Playing a relegation team most especially for the table leaders will continue to be a big problem in any league across the globe. Three Premier League games in a row, Liverpool have faced teams dicing with the very real threat of relegation. On two of those occasions, against Norwich City and West Ham United, they managed to come away with all three points by the skin of their teeth.
But in all three matches, Liverpool has performed drastically below their usual standards, and on the third occasion against Watford at Vicarage Road, they were ruthlessly punished for it, providing further evidence that any team in this league is capable of causing an upset regardless of where they sit in the table.
The narrative that preceded Saturday’s 3-0 win for the Hornets was all about Liverpool. A hundred or so members of the press had packed into the old stadium with just one angle on their mind – Liverpool was on the verge of making English top-flight history, with another win on their relentless march towards the Premier League title meaning a record-breaking 19th in a row.
The pre-match talk was not only about Liverpool setting such a record but also whether they could match the Arsenal “Invincible” achievement of going an entire season unbeaten.
Few would have expected both of those records to be torn apart by a Watford side that started the day in the relegation zone and had not won in their five previous outings.
Watford was obviously in a very high spirit to rubbish Klopp history why also bailing self from the relegation zone. Klopp himself – well aware that the headlines would be about Liverpool’s defeat – was keen to direct praise towards Watford.
“3-0 is a bit harsh but we had a big hand in that,” he said.
“The most important thing is congratulations Watford – well deserved. That should be the headline. We didn’t perform as we should have and Watford performed exactly how they want.”
As much as these players have managed to sustain extraordinary levels of focus for so long, there surely comes a point where a degree of complacency subconsciously seeps into the collective psyche when the buffer to second place is so absurdly vast.
It was clearly evident here, not just in Liverpool’s uncharacteristically shambolic defending, but also their bizarrely erratic passing and general lack of urgency and precision in possession, which was abundantly obvious well before Watford made the breakthrough.