Claudio Ranieri was never going to bridge the gap between him and Jurgen Klopp, nor Danny Rose and Mo Salah. But Watford failed the fans.
A miss from a Rose sealed the result but Mo Salah destroying Craig Cathcart-horse confirmed this was more than an ordinary defeat. Liverpool had beaten Watford literally but also mentally, spiritually and existentially.
It felt more like the feeble, piteous end of a directionless managerial reign than the start of a bright, promising new one at Vicarage Road. Claudio Ranieri will have more comfortable afternoons, even if seven of Watford’s next eight matches are against Everton, Arsenal, Manchester United, Leicester, Chelsea, Manchester City and Brentford. But when commentators are speculating with ten minutes left that players might no longer be listening to the coach and had taken matters into their own hands to spark a brief revival that amounted to some tackles, dribbles and shots at 4-0 down, it does not bode well.
Those slight sparks when all was lost made Liverpool’s fifth goal cut even deeper. Watford had improved. They threatened, Caiomhin Kelleher tipping one Ismaila Sarr effort onto the post. They were buoyed by the home support to close opposition players down, make runs, pass forward. The visitors started to retreat into themselves in knowledge that the war was won long ago so a battle or two could be lost. Then Liverpool put a move together: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain slipped Neco Williams in behind, Danny Rose swung another lazy leg to no avail and Roberto Firmino was played in to complete his hat-trick.
Ben Foster’s GoPro might have already run out of battery by that point. “‘No chance,'” was the unsurprising Premier League reaction when the Watford goalkeeper lobbied to keep putting match clips from behind the goal on his burgeoning YouTube channel. “The broadcasters are paying too much money!” he told the Daily Telegraph before the game. Jurgen Klopp aired his pre-match issues with BT Sport once again but they captured the despair and dysfunction as well as any handheld camera could.
The goals can be dissected to the minutiae of failure. Rose looked like an amateur when Mo Salah rolled him on the halfway line to set up the first; Adam Masina’s aimless hoof into the centre circle when Watford needed composure led to the second as he drifted into central defence, tangled with Firmino and then left him unmarked at the back post before forlornly calling for offside to rescue him; Cathcart had his Eric Garcia moment in the build-up to the third; a few more defenders were added to Salah’s escalating hot dog queue for the fourth; Rose was culpable again at 5-0, his inadequacy at this level providing the bread to a filling of impotence for a wholly inedible Watford sandwich.
Ranieri presumably fielded a few hamstring complaints at half-time, bowing only to the pleas of the abysmal Masina. The Moroccan drowned as an auxiliary left-winger, providing neither attacking thrust nor defensive cover for the wilting Rose. The last time Masina was substituted at the break in a Premier League game, unsubstantiated rumours surfaced that he and Nigel Pearson had a physical altercation; Ranieri might similarly have been tempted to pepper any figurative jabs with actual swings in the hope of extracting a reaction from his players.
That may have been the worst pass I’ve ever seen from Masina there. Not in terms of execution.. but what is that choice..?
— Watford Analytics (@JordanWiemer) October 16, 2021
He was not alone in being engulfed by a brilliant Liverpool side. Rose was unfortunate to come up against Salah. None of Kiko Femenia, Cathcart or William Troost-Ekong fared much better. Juraj Kucka excelled at finding pockets of space, but only when Watford were defending.
Moussa Sissoko was the only starter to emerge with even vague credit as Sarr struggled as a centre-forward and substitutes Jeremy Ngakia and Joao Pedro at least injected some urgency and desire.
By the time Kucka had wandered into Liverpool’s half and released a long-range shot that Kelleher nestled into his chest like a newborn, Watford supporters let out ironic cheers comprised of frustration, relief and helplessness. That was in the 56th minute at 4-0 down, their first attempt of the match resembling a man holding an umbrella in a tsunami.
There were more jolts of excitement thereafter, for Sarr hitting the post and Pedro trying a chip before being ruled offside. But Watford fans seemed to celebrate the basics more: Ngakia’s tackling and effort in finally shutting down the right-hand side; Sissoko resisting the press and bursting forward to lead doomed attacks.
Ranieri was never going to bridge the quality gap, not between him and Klopp, nor the respective squads, and certainly not in such a short space of time. But the very least the players can do is try. Match-going supporters actually set quite a low bar, applauding chests back to the keeper, switches of play and the winning of corners. They appreciate endeavour and labour. Watford failed them on that front for at least an hour and Ranieri must find a way of bottling that chastened, professionally embarrassed post-Salah reaction.