Watford have been one of the surprise packages of the season and come into Sunday’s match at home to Liverpool one point and two places ahead of their visitors in the Premier League table (1.30pm, live on Sky Sports).
The Hornets have been by far the most impressive of the three sides promoted from the Championship at the end of last season and are currently placed seventh on the back of three consecutive league victories and five wins in their last seven.
Such has been their form that coach Quique Sanchez Flores (pictured) felt the need to reiterate to his players the importance of maintaining their focus on the club’s primary objective of avoiding relegation in the wake of last weekend’s 1-0 win away to Sunderland. The Spaniard is keen to avoid the complacency that could be brought on by his side’s current lofty position.
The key to Watford’s success has been their ability to keep matches tight, while still offering a sufficient threat on the break to score the goal or two required to emerge victorious. Matches involving them have averaged less goals (2.13) than those of all but Manchester United and Stoke, while five of their seven victories have come alongside clean sheets.
Sanchez Flores, who counts Atletico Madrid, Benfica and Valencia among his previous employers, is doing a very impressive job in his first season in English football. He has quickly formed a well-organised and competitive side who are capable of holding their own against the large majority of opponents and who are very much worthy of a top-10 spot.
That he has been able to achieve what he has with a team primarily made up of players involved in last season’s promotion campaign – just four of the 11 players with the most minutes played to date are new signings – is even more impressive. Among that number are Troy Deeney and 10-goal striker Odion Ighalo, two of the Premier League’s form forwards.
Liverpool travel south on the back of stuttering form in recent weeks after what had been a strong start to Jurgen Klopp’s reign as head coach. The Reds had won seven of their previous eight matches in all competitions coming into their last league away match at Newcastle two weeks ago. Defeat there was then followed by consecutive draws, including a 2-2 tie at home to West Bromwich Albion last weekend.
Klopp’s arrival has clearly had a positive effect on the atmosphere at the club – as Steven Gerrard, training at his former club during the MLS off-season, confirmed in an interview this week – but the last couple of weeks have reaffirmed the belief that he still has plenty of work to do before his side will be capable of putting together the consistent run of results necessary to seriously challenge for a top-four finish.
Liverpool are still a side who can struggle to maintain a good balance when faced with a team who are content to defend deep and hit them on the counter. The recent defeats to Crystal Palace and Newcastle and last weekend’s draw with West Brom all came in matches in which they enjoyed a superior share of possession and shots, yet they still conceded twice.
Klopp will be aware that Watford are another side who specialise in playing on the break and that he therefore needs to find a swift solution to a problem that was also evident under previous coach Brendan Rodgers. He will, at least, be aided by the likely return from injury of Mamadou Sakho, whose pace and athleticism will be key attributes in dealing with the Hornets’ quick and powerful attack.
Watford’s only defeats to date have, however, come against teams currently above them in the league table. They should be capable of continuing their unbeaten run against those below them by securing at least a point on Sunday from what is likely to be a closely-contested encounter. This match preview’s betting tips reflect that thought.