think we passed the moment where we treat him like a young boy, he is just a proper member of the squad,» Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told the club’s official website regarding Alexander-Arnold. «Everybody has to contribute, everybody has to bring on the pitch what he is able to do – and the boys do a lot to bring him or Robbo (Andrew Robertson) in the position and save them there.
«I don’t want to make the performance more than it is, I am completely happy with it, but that’s how football works on the highest level. (There were) super moments of Gini, for example, where he just wins that decisive battle, Sadio really (good), Bobby chasing back and wins the ball. Thank God in our stadium (it is like) nearly scoring a goal (with) the celebration after Bobby wins a really important ball back.»
The 18 straight victories since their only blemish – a 1-1 draw at Manchester United on Oct. 20 – are equal with Manchester City’s record-setting run set from August to December 2017 and bettered their club mark of 17 set bridging this season and last season prior to the stalemate at Old Trafford. Liverpool have won eight straight road matches since their draw at United, conceding just three goals in that span.
Liverpool have won 35 of their last 36 league matches while going unbeaten in their last 44 (39-5-0) such contests, which is the fifth-longest among clubs in Europe’s top five leagues.
«I really believe that the better you defend, the easier it is to attack,» Liverpool assistant Pepijn Linders said. «The last game, we didn’t attack – or we were not protected in the way we should be protected – so we didn’t attack in the right way and that’s why we had to run back and stop these counters much deeper than we are normally used to. The better we attack, the easier it is to defend. It’s really related to each other.
«If you want to win, if you want to go far, you have to dominate everything. Each phase in the best way possible. We don’t speak about perfection, but the best way possible. Be dominant in each phase and that’s something we are good at. If we have to defend, we defend. If we have to attack, we attack.»
Talisman and midfielder Jordan Henderson is expected to miss this contest with a hamstring injury as Klopp has an eye for him to return for Liverpool’s second-leg round of 16 tie at home versus Atletico Madrid on March 11. This match also kicks off a busy stretch for the Reds, who also have a fifth-round FA Cup clash with Chelsea on Tuesday.
Much like West Ham on Monday, Watford (5-9-13) are in a similar plight with relation to the relegation scrap. The Hornets are second-bottom on 24 points, trailing West Ham on goal difference but also two points from safety.
The new manager bounce Nigel Pearson brought with his arrival has ebbed during a challenging stretch of fixtures, with the Hornets winless in their last five matches (0-2-3) after a 3-0 drubbing administered by Manchester United on Sunday.
Watford had trouble containing United’s attack and failed to generate much offence themselves, often second-best while putting only two shots on target and taking seven overall – two fewer than United had on target.
«It’s going to be a scrap to the end of the season,» keeper Ben Foster told Watford’s official website. «We gave them too much time and respect. We have to keep our heads up and keep fighting.
«Team spirit is going to be a huge part of this,» said the goalkeeper. «Results in other games were kind to us this weekend. We know we’ve got plenty of quality in the dressing room, so we can’t let things affect us emotionally.»
Ismalia Sarr should be available for this match after a successful 20-minute runout versus United after missing the previous three games through injury, and right back Daryl Janmaat has returned to first-team training. This contest, though, may come too soon for Kiko Femenia as he continues to work his way back from a hamstring injury.
Liverpool ran out 2-0 winners in the reverse fixture at Anfield on a brace by Salah on either side of halftime. They have won four on the trot versus Watford – all by shutout – and are 7-1-0 in the last eight meetings since the Hornets’ lone top-flight home win in the series, a 3-0 victory in December 2015.