I hate 12:30 kick-offs, they are a complete disruption to the matchday routine. My day started rather badly when the lens popped out of my distance glasses. I did think that it was maybe a sign as not being able to see the game could be a boon but, on arrival in Watford, I decided to take a detour to Boots Opticians to get them fixed, which they did very quickly. It was a very damp grey morning and Watford seemed surprisingly empty with little traffic on the ring road. The speediness of service at Boots meant that I had time to get to the West Herts for a drink and a catch up.
There were large queues at the turnstiles, which seemed to be due to the stewards searching everyone. It certainly wasn’t due to the digital tickets, as we were not given the chance to use them.
I got into the stand and had a hug from my niece, Amelia. I was dreading the game, but she told me to be positive. “We beat them last time.” Cate and Nigel were away, so their seats were taken by Fuzz and Kate, on her only visit from Qatar this season. I wasn’t sure that this was the best choice of game for that.
With the departure of Xisco, who left in the loveliest way possible, we welcomed Claudio Ranieri as our new Head Coach. This is an intriguing appointment. I have always liked him, so hope he does well, but today was going to be a difficult debut.
Team news was that there were 3 changes from the Leeds game, with the injured Sierralta and King, replaced by Cathcart and Hernández, and Tufan dropped to the bench and replaced by Masina. So, the starting line-up was Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Troost-Ekong, Rose; Sissoko, Kucka, Masina, Sarr; Hernández, Dennis.
The game kicked off and it was one way traffic, with Liverpool camped in the Watford half. The visitors took the lead in the 8th minute after Salah went on a run down the right wing and played a gorgeous ball to Mané, who had an easy finish. This was going to be a long afternoon. It could have been two before a quarter of an hour had passed when a corner reached Salah on the edge of the box, thankfully Foster leapt and got a hand to the shot to keep it out. A guy a couple of rows in front was getting really irate, berating the players, which seemed rather pointless as Liverpool were just much better than us. Although he did have cause for complaint when Salah ran into the box, Masina having let him go thinking that he was offside, thankfully Foster was off his line and swept the ball away. It was halfway through the first half before the Hornets finally made some headway. Sarr played a through ball to release Hernández, but he delayed his shot allowing Alexander-Arnold back to make the block. The second Liverpool goal came on 36 minutes, a quick break finished with a low cross from Milner that was turned home by Firmino. The visitors could have had a third before half time when a shot from Keita was deflected but it hit the bar and flew over.
So, we reached half time two goals down after being thoroughly outplayed. During the break, there was a brief appearance by Heiđar Helguson, who is the latest Watford ambassador. I was expecting an interview, but he just waved to the crowd as we sung his name.
Ranieri made his first substitution at the break bringing Cleverley on in place of Masina. Watford kicked off the second half and immediately conceded possession, allowing Alexander-Arnold to have a shot from the edge of the box. The next Liverpool chance came from Salah who took a shot from a standing position, but Foster pulled off a good save to deny him. Liverpool’s third came 7 minutes into the second half. Cathcart tried to block a pass from Robertson but ended up turning the ball goalwards, Foster blocked the ‘shot’, but it fell to Firmino to score his second. The fourth came a couple of minutes later and was a superb piece of skill from Salah. Even from the other end of the ground his quick feet were mesmerising as he juggled the ball around the defenders before finding the net. Quite breathtaking. Watford made a second substitution as Ngakia came on for Femenía. With 55 minutes on the clock, the Hornets finally had a shot with a Kucka effort from distance that was straight at Kelleher in the Liverpool goal.
There was another Watford attempt soon after as Dennis played the ball out to Hernández who curled a hopeful shot high and wide of the far post. At the other end, a clearance from Ngakia reached Mané whose shot (thankfully) cleared the bar. Klopp made his first substitutions on 64 minutes as Robertson and Alexander-Arnold were replaced by Tsimikas and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Watford threatened from a free kick when the ball fell to Hernández, whose shot was blocked, the rebound reached Cathcart, who was closed down, but the flag was up anyway. Liverpool continued to threaten the Watford goal through Keita whose shot from the edge of the box flew just over the bar. Ranieri made his final substitution on 69 minutes bringing João Pedro on for Dennis. The visitors should have had a fifth after a mistake from Rose gifted the ball to Firmino, he crossed for Mané who shot wide of the far post. Watford’s best chance of the game came as Sissoko beat a couple of challenges before feeding Hernández whose shot curled wide of the far corner. Another chance for the Hornets came as a Cleverley corner was cleared to Sarr whose shot was mishit and cleared the bar. At the other end, Mané met a cross from Milner, but his header was easily dealt with by Foster. A promising move by the Hornets came to nothing as Ngakia played João Pedro in, he tried to chip the keeper, but the ball flew over the bar and he would have been ruled offside anyway. The visitors made their final substitution bringing Williams on for Milner. With 5 minutes to go, there was a decent chance for the Hornets as João Pedro pulled the ball back to Sarr whose shot tested Kelleher, but the Liverpool keeper got a hand to it and kept his clean sheet. Ngakia then played a ball into the Liverpool box for Sarr whose shot was blocked, the ball was bouncing around but didn’t fall kindly for anyone in a yellow shirt. I was baffled when it was announced that there would be only one minute of time added on. But it was probably a kindness. I didn’t see the fifth goal (and Firmino’s hat-trick) as the guys in front of us were leaving and blocking our view. It was probably as well. That ended up being the last kick of the game.
There were no boos at the end, just sympathetic applause for the players. They had been comprehensively outplayed and just looked dejected at the end. I felt sorry for them. Liverpool had been absolutely superb, their movement and passing was just brilliant and the goals (apart from the third) were excellent. While Firmino took home the match ball, it was Salah who took the plaudits for that amazing fourth goal. You cannot defend against a player with that much skill. I have to say that, despite the thrashing, it was a much better performance than at Leeds. At least we looked to be having a go in the second half, although Liverpool were resting having had the game sewn up by then. It was a baptism of fire for Ranieri, who will need to pick the lads up for the trip to Everton next week.
We headed back to the West Herts and I cheered myself up with a portion of Drummy’s jerk chicken, rice and peas. After a brief chat about the game, we started reminiscing about past games that have been a lot more fun. The sun had come out and we were sitting outside with a drink and great company. Fuzz observed that it is not just about the football. She is so right. After so long away during the COVID lockdowns, it was the time spent with friends that was missed the most. Especially after a bad defeat, these are the moments that are treasured.