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    Liverpool vs Watford Match Preview


    Liverpool are expected to name another experimental side for the visit of Watford on Sunday as Jurgen Klopp rests some of his Europa League semi-final heroes ahead of a busy 10 days for the club. The Reds still have a realistic chance of finishing in the top-six but they must overcome Quique Flores' Watford side, who are enjoying their best run in the top-flight for nearly three decades.

    Liverpool Overview

    The match comes just three days after Liverpool reached the 12th European final in their history with a comprehensive 3-1 aggregate victory over Spanish side Villarreal. The performance epitomised everything that Jurgen Klopp has brought to the club, from the team spirit and high-workrate that his players demonstrated from start to finish, to the style of play, which he has managed to successfully mould in such a short period of time. The players executed his blueprint of high-intensity, relentless pressing and full-throttle football to as close to perfection as we have seen since he replaced Brendan Rodgers as manager in October.



    While there is no doubting his European accomplishments, Klopp still has a fight on his hands if he is to end his first season as Liverpool manager with a top-six finish to secure guaranteed qualification into European competition for next season. Southampton, who are currently two points above The Reds in the table, travel to second-place Tottenham in the early kick-off, while West Ham remain in sixth position following Saturday's surprise 4-1 home defeat to Swansea City. A win against Watford would take Liverpool to just a point behind The Hammers in the table, with both sides negotiating tough home fixtures in midweek against Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.

    Klopp is likely to freshen up his starting line-up after his players had only 66 hours to recover from Thursday's emotional European victory against Villarreal, while they are also in action against Chelsea on Wednesday. Danny Ward, Kevin Stewart, Sheyi Ojo and Pedro Chirivella could retain their places after starting in last weekend's 3-1 defeat at Swansea, but Brad Smith will be suspended following his dismissal at The Liberty Stadium for two bookable offences. Midfielder Cameron Brannagan and full-back Connor Randall could also be in contention after featuring in recent weeks, along with Jordon Ibe, Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen, Christian Benteke and Martin Skrtel.



    Watford Overview

    In a season where Leicester City have defied odds of 5,000-1 to win their first title in the club's history, the achievements of teams such as Watford and Bournemouth have been somewhat understated. Quique Flores became The Hornets' sixth manager in 18 months when he succeeded Slavisa Jokanovic in June, after the Serb had guided the club to the Premier League for the first time since their relegation in 2007. Watford faced a further lack of continuity when they signed 16 players in the summer transfer window, from 14 different overseas countries, while letting go of 17 from the squad that achieved promotion.

    The high-point of Watford's Premier League season came against Liverpool in December, when Odion Ighalo scored his 11th and 12th goals of the campaign to secure the club's fourth consecutive league win. It propelled the The Hornets to seventh place in the league at Christmas, with 28 points from 17 games, despite the fact that the club were the bookies' pre-season favourites for relegation. Since that day, Watford have fallen to 13th in the table having achieved 12 points fewer in the subsequent 18 matches, and this has lead to speculation that Flores' job could be under threat at the end of the season.



    There have been three main reasons why Watford's league form has deteriorated during the second half of the campaign, despite the fact that they sit comfortably in mid-table having achieved top flight survival for the first time since 1987. Firstly, the club saved their best performances on their way to reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup, which included a 2-1 win away to Arsenal in the last eight, but their run ultimately ended in a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace.

    Another factor for the decline is the goal-scoring contribution by Ighalo, who has only scored one league goal in the second half of the campaign compared with 13 before the turn of the year. The club's recruitment in January was also less successful than in the previous transfer window, with five new arrivals and six departures, but very few of the more recent signings have made a significant impact.

    Liverpool Key Players

    When Jordon Ibe burst onto the scene last season with his man-of-the-match performance in the Merseyside derby, it look like the winger had a bright future in front of him and there was even speculation he could be fast-tracked into the England team. The 20-year-old has found it tough to hold down a regular starting place under Jurgen Klopp but he is one of the many players who has benefited from the club's 63-match season, appearing in 39 of the 59 games to date. The England Under-21 international's biggest assets are the pace and skill he possesses, his eye for a pass and his power and strength, which are vital commodities in order to become successful in the Premier League.



