Liverpool’s unbeaten run of success in this season’s Premier League was ended in unfathomable fashion on Saturday as struggling Watford hammered the European champions 3-0 at their ecstatic Vicarage Road stadium.
Ismaila Sarr inspired the extraordinary upset, stunning off-key Liverpool with two goals in six second-half minutes before setting up captain Troy Deeney with a third for the team who had started the day one from bottom, 55 points behind the runaway leaders.
Liverpool’s first league defeat of the season in their 28th match meant the end of their hopes of going the whole league campaign unbeaten as the new ‘Invincibles’. It also concluded their run of 44 league matches without defeat stretching back to January 2019.
It also came on the evening when they were expected to surpass champions Manchester City by creating a new English top-flight record of 19 successive league victories.
The setback will doubtless not stop Juergen Klopp’s men going on to lift their first English title for 30 years as they still remain 22 points ahead of their nearest pursuers, yet their season’s aura of domestic invincibility was quite demolished.
Liverpool had previously dropped only two points in the league this season — their draw at Manchester United in October — but from the start, Watford attacked them with a vigour that belied their struggles in the league.
Watford, who had not won any of their previous five league games, quickly looked the more likely to break the deadlock in the first half with Gerard Deulofeu proving Liverpool’s main tormentor before he had to be taken off by stretcher with a knee injury.
Yet it was only when the Senegalese winger Sarr struck twice just before the hour mark that the Hornets dared to dream.
First, he poked home from close range after Liverpool had failed to deal with a throw-in and then, after Will Hughes had set up an attack with a neat back heel, he powered forward and lifted the ball over the advancing Alisson.
Sarr then completed his fairytale day by latching on to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s poor back pass and setting up Deeney, although he did miss a good chance to complete his hat-trick.
Liverpool never gave up and Adam Lallana hit the post with one thumping drive but, for the first time in the league this season, they had been thoroughly outplayed, as Klopp acknowledged with his generous on-field congratulations to his opponents.
For Watford, these were crucial points, as Nigel Pearson’s men moved out of the bottom three on goal difference into 17th place.
Klopp believes defeat could prove a positive for Liverpool
Far from being deflated by his team’s first Premier League reverse of the season at Watford on Saturday, Liverpool’s ever-positive manager Juergen Klopp reckoned the shock 3-0 setback could prove liberating for his treble-seeking Reds.
Klopp’s champions-elect served up their worst performance of the year as they were outplayed by a Watford side who started the game one from the bottom of the table and 55 points adrift of his runaway leaders.
Yet while recognising his team’s 44-match unbeaten league streak had been bound to be dismantled some time, the German optimist also reflected that he was not really disappointed by the end of the pursuit of some potentially unreal records.
“I see it rather positive because from now on we can play free football again. We don’t have to defend or try to get a record, we can just try to win football games again and that is what we will do,” Klopp told reporters at Vicarage Road.
Asked if there was any disappointment, he added: “Not really, because I don’t think you can break records because you want to break records; you break records because you are 100 percent focused on each step. And for that you have to perform.
“The boys performed and that’s why we won the games, but tonight we were not good enough.
“It’s not now a plus for me that in history, when they look back in 500 years, they will say, ‘Liverpool nearly did it.’ You cannot change that and it was always clear, sometime we would lose a game.”
Klopp dismissed the suggestion that weariness might have crept into his side, who lost in the Champions League first leg at Atletico Madrid and then had not been at their sharpest in defeating West Ham United in their previous two matches.
“Nothing to do with tiredness,” he said. “It’s not easy to explain but it should not be now the biggest sensation in world football that it happened.”
Klopp was keener to praise the quality of his conquerors, who had been inspired by the electric Ismaila Sarr, who scored twice after the break and made the third for Watford captain Troy Deeney.
“The most important thing is to congratulate Watford, well deserved. That is what should be the headline. We didn’t perform like we should have and Watford performed exactly how they wanted.
“That’s how football is. It has nothing to do with games you won before, it has nothing to do with the games you will win, it is just this one football game, unfortunately. For tonight, we have to admit Watford were the better team.”
Next up for Liverpool is an FA Cup fifth round tie at Chelsea on Tuesday as they still chase a Champions League, Premier League and domestic Cup treble.
“What the boys did so far is exceptional, but it is not over,” said Klopp. “That is the only thing I am interested in — it’s not over. We will go again, I promise 100 percent, and then we will see where it leads us to.”
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