Five thoughts after Watford's thrilling opening day draw with Liverpool
Watford kicked off their Premier League campaign with an entertaining 3-3 draw with Liverpool at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
Having led at half-time, Watford looked like they were heading for defeat in Marco Silva's first match as manager, thanks to two quickfire goals from Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah at the start of the second half, but Miguel Britos' injury equaliser secured the Hornets a deserved point.
Silva named just one new signing in the starting line-up, with Nathaniel Chalobah lining up alongside Abdoulaye Doucoure in the two holding midfielder roles. Richarlison, Andre Gray and Kiko Femenia were all named on the bench.
The Hornets started brightly and took the lead after just eight minutes, as Stefano Okaka nodded home Jose Holebas' corner from close-range.
The Golden Boys had largely kept Liverpool at arm's length for most of the first half, but the Reds equalised just before the half-hour mark, as Sadio Mane finished off a superb team move.
But Jurgen Klopp's men weren't on level terms for long, as the Hornets re-took the lead a few moments later. Tom Cleverley's cross into to the box bounced out to Doucoure following a defensive mix-up, and the French midfielder powered the ball home from close range to put Watford 2-1 up.
Following an excellent first half from the Golden Boys, the match was turned on its head within 15 minutes of the second half.
In the 54th minute, referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot after Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes brought down Salah inside the area, with Firmino calmly slotting the ball home to level the scores up. Moments later and the Reds took the lead, as Salah bundled the ball home from close range, after Firmino had lobbed Gomes.
The Reds looked like they were heading for three points as the game entered injury time, having been comfortable for most of the second half, but they were hit with a late sucker punch as Watford equalised.
Holebas' corner once again caused problems and after substitute Richarlison's effort hit the woodwork, the ball bounced down to Miguel Britos, who nodded the ball home from close range to secure a deserving point for the Golden Boys.
Having attended Saturday's match at Vicarage Road, here are five of my main thoughts:
1 - Draw a fair result after a promising performance
A draw was a fair result I felt following this thoroughly entertaining game. I don't like too many clichés, but this was a match of two halves. Watford bossed the first half, but Liverpool were the better team in the second. Overall though, this was a very promising performance from Watford. The Hornets were very impressive during the opening 45 minutes, as they hassled Liverpool in possession and caused Jurgen Klopp's men problems whenever they were attacking. The Golden Boys worked so hard throughout the first half and their commitment could not be questioned. They never quite lived up to those heights in the second half, but their performance deserved at least a point in what was a thoroughly entertaining game at Vicarage Road.
What I liked about this Watford performance though is that we kept going throughout. You couldn't fault the commitment of any of the players on the pitch and when we had the ball, we always looked to get forward when possible. It really felt like the team was united and that's certainly not something we saw too much last season. On too many occasions last season, it seemed when the going got tough, Watford crumbled easily. Not under Silva though, as despite being knocked back by Liverpool, we didn't give up. We kept going and we got the equaliser our performance deserved in added time.
There are, obviously, still things to work on. Our defending still needs work and Silva will be disappointed by two of the goals we gave away on Saturday. However, this was a very promising performance from the Golden Boys and one which left me feeling very encouraged. From delight, to agony, to ecstasy in the matter of 90 minutes; boy, I'm glad football is back!
2 - Doucoure is quality
This time last year, Abdoualye Doucoure was sitting in the stands. Unwanted by then manager Walter Mazzarri and nowhere near Watford's squad, the Frenchman would have spent last season on loan at Lorient had a last-minute glitch not prevented his deadline day move from going through last summer.
Fast forward a year, and it's remarkable to think that Doucoure was so far down the pecking order. The Frenchman is now one of the first names on the team-sheet and he was excellent for the Hornets once again on Saturday. Doucoure worked hard all game and was disciplined in his role in the engine room in midfield. He got stuck in and made some good tackles and interceptions, but was also calm in possession, too. The 24-year-old was always available and controlled possession for the Hornets. Everything that Watford did well went through him. He showed great composure to calmly sweep the ball home from close range and has also forged a great partnership with Nathaniel Chalobah in midfield. The duo complement each other so well and they pressed
Liverpool all game while also controlling possession for the Hornets.
