In a season that has seen Chelsea struggle to avoid relegation and Leicester City stick at the top of the table, there is another story worth watching as the holiday fixtures approach — newly promoted Watford FC.
The club just outside of London found themselves within striking distance of European places for next season entering a telling battle with Liverpool on Sunday. After three-straight wins, many were wondering just what to make of Watford.
That was especially so with those wins coming against bottom feeders Aston Villa, Norwich and Sunderland. Beating Liverpool wold be a whole different level of challenge.
Consider that challenge accepted and passed, as the Hornets took Liverpool to the woodshed in a 3-0 victory at Vicarage Road. The home fans not only saw a goal-fest, but also a team that outworked, was more athletic and had more want-to than Jurgen Klopp’s side.
It wasn’t so much the scoreline, but the how that showed why Watford aren’t going anywhere in what has become perhaps the most tight battle for European places we’ve seen in the Premier League era.
Watford got off to an early start in this one, taking advantage of what should’ve been an easy catch of a Watford corner kick. Instead, Liverpool keeper Adam Bogdan spilled it and young Chelsea loanee Nathan Aké poked the loose ball in to the back of the net.
Liverpool didn’t respond well, allowing Watford to muddle up the middle of the pitch and cause Liverpool to not have much of the run of play. It was that strategy that led to the second goal, as Troy Deeney pressured and forced a turnover in the middle of the pitch.
He took one look and sprung a pass up field to a sprinting Odion Ighalo, who proceeded to dust off a physical challenge from the already beaten Martin Skrtel and volley one to the opposite post. It was 2-0 in the 16th minute and Liverpool looked like a side with little clue as to what hit them.
What had hit them was a side with an incredible work rate and athleticism in place of big names and high wages. Manager Enrique Sánchez Flores’ side weren’t scared of the big names, the highly thought of manager or anything else on Sunday.
Sure, Liverpool haven’t been on great form — with both Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp having the exact same results over their first eight matches. However, the Reds are far stiffer competition than has been provided by the bottom-feeders of the EPL.
The home side didn’t let up much in the second half, even with tactical changes and subs being used by Liverpool. Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes was tested a few times, but was up to the task each time, and the Hornets sealed full points thanks to Ighalo’s work rate once again late in the contest.
Up 2-0 in the 85th minute, Watford had a spell of possession that ended with a brilliant cross to a wide-open Ighalo on the doorstep. It was an easy finish with the head for a 3-0 lead and the closing of Liverpool’s dying comeback hopes.
It all added up to a Watford side sitting just one point out of the European spots and continuing to put pressure on sides like Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur above it in the table.
Continued efforts like this and Watford could go from promoted to European competition in just one season. A fate few thought coming as the Hornets started this campaign.