Liverpool welcome Watford to Anfield on Wednesday night as Jürgen Klopp's men seek to maintain their lead at the top of the Premier League.
The Reds moved a point clear of Manchester City after securing a 0-0 draw at Manchester United on Sunday, while the Hornets claimed a confidence-boosting 5-1 win at Cardiff City.
Javi Gracia’s side are up to seventh in the league standings and have lost just one of their last 11 games across all competitions - a run that includes five victories away from home.
So, what can we expect from them on Wednesday night?
We spoke to Watford season ticket holder and From the Rookery End podcast co-presenter Mike Parkin (@RookeryMike) to find out...
We last spoke back in November before Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Vicarage Road, how has the team evolved since then?
At the risk of jinxing it, Watford have evolved into a team that is incredibly tough to beat. The Hornets haven’t been in the relegation zone since being promoted back into the Premier League, but their post-Christmas form in the past three seasons has left plenty to be desired. Not this time.
Javi Gracia has instilled a sense of belief and determination into his talented squad and now the Hornets are looking up the table rather than down it for the run-in.
Gracia has continued to get the best out of players who have previously suffered dips in form, and there is a real sense of unity at Vicarage Road; in that respect we’re enjoying a similar season to Liverpool – the club and the supporters are unified, enjoying their season and hoping for a memorable finish.
What are Watford’s ambitions in the remaining 11 games of the season?
It’s a real joy to be fighting on two fronts at this stage in the season. The Hornets are in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and for a club the size of Watford, cup success is always going to be the likeliest possible route to a trophy. The last-eight tie with Crystal Palace is a tricky one, but if they can get through that then there will be a few in Hertfordshire that start daring to dream.
Those same supporters will be eying up the league table and wondering if their side can earn a spot in the Europa League. As Liverpool fans will attest to, there can be few greater pleasures than seeing your team in European action and there’s a whole generation of Watford supporters who assumed they’d never get the opportunity to see their club taking part. With 11 games to go it’s still a big ask, but there’s a chance – and that’s exciting.
There are some incredibly tough games on the horizon; our next two away games are Liverpool and Manchester City, and while we’ll be hoping to do you guys a favour at the Etihad, we have to remain realistic. We are, however, in with a fighting chance of making this one of the most memorable seasons in Hornets history, and as supporters, we’re enjoying every step of the way.
What’s been the standout moment of your campaign so far?
Winning the first four games of the season was a most welcome surprise. The media attention that resulted in that run of early form was extraordinary and it was nice to see Watford get the attention that supporters think the club deserves.
The fourth win in that run was a 2-1 victory against Spurs and coming from behind to beat a team against whom we’ve had a dreadful record was fantastic. An afternoon that will live long in the memory for many.
More recently, the 5-1 demolition of Cardiff City at the Cardiff City Stadium was a joy to behold. Gracia’s side clicked beautifully and played some stunning football, punctuated by an unplayable performance from Gerard Deulofeu.
The Bluebirds are obviously at the wrong end of the table, but to beat any Premier League team so comprehensively away from home is an achievement to be cherished.
What have you made of Liverpool this season?
They’ve been OK, haven’t they?!
The Reds strike me as a more robust, focused side this season, with an incredible record built on the foundations of a brilliant defence. Virgil van Dijk has to be one of the best players on the planet and his poise and dominance is exactly the sort of thing that a title-challenging side needs. I can’t imagine there’s a club in the world that wouldn’t want him in their side.
The whole squad seem to be really resilient, the fact that they are challenging hasn’t come as a surprise and as an outsider looking in, they seem ready to take the opportunity.
Jürgen Klopp has them winning games in which they aren’t necessarily hitting the heights and again, this is one of the most important traits of a successful side.
There have been blips of course, but I don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect season. Personally, I’ve enjoyed seeing Liverpool’s evolution into a team that has flair and style, but also grit, steel and determination.
Who are the key players the Reds need to be wary of at Anfield?
If Watford’s Player of the Season award doesn’t go to Ben Foster I’ll be very surprised. The goalkeeper has enjoyed a stellar season and Liverpool will have to find a way past him, which hasn’t been easy for anyone this term.
The midfield plays host to an intriguing battle and may well be where the game is won or lost. Etienne Capoue continues to deliver his best season in a Watford shirt while the much-coveted Abdoulaye Doucoure is also looking in fine form. Both are integral to the Hornets and if the two Frenchmen play well, Watford’s performance tends to follow suit.
Creativity comes from Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu. The latter will be high on confidence after an outstanding display last time out, while Pereyra will be looking to recapture his early-season form after a recent lull and injury. Both players are huge talents and will be looking to shine on one of the biggest stages in football.
Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the club captain. Troy Deeney continues to give absolutely everything for the club and he too will be buoyed by a brace in his last game.
How do you expect Watford to line up?
I’d imagine Gracia will go with the same line-up we saw at Cardiff.
Which areas do you think the teams will try to exploit in each other?
I think Liverpool will be looking to boss the midfield; if they win that battle then Watford will be in serious difficulty. It’s easier said than done if Doucoure, Capoue and Will Hughes are on song, but it will be an absolutely crucial battle.
I fully expect the Reds to get Andy Robertson into the game, his runs and delivery are brilliant and he’ll be a key weapon in putting the Hornets’ defence under pressure.
Liverpool’s attacking threat is well documented, so attempting to repel the threat of players such as Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane will be high on the visitors’ list of priorities. Once again, however, it’s easier said than done!
Gracia will want to see his side counter-attack and make the most of any chances they are able to carve out – Deulofeu will have to be at his best while Deeney will have to work harder than ever to get any change out of the Liverpool backline.
It’s a huge challenge for Watford, but there is definitely enough talent and belief in the squad to make a game of this. It promises to be a fascinating fixture.
What is your prediction for the game?
Watford’s recent trips to Anfield have been the stuff of nightmares so this time round we’re hoping to at least be competitive. I’d be absolutely delighted with a draw, so if I’m being led by my heart I’ll go for an entertaining 2-2 draw.
I’ve been watching football long enough to realise that my heart knows precious little about football, though, so will be realistic and reluctantly go for a 2-1 Liverpool victory.