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    Liverpool 2-0 Watford Match Report

    Liverpool returned to winning ways in the Premier League after they withstood the challenge of a profligate Watford side to earn the win that ensures they remain in the hunt for a top-five finish. Odion Ighalo missed a whole-host of chances for the visitors and they were duly punished when late goals in each half from Joe Allen and Roberto Firmino steered Liverpool towards the three points.

    The match proved another useful workout for Liverpool's youngsters and fringe-players, who were eager to stake a claim for a more regular run-out ahead of the Europa League final on May 18. Both sides created chances throughout the 90 minutes but it was Liverpool who ended both halves the stronger team and showed the kind of clinical finishing that Watford have lacked in the second half of the season. The result could have been even more emphatic had Liverpool shown a greater ruthless streak in the final 10 minutes but a 3-0 scoreline would have been harsh on Quique Flores' side, who had given an excellent account of themselves.

    Liverpool were returning to action just three days after Thursday's Europa League semi-final success against Villarreal in which Jurgen Klopp's side turned around a 1-0 deficit to triumph 3-1 on aggregate. Klopp made eight changes from the team that played that night, with only Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho retaining their places and Christian Benteke making his first league start since January 2nd. Sebastian Prodl replaced Juan Carlos Paredes in the only change that the visitors made from their 3-2 win over Aston Villa the previous Saturday, while the likes of Jose Manuel Jurado and Nathan Ake remained on the bench.

    It was The Hornets who dominated the opening stages of the match and they could have taken the lead on two occasions in the first eight minutes had the lively Odion Ighalo shown the kind of clinical form that he displayed in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. His first sight of goal was ended by a last-ditch challenge by Moreno, while the Nigerian also tried an audacious effort from over 30 yards that narrowly evaded Mignolet's crossbar by a matter of inches. The only effort of note that Liverpool could muster in the first 35 minutes fell to Philippe Coutinho, but his low strike that was intended for the far-corner curled a yard wide of the post.

    Watford continued to create the better chances in the first half but Ikechi Anya, Ighalo and Almen Abdi were all unable to give their side a lead that their strong start to the game would have deserved. Quique Flores' team were proving to be especially dangerous on the break, with Anya close to finishing off a move that started from a Liverpool corner but his strike from a tight angle sailed harmlessly over the bar. The Scot's interception in midfield started another counter-attack five minutes later from which Ighalo was denied by a last-ditch challenge by Martin Skrtel, while Abdi also had an effort blocked by the Slovakian international from the resulting corner.

    Liverpool punished Watford for their wastefulness in front of goal 10 minutes before half-time, but it arrived through an unusual source. Joe Allen gave his side the lead with only his seventh goal in the past four seasons after Philippe Coutinho's lofted ball into the box had been cushioned into his path by Christian Benteke's header. Benteke's intentions had been read perfectly by the Welsh international who timed his run to perfection, finding space between two Watford defenders before beating Heurelho Gomes to the ball to slide home from 12 yards.

    The Reds should have doubled their lead just after the break but Philippe Coutinho was twice unable to score the goal that would have made his side's afternoon a much more comfortable affair. The Brazilian international missed a virtual open-goal just three minutes into the second half when he was picked out by Christian Benteke from 10 yards, but failed to make clean contact and the effort drifted harmlessly wide. A minute later, after a one-two with Benteke, the former Inter Milan forward did manage to find the target but his low strike was easily saved by Gomes in the Watford goal.

    Odion Ighalo was not perturbed by his wastefulness in the first half and he continued to cause the Liverpool back-four and goalkeeper problems that could have resulted in a Watford equalizer. Ighalo had his first sight of goal in the second half when Troy Deeney's dummy deceived Lucas, allowing the Nigerian the chance to take the ball around Moreno, but his strike was saved by the outstretched fingertips of Mignolet. Ighalo was denied once again by Mignolet later in the half when he latched onto Steven Berghuis' through ball but his effort from a tight angle was saved by the outstretched hand of the Belgian on its way into the side-netting.

    Liverpool finally sealed the win 15 minutes from time courtesy of Firmino's 11th goal of the season but it owed much to some calamitous Watford defending. Anya's attempted long-ball was blocked by Sheyi Ojo and the ricochet fell invitingly to Roberto Firmino in space, midway inside the Watford half. Benteke's decoy run off the ball created room for the Brazilian to exploit and his strike from the edge of the area slipped through the hands of Gomes to give his side an unassailable lead.

    The home side finished the game the much stronger team and had chances to score a third goal, which would have been harsh on Quique Flores' team who were always in the match prior to the final 15 minutes. Benteke was played through on goal by Joe Allen late on but the Belgian's strike was tipped away by Gomes as it headed for the near-post. Jordon Ibe also hit the post from a tight angle, while Christian Benteke headed over from two yards in the second minute of stoppage time.

    While the result would indicate that it was a comfortable afternoon's work for Jurgen Klopp's team, it was anything but the case in reality. It was Watford who created the better chances for large periods and it could have proved very different had Odion Ighalo been in the kind of form that he displayed in the 3-0 win over The Reds before Christmas. The game was ultimately settled in the final third of the field, where the home team were ruthless at important stages of the match, compared with Quique Flores' side who were profligate and unable to make their supremacy count at key moments.

    Apart from Allen's opener, Philippe Coutinho was the only player in the Liverpool team who looked like scoring in the first 75 minutes and he should have sealed the win just three minutes after half-time when he missed guilt-edged chance. It was only when The Reds began to relax late on in the second half that they were able to play the kind of free-flowing football they displayed three days earlier, but a 3-0 win would not painted a true reflection of the afternoon. The game served as another useful exercise for Jurgen Klopp's side, with the likes of Kevin Stewart and Sheyi Ojo gaining further experience and Christian Benteke having the chance to play for 90 minutes in the league for the first time this year.

    The fact that Watford competed so well but ultimately lost the game in many ways sums up the club's second half of the season, which has seen them pick up just 15 points since the turn of the year. It has still been the Hornets' most successful league season since the club finished ninth in 1986-87 and, coupled with an FA Cup semi-final, can be considered as one of the most memorable campaigns in their 135-year history. It remains to be seen whether Quique Flores will be given the chance to lead the club next season but he has certainly left a huge legacy that any potential successor will find it hard to emulate.

    The win ensures that Liverpool remain in the hunt for a place in the top-six, narrowing the deficit to seventh-place West Ham to a single point ahead of a busy midweek for both sides. The Hammers entertain Manchester United on Tuesday, in the last ever match at the Bolelyn Ground, while Liverpool play Chelsea at Anfield the following day. Watford, meanwhile, remain in 13th position but could climb two places with a win over Norwich at Carrow Road on Wednesday night.
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool 2-0 Watford Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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