Allen inspires Liverpool in ‘cup final’
“Our cup final is here against Watford,” was the contentious claim from Jürgen Klopp. He might be the master motivator, but not even the German coach could convince the Kop of that one.
There were no fans lining the streets to welcome the team bus, no Kop mosaics, no cacophony of noise to intimidate Watford.
Same venue, different vibe, but nevertheless Liverpool won comfortably to extend top-six ambitions into the final week.
Joe Allen and Roberto Firmino put distance between the sides in the kind of scruffy, unfulfilling game typical of this time of year. Klopp will be satisfied but secretly he must have hated a fixture he compared to “afternoon tea”. His priority is to banish such days when the league campaign offers nothing to quicken the pulse.
It was not a complete overhaul for Watford’s visit. Philippe Coutinho and Alberto Moreno kept their place, but the other most important outfield players had a break. As tends to be the case amid mass alterations, so did the tempo and intensity.
Watford, safe but wondering if their manager will be replaced, continue to use that rare species in the modern game – 4-4-2.
Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo terrorised Martin Skrtel in the reverse fixture and were in the mood.
Ighalo was not far away with a 40-yard chip, and only Skrtel’s tackle stopped the striker when faced with Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool took the lead when Christian Benteke nodded into Allen’s path and the Welshman prodded beyond Heurelho Gomes.
“In the meeting today I said it would be cool if he could play Joe Allen football,” said Klopp.
“Great technique and high energy – he takes to the situation brilliantly. He is a really good player and without him the game would be completely different.”
Firmino doubled the lead 14 minutes from time to disable an emerging Watford threat. Ighalo forcing Mignolet into a superb reflex save on 55 minutes was as close as they came. Gomes made a hash of Firmino’s drive from the edge of the box and the visitors’ hopes evaporated.
Manager Quique Sánchez Flores answered more questions on his future, preposterous given Watford’s league position. “You need to live with this and sometimes life is ridiculous,” he said. “It is important to enjoy what we have done.”
No average Joe: Liverpool took the lead through Joe Allen on their return to domestic duty after European heroics