Watford v Liverpool: Half time stalemate the way to play

Watford host champions elect, Liverpool, on Saturday evening, live on Sky Sports, as the Reds bid to win a record-breaking 19th Premier League game in-a-row. Steve Rawlings previews the match...

Watford v Liverpool
Saturday February 29, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports

Watford's recovery has hit the buffers

Having finished a respectable 11th in the Premier League and having reached the FA Cup final, for only the second time in their history, last season, Watford fans would have been reasonably confident of a decent campaign this time around but things soon went pear-shaped.
After three defeats in-a-row and a draw at Newcastle to kick off the campaign, Watford reacted quickly by sacking manager, Javi Gracia. and reappointing former boss, Quique Sanchez Flores.
Watford's first game under Flores was a promising 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal but they were thumped 8-0 at Manchester City in his second game in charge and when he was replaced by Nigel Pearson on December 6, Watford's Premier League record under Flores take two, read, won one (against bottom club Norwich), drawn four and lost six. The board may have acted somewhat hastily to install their third manager of the season, but it looks like they did the right thing.
Watford were bottom of the league and going nowhere. They were matched at just 1.26 to be relegated and it looked like Pearson needed to perform some sort of miracle. And he did.
A day after he arrived at the club, Pearson's charges drew 0-0 at home to Crystal Palace and exactly a week later the Hornets lost 2-0 at Anfield but the signs of improvement were obvious. They were undone by an exquisite Mo Salah brace either side of the break but they had numerous chances themselves that they squandered and it was widely felt that the score flattered the home side somewhat.
Watford finally halted a club record run of 12 home league games without a win with a 2-0 victory against Manchester United and that kicked off a run of six games unbeaten in the Premier League. With their survival starting to look assured, the Hornets drifted to 6.00 for the drop but the new manager effect has worn off now and since beating a dire Bournemouth side 3-0 away, they've now gone five Premier league games without a win (D2 L3) and they've been dumped out of the F.A Cup by Tranmere.

It's not if it's when for the rampant Reds

It's not a case of will Liverpool finally win their first Premier League title this season but when. After their jittery 3-2 victory against West Ham on Monday night, the Reds can be crowned champions as early as March 14 if results go in their favour but even if their nearest (but distant) pursuers, Manchester City, keep winning, they can still seal the deal on March 21 when they play Crystal Palace at Anfield, provided they go out of the FA Cup to Chelsea next week.
If they get past Chelsea, the Palace game will be rescheduled as they'll be in the quarter-finals of the cup that weekend and their next Premier League game would be away at Manchester City. The prospect of Liverpool getting their hands on the trophy at the Etihad is a mouth-watering one for Reds and a nightmare scenario for Blues but either way, the narrative's the same. It's a done deal now and sooner or later, Liverpool will be champions.
All that remains is to see how they win the title. Will it be in Manchester, Liverpool or somewhere else and will they break more records and go all season without tasting defeat?
The victory on Monday was their 18th in-a-row, equalling the record set by City in 2017, which may go some way to explain the slight struggle encountered. West Ham have been in awful form and while they definitely played far better than they did at the Etihad the week before, when losing 2-0, it was still surprising to see how close Liverpool came to finally slipping up. The Hammers took the lead in the second half and it took a goalkeeping howler for Liverpool to draw level in the 68th minute before Sadio Mane secured all three points.
Monday's win came just days after Liverpool had lost the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie, 1-0 at Atletico Madrid, and a little over a week after they'd left it late to win at Norwich 1-0, so a case could be made that the pressure is starting to fractionally tell.

Klopp looking to wallop the Hornets once again

Liverpool's record against most clubs is pretty impressive but it's extraordinarily good against Watford recently. They've won seven of their last eight Premier League encounters, drawing the other one 3-3, and they've won their last four by an aggregate score of 15-0.
And since Jürgen Klopp took charge, Liverpool have scored more Premier League goals against Watford than they have against any other side in the competition (27 in nine games).

Reds tough to oppose but there's value elsewhere

Yes is odds-on in the Both Teams to Score market but I'd favour No. Liverpool haven't conceded to Watford in any of their last four Premier League meetings, the Reds have kept a clean sheet in five of their last six Premier League away games and the percentages are against both teams bagging too.
Both teams have scored in only 38% of Watford's Premier League home games this season and in only 46% of Liverpool's away matches. No at odds-against looks a fair price.
There have been at least three goals scored in 62% of Watford's Premier League home games this season and it's exactly the same percentage for Liverpool's away games so the odds of around 1.70 for Over in the Over/Under 2.5 Goals market looks about right.
Given Liverpool's latest run of form is a Champions League defeat sandwiched between narrow Premier League wins against relegation candidates, it has to be a possibility that there's a Premier League defeat on the horizon and if they'd been shorter in the win market I may have been brave enough to oppose them here, but 1.45 isn't skinny enough for me to go pressing the pink button.
In addition to United and Wolves, Watford's purple patch included victories against relegation-threatened Aston Villa and Bournemouth, so one could argue it was more lilac than purple.
It's a long time since the Hornets troubled a truly top-drawer rival and they've lost 15 of 16 and their last 13 matches in-a-row against sides that are top of the table. That run extending to 14 wouldn't be a shock and despite their ever-so-slightly below-par performances of late, it's impossible to look past Liverpool.
Although I'm in no rush to lay the 1.45, I'm equally reluctant to back it and the value appears to sit in the Half Time/Full Time market. Liverpool-Liverpool is the short-priced favourite but given they've been drawing at the break in three of their last four Premier League wins, backing Draw-Liverpool at 4.80 looks the way to go here.

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