New season, same old Liverpool as dodgy defence fails in Watford draw
WATFORD -- Three quick thoughts on Watford 3-3 Liverpool at Vicarage Road in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon:
1. New season, same old Liverpool?
Liverpool's preparations for the new season were rocked by Philippe Coutinho's transfer request on the eve of their Premier League campaign, but the Brazilian's absence had nothing to do with throwing away a lead at Watford in the dying seconds.
If Coutinho departs Anfield this summer, as he so desires, Saturday's match was Liverpool's first dress rehearsal of life without their No. 10. The conclusion? All is still well in the final third, at least.
Liverpool's exciting forward trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all scored to put the Reds on their way to victory. However, Miguel Britos' injury-time goal earned Marco Silva a point in his first competitive game in charge of Watford.
Coutinho was always set to miss the game with a back injury, if Jurgen Klopp is to be believed, so Friday afternoon's shock transfer request will have done little to change tactical preparations, at least.
But while it may be a new season, Liverpool's deep-rooted problems stay the same. Still defensively susceptible from set-pieces, they gave away two goals from corner kicks. First, Stefano Okaka outjumped Joel Matip following Jose Holebas' corner to give the Hornets an early lead.
Liverpool may have cured at least one of their glaring issues in the form of breaking teams down, though, with Mane's equaliser in the 28th minute after a fine move that included a deft assist from Emre Can.
However, Liverpool's fragility at the back cost them once again as they twice fell behind. Goalscorer Abdoulaye Doucoure started the move off, playing in Tom Cleverley, who crossed the ball into a dangerous area. And when Liverpool calamitously failed to clear it, Doucoure pounced to put Watford in the lead just four minutes after Mane levelled.
Liverpool still appear to be a force reckoned with going forward, scoring two goals within the space of two minutes to go ahead after the break. In the 55th minute, Firmino stepped up to convert a penalty after Salah was bundled down by Heurelho Gomes. And then with Liverpool carrying momentum from the equaliser, Firmino burst through on goal and attempted a chip, which was eventually prodded in by Salah.
They could have added to their lead on multiple occasions, and they rued those chances when a corner was awarded in the dying seconds. Georginio Wijnaldum's attempted clearance made its way to Nordin Amrabat. His shot cannoned off the bar into Britos' path, who nodded in.
Klopp sunk into his seat with despair -- and not for the first time.
2. Reds' worry over depth issues
No team wants to start the season off slowly, but Liverpool's preseason work was all about gearing toward hitting the ground sprinting when Aug. 12 came around. Klopp is aiming for the title this season, while Liverpool's participation in the group stages of the Champions League hinges on a two-legged playoff with Hoffenheim, starting on Tuesday.
If Liverpool do manage to overcome Julian Nagelsmann's side, their season will require a well-stocked squad, which they hoped to solve over the summer. They still look short and whether Klopp has the ability to make wholesale changes and introduce fresh legs for midweek remains to be seen.
With four injuries (Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne and Daniel Sturridge) Liverpool's depth looked thin even before the season started. Their bench at Vicarage Road proved as such. Attacking-wise, all Klopp had was Marko Grujic, Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi to call on.
Their defensive display showed how much Southampton's Virgil van Dijk would be welcomed at Anfield. Liverpool have Ragnar Klavan and young Joe Gomez in backup to their first-choice central defenders, and questions would have to be raised as whether they are of the standard to play in the Champions League. It is a similar tale in a number of positions throughout this squad.
Klopp has stressed how he is only after first-choice targets, but a Plan B or C would certainly help Liverpool at the moment.
3. Watford and Silva show promise
Silva got the better of Klopp when his Hull City side outwitted Liverpool 2-0 in February. On that day at the KCOM Stadium, Hull scored from a corner and then soaked up Liverpool's pressure to net a late winner. Silva did another good job on the German here.
Watford limped over the line last term, having plummeted from 10th to 17th within the blink of an eye, losing their final six games of the season. They may find themselves in a similar position with a difficult start on the horizon, playing Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea all up before the end of October.
After conceding 68 goals last season, this is a new-look Watford and there is a clear emphasis being placed on defence and solidity, although those plans went AWOL for two minutes in the second half. Like Liverpool, they aim to squeeze the opposition and the pounce on the attack with numbers.
Silva's managerial record points toward his team having a strong home record at home. Up until May when his Hull were beaten by Sunderland, the Portuguese manager went 41 home league matches unbeaten with four different clubs.
He stressed in his programme notes the importance of Watford performing in front of their own supporters. On first evidence, it is clear to see how he is going about that. In the context of the game, a point against Liverpool was well-received by the Vicarage Road faithful.
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.