Almost a year since Liverpool dismantled Watford 5-0 in a memorable Blank Gameweek 31, the Reds repeated the trick at Anfield on Wednesday evening.
The corresponding fixture in 2017/18 was famous for Mohamed Salah‘s 29-point haul but the Egyptian was to take a back seat this time around, not registering a single attacking return as Javi Gracia’s hitherto in-form side were completely blown away by the Premier League leaders in what was probably the Reds’ best display of 2019 so far.
Sadio Mane, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson and Virgil van Dijk all produced excellent performances and double-digit Fantasy Premier League returns as Jurgen Klopp’s side ran riot – but this was a fourth blank in five Gameweeks for Salah and his legions of owners.
We discuss the Reds’ scintillating display from a Fantasy perspective below.
Liverpool 5-0 Watford
- Goals: Sadio Mane (£9.7m) x2, Divock Origi (£5.0m), Virgil van Dijk (£6.5m)
- Assists: Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.3m) x3, Andrew Robertson (£6.8m) x2
It’s not often that an FPL asset scores two goals and emerges without any FPL bonus points to supplement his score, but Sadio Mane (£9.7m) achieved that “feat” in Gameweek 28.
The Senegal international and his owners were forced to make do with 13 points due to the heroics of three of Liverpool’s defenders but other than that smallest of gripes, this was another satisfying evening for those Fantasy bosses who backed the premium midfielder.
Mane now has six goals in as many Premier League matches, twice as many as Mohamed Salah (£13.6m) has managed during that time and indeed more than any FPL midfielder over the same period.
No player in Mane’s position can match him for shots in the box or efforts on target over those half-dozen Gameweeks, either.
Returning 16.3 FPL points per million spent, Mane is now providing better value for money than Salah (14.8) over the course of the season.
With Roberto Firmino (£9.2m) sidelined with an ankle injury, the Senegalese winger was moved into a centre-forward role for the visit of the Hornets, with Salah stationed on the right flank and Divock Origi (£5.0m) brought into the side on the left.
The tactical tweak was a near-immediate success, with Mane first heading a superb Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.3m) cross past Ben Foster (£4.6m) and then doubling Liverpool’s lead when brilliantly backheeling another delivery from the England right-back past the Watford goalkeeper.
Alexander-Arnold had almost provided another assist for Mane in between those two goals, while the former Southampton winger was denied a hat-trick in the second half when Craig Cathcart (£4.6m) blocked his goalbound effort.
Mane would have earlier had a tap-in to complete his treble, too, only for Andrew Robertson (£6.8m) to miscue what should have been a fairly straightforward ball across the six-yard box.
It could be argued that Mane looks a much better fit than Salah as the spearhead of the Liverpool attack, while Klopp said:
It was the first idea, the first thought, and we didn’t change it. In that position, you need someone who is able to play in the small space, who can give you as well offers in behind, who adapts to the defensive situation, who is football-smart, all that stuff.
We have other players who can play there but not in combination with the speed of Sadio, obviously. Sadio played different positions in his life and for us as well, so I was in no doubt that he would play there.
How he did it then when he came off with Adam [Lallana] in this advanced position, that is something that can work as well, with Daniel [Sturridge] it can work as well of course, but for tonight we thought that was the solution. It was the first and last [solution].
[It was a surprise] scoring-wise, of course, performance-wise not. That’s what we expect, that he plays like this, that he offers these things.
You don’t train when you play Sunday and Wednesday obviously. We still did yesterday something but it was very, very low intensity. But we could show him at least where we want him to go, where we need him to run and yes, he did it better than we expected of course because who can expect two goals from a player? But the performance, I am not surprised. That’s Sadio’s level.
Klopp also had positive words to say about Salah’s contribution:
How Mo played, come on, that was unbelievable! He was pretty much unplayable tonight. In a game without scoring, I think this kind of performance is exceptional.
Though he occasionally frustrated with his tendency to dribble into cul-de-sacs and take heavy touches, this was a much more dynamic showing from Salah after the anonymous display at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The Egypt international attempted more take-ons in this one match than all bar four FPL midfielders have managed in the last four Gameweeks combined, giving Adam Masina (£4.3m) a torrid evening at right-back.