    Christian Benteke has endured a stop-start season but he should play on Sunday to give Daniel Sturridge a much-needed rest after the England striker started both matches against Swansea and Villarreal. Benteke has scored nine goals since his £32,500,000 summer transfer from Aston Villa, but has never enjoyed a sustained run-out in the side due to a succession of injuries and a lack of form. The 25-year-old demonstrated some of his old pace and power against Crystal Palace in March, by winning a penalty that he coolly converted, and his confidence should be further boosted by scoring last weekend against Swansea.

    Watford Key Players

    Troy Deeney will go down in history as being one of Watford's greatest ever strikers after scoring 94 goals for the club in 210 starts and 50 substitute appearances since signing from Walsall in 2010 for £500,000. Many doubted whether the 27-year-old would be able to make the same level of impact in the Premier League but, despite failing to find the net in his first nine matches, he has scored 13 goals in all competitions in the 31 subsequent games. Deeney's work-rate and ability to lead the line are two of his biggest strengths, but he has also demonstrated a composure in front of goal and has even been linked with a move to Arsenal.



    Odion Ighalo started the season in outstanding form, following on from last season when his 20 goals from 38 matches helped the club secure promotion to the Premier League for the first time since 2007. The Nigerian international started this season in very similar vein, scoring 15 goals in his first 25 matches, but one goal in his last 14 games has contributed to Watford's decline in form since the start of the year. Despite missing some excellent chances earlier in the season, he displayed an excellent temperament by continuing to find goal-scoring positions and he was duly rewarded with vital goals that were worth 13 points to his side before Christmas.

    Head-To-Head

    Watford have only beaten Liverpool on five occasions in the club's history, although the teams only began playing each other on a regular basis when The Hornets were promoted to the top flight in 1982. Watford's 3-0 victory at Vicarage Road in December ended a run of five successive Liverpool wins in the fixture, including in both legs of the 2005 League Cup semi-finals. Watford did famously beat Liverpool at Anfield in 1999, when Tommy Mooney scored the only goal of the game, but it remains the only time that the club have won at Anfield in 11 attempts. On the 25 times the sides have met since 1967, Liverpool have won on 17 occasions to Watford's five, with three matches ending in draws.



    Liverpool Team News

    The Reds are expected to continue the club's policy of introducing youngsters and fringe-players to the starting line-up following midweek matches and could could make wholesale changes from the side that beat Villarreal on Thursday night. Christian Benteke may make his first league start since January 2nd, while Lucas Leiva, Jordon Ibe, Martin Skrtel and Joe Allen could also come into contention. Connor Randall is also expected to return to the Liverpool squad after missing last weekend's 3-1 defeat against Swansea due to illness.

    While Divock Origi (ankle), Jordan Henderson and Danny Ings (both knee) could all feature before the end of the season after making earlier than expected returns from injury, they will not return to the team on Sunday. Joe Gomez (knee) and Jordan Rossiter (hamstring) also remain on the sidelines and are not expected to play for the remainder of the season. Brad Smith is suspended after the red card he received last weekend against Swansea, while Mamadou Sakho is serving a 30-day ban, imposed by Uefa, after he failed an anti-doping test.



    Watford Team News

    The Hornets could be set to name an unchanged side to the one which recorded a 3-2 victory against Aston Villa last weekend. Allan-Romeo Nyom and Nathan Ake, who have been first-team regulars for most of the season, could return to the starting line-up after being left out for the match against Villa. The club only have two players on the sidelines, with Etienne Capoue (knee) and Valon Behrami (ribs) both being ruled-out of the game through injury.

    Score Prediction

    Liverpool 2-0 Watford
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    Item Reviewed: Liverpool vs Watford Match Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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