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    Watford vs Liverpool Match Preview

     

    Two teams who experienced contrasting fortunes during the 2016-17 campaign meet at Vicarage Road on Saturday as the Premier League season finally gets underway this weekend.

    Liverpool qualified for the Champions League for only the second time this decade after beating Middlesbrough 3-0 on the last day of the campaign, while opponents Watford endured a miserable finale to finish in 17th position.

    Both teams have broken their respective transfer records this summer, with Jurgen Klopp's side paying Roma £36.9 million for Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah and Watford signing striker Andre Gray from Burnley for around half that figure.

    Watford

    Like their opponents this Saturday, Watford experienced a season of ups and downs during 2016-17 but it was their form in the early stages of the campaign that ultimately preserved their Premier League status.

    Managed by Italian Walter Mazzarri, the club recorded six wins and three draws from their opening 15 matches as they occupied a healthy seventh-place in the table by mid-December.

    A run of seven matches without a win was halted in spectacular fashion towards the end of January when they recorded a famous 2-1 against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, which was immediately followed by a home win over Burnley.

    Three wins and a draw from their club's next eight matches took Mazzarri's side to the highly-coveted 40-point mark, 12 points clear of the relegation zone with six games of the season still remaining.

    It was the poor end to the campaign that lead to Mazzarri losing his job, with The Hornets losing six successive matches which included a final-day 5-0 defeat to Manchester City to condemn the club to a 17th-place finish.

    Marco Silva duly became Watford's 12th different managerial appointment over the past decade, with the Portuguese leaving Hull City at the end of the season having been unable to prevent the Tigers from being relegated.



    There has been a slight shift in emphasis in the club's recruitment over the course of the summer, with four English players joining a multi-national squad which has also seen a lower turnover of players than in recent seasons.

    The Hornets broke their transfer record this week to sign striker Andre Gray from Burnley for £18.5 million, while Nathan Cleverly has returned to Vicarage Road after joining on an initial loan spell from Everton last season.

    Young midfielders Nathaniel Chalobah and Will Hughes, both aged 22, have both been added to the club's squad, along with Brazilian winger Richarlison who completed a £11.2 million transfer from Fluminense this week.

    Silva's side have endured a mixed bag of results during a six-match pre-season, which saw them record 1-0 wins over Czech side Viktoria Plzen and Spanish outfit Eibar on their summer trip to Austria.

    Those matches were sandwiched in-between losses to AFC Wimbledon and Glasgow Rangers, while the club rounded-off the pre-season with draws against Aston Villa and Spanish side Real Sociedad.


    Liverpool

    Liverpool enjoyed a rollercoaster season during 2016-17, with the club initially mounting a title challenge by topping the league in early November following a 6-1 demolition of eighth-place Watford at Anfield.

    The Reds continued to keep place with leaders Chelsea until the turn of the year before a disastrous spell in January and February saw them win only two from 11 matches in all competitions.

    Klopp's side exited the EFL Cup at the semi-final stage to Southampton, they were beaten by Championship side Wolves in the FA Cup fourth round and were duly cast adrift in the Premier League as Chelsea opened up a 14-point gap.

    The club rallied in the final 12 matches of the season to edge perennial Champions League qualifiers Arsenal out of fourth-place, with eight wins and three draws earning The Reds a very creditable 76 points.

    The new campaign promises to offer a sterner test to Klopp's team as they prepare for a return to the Champions League, while the pressure of winning a trophy will also intensify after they fell short in both of the German's two seasons in charge.

    Much of the club's success this campaign will depend on their determination to keep midfield maestro Philippe Coutinho at Anfield, who has handed in a transfer request amid reported interest from Barcelona.


    It was vital that The Reds added to their squad in the pre-season with the acquisitions of Mohamed Salah from Roma, 19-year-old Chelsea striker Dominic Solanke and Hull City's Andrew Robertson for a fee of £8 million.

    The signing of left-back Robertson could enable James Milner to return to his more natural midfield role, while the addition of Salah should provide the team with the kind of width that has been lacking in recent seasons.

    Solanke joins the club's exciting crop of young players who have already broken into Klopp's first-team, which include 18-year-old right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, striker Ben Woodburn, 17, and winger Sheyi Ojo, 20.

    Many pundits expected Liverpool to strengthen further in the summer with the addition of a goalkeeper and centre-back, but Klopp appears to have kept faith with the side that served him so well towards the end of last season.

    The Reds come into Saturday's encounter in excellent form having won six of their eight pre-season friendlies, although Atletico Madrid were triumphant on penalties in Liverpool's final match to deny the club their second tournament win of the summer.

    Watford Team News

    Watford are expected to hand debuts to striker Andre Gray and Brazilian winger Richarlison, who both arrived at the club this week after signing from Burnley and Fluminense respectively.

    Midfielders Nathaniel Chalobah and Tom Cleverley started in the 0-0 draw with Real Sociedad last Saturday and are expected to keep their places, while fellow signing Will Hughes appeared as a second-half substitute.

    Striker Troy Deeney will face a late fitness as he steps up his recovery from groin surgery but defenders Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele will remain on the sidelines due to knee and hamstring injuries respectively.

    Mauro Zarate and Tommie Hoban (both knee) have also been ruled out through injury, while Ivorian full-back Brice Dja Djedje is currently nursing a knock.

    Liverpool Team News

    Liverpool will be without a number of first-team players this weekend through injury including Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Philippe Coutinho, who has handed in a transfer request.

    Lallana is expected to miss the first two months of the season with a groin problem, while Clyne (hamstring) and Coutinho (back) will be absent from the start of the campaign with respective injuries.

    Daniel Sturridge has failed to recover in time from a muscle injury, but the striker could be fit to feature in Tuesday's Champions League qualifier against Hoffenheim,

    Captain Jordan Henderson has recovered from a virus to make his first Reds appearance for six months, but Danny Ings and Adam Bogdan have failed to return to full-fitness after the duo missed most of 2016-17 with long-term knee injuries.

    Head-to-head

    Watford and Liverpool have only played each other on 28 past occasions, the first meeting taking place in 1967, but it is the Reds who have by far the greater record with 20 wins and three draws to Watford's five wins.

    Four of those Watford victories have come at Vicarage Road, the most recent of which was in December 2015 when Nathan Ake's opener was added to by a Odion Ighalo brace to earn his side a famous 3-0 victory.

    That defeat was the only time in the last nine meetings that Liverpool have failed to beat Watford, with The Reds completing the double over the Hertfordshire side last season with a 6-1 victory at Anfield and a 1-0 win at Vicarage Road.

    Liverpool have a record of six wins and two losses against Watford from eight Premier League meetings, while they also beat Saturday's opponents in both legs of their 2005 League Cup semi-final.

    Score Prediction

    Watford 1-2 Liverpool
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    Item Reviewed: Watford vs Liverpool Match Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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