Salah tested Foster from range and then struck the post via the former West Brom custodian’s body, while the Egyptian recorded more than twice as many penalty box touches than anyone else on show at Anfield.
The reinstatement of Alexander-Arnold at full-back for the first time since Gameweek 22 looked beneficial not only to Liverpool as a whole but to Salah individually, with the defender’s menacing presence down the right flank drawing some of the attention away from Salah.
Alexander-Arnold crowned a fantastic display with three assists, the “hat-trick” being completed when his teasing free-kick was nodded in by Virgil van Dijk (£6.5m).
This was one of the finest displays of crossing seen all season, with another one of his superlative first-half deliveries flashing across the Watford six-yard box and only just eluding Salah and Mane.
Klopp said of Alexander-Arnold’s display:
He didn’t play on Sunday [but] I don’t think about last games. Trent was injured, played a game and then it was clear we have to make a decision, can he play three games in a week? We were not sure and that’s why he didn’t play against United, that was the only reason.
So now it was clear he would play today, he was rested and could start and he played an outstanding football game. And obviously he is fit, if you see how he was chasing back in all the counter-attacks of them and was involved in pretty much each offensive situation.
It was a brilliant performance. The crosses; the first corner was not exactly how we wanted to have it, it was pretty flat and we wanted to have it higher, but all the rest crossing-wise was just outstanding. I don’t say it was easy to finish with these situations but the crosses made it easier, at least.
Robertson himself banked two assists on the opposite flank without perhaps reaching the same levels as Alexander-Arnold, though his cross for van Dijk’s second goal was worthy of high praise and another ball he flashed across the Watford goalmouth went unrewarded early in the second half.
The Scotland international already has nine assists for the season, more than any defender has managed not just in 2018/19 but in every one of the previous three campaigns too.
Van Dijk’s two goals (his second and third of the season) were all about the deliveries but were reward for a year of penalty box prominence at set plays.
It’s massive when the big boy is jumping that high and finishing off like that. It’s difficult for Virg because the refs allow a lot in these box challenges with him. Defensively they try and block him out, offensively they tried everything to keep him away from the ball actually.
It helps a lot having the second or third threat around him because he is very often not marked but stopped, or whatever you can say. And now coming in these moments, being there, was really, really nice to see and of course, the crowd enjoys it.
Watford were soundly beaten and only sporadically threatened, with substitute Andre Gray (£5.9m) wasting the best of his side’s few chances when his close-range volley was deflected over by Alisson (£6.0m).
Troy Deeney (£5.9m) was also unable to turn Gerald Deulofeu‘s (£5.6m) low ball past the Brazilian goalkeeper but this was a fairly comfortable clean sheet for Liverpool’s backline, five days after the Hornets had themselves put five goals past Cardiff.
Owners of the likes of Harry Maguire (£5.4m) and set-piece specialist James Maddison (£6.6m) will have been encouraged ahead of Sunday’s meeting between Leicester and Watford, as the Hornets shipped another three headed goals from crosses.
Gracia’s side have conceded more headed opportunities and chances from set plays than any other Premier League side in 2019.
The Watford head coach said of his team’s display:
Today doesn’t change my opinion about my players, it doesn’t change the confidence I have in all of them. Today’s a bad day for all of us. They have good players and are a very good team, they played well, they deserved to win and we’ll try to do better next time.
After we conceded one early goal it was very difficult for us to compete. Today we have conceded more goals from lateral crosses, we’ve not defended the way we usually do but [there were] different players like Matip, Van Dijk, Matip, Origi today and Mane, we know it’s demanding.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Milner (Henderson 70′), Fabinho, Wijnaldum (Keita 84′); Salah, Origi, Mane (Lallana 78′).
Watford XI (4-4-2): Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Mariappa, Masina; Pereyra (Sema 84′), Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deeney (Gray 73′), Deulofeu (Cleverley 73′).
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