Doucoure, though, was the standout player for the Hornets I thought and he also showed some great skill in the second half, as he confidently turned past two Liverpool midfielders as he launched another attack. The Frenchman was superb throughout and if he maintains this form over the season, then I have no doubt that he will earn a move to a big club in the near future. He's quality and Marco Silva should build his team around the 24-year-old.
3 - Okaka bullies Liverpool defence
I can't lie, I was honestly surprised that Okaka was starting over new signing Andre Gray when I saw the team-sheet before the game. When you pay more than £18m for a striker, you instantly expect them to start and given Silva's praise for the former Burnley man in the build up to the match, I honestly felt Gray was going to get the nod up front. Instead though, it was Okaka who started and he really gave the Watford manager some food for thought. The Italian striker led the line brilliantly during the game, holding the up ball and bringing others into play really well. He played a great ball to release Pereyra early in the first half and from the resultant corner, the Italian fired the Hornets in front, as Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet couldn't keep out the striker's bullet header.
One thing I like the most about Okaka though is his work rate. During his time on the pitch, he didn't give Liverpool's defence a moments piece, hassling and harrying them while they were in possession and he wasn't afraid to put his foot in when he needed to as well. With Troy Deeney set to return from injury in the coming weeks, many thought that Okaka would make way for either Deeney or Gray in the starting line-up or perhaps even in the match-day squad. But on this evidence, Okaka won't be going anywhere for the time being.
Surprisingly, Okaka seems to divide opinion among the Watford fanbase, with a few fans always messaging me to say that we should sell him if we get a good offer. But I think Okaka's an important player to have. He's, by no means, the best striker in the world, but he always causes defences problems and he can nick a goal too. We should definitely keep Okaka around I think.
4 - Janmaat and Pereyra so unlucky with injury
There's no questioning that Daryl Janmaat and Roberto Pereyra are very good players. We saw glimpses of what they could both do against Liverpool, but in a matter of minutes, they were both off injured, which is a terrible shame.
Both have endured rotten luck with injuries since they joined the club. Last season was a stop start one for Janmaat, as he picked up niggly little injuries throughout the campaign, while Pereyra's first year with the club was cut short against Manchester City in December after picking up a ligament injury. There's no doubting that both are excellent players and that Watford play better when both are playing. In Pereyra's case, when he's playing well, he really makes Watford tick. He showed glimpses of what he could do and started brightly as he was played through on goal by Okaka. Janmaat also started well, as he bombed up the right-hand flank and created an early opportunity, but after fifteen minutes, he was off injured. Half an hour later, and Pereyra was following him down the tunnel to the injury room as well.
It's a frustrating and also a great shame, as both are clearly talented players who we've never really seen the best out of due to injuries. Fingers crossed that neither injury is serious and that they will be back in the starting line-up soon.
5 - New right winger is needed
Now, I just want to make clear, I really want to like Nordin Amrabat. He works so hard for the team when he plays and his commitment can never be questioned. However, for a winger, one of the important aspects of their game is their end product; can they beat a mean and put a cross into the box? Can they pick out a man from out wide? Unfortunately, though, Amrabat fails this test and that is why he is a frustrating player to many.
The Moroccan's end product is often poor. He'll beat a man or get into a good position only for the final ball to be poor and that will be the end of a promising opportunity for Watford. There was one particular moment in the second half which got me, as new signing Andre Gray was completely unmarked and crying out for an early delivery into the box, but Amrabat took too many touches and his cross was dealt with easily by the Liverpool defence. The chance had gone within a matter of seconds. Certainly against the big teams in the Premier League, we can't afford to be wasteful when we have the ball and we simply have to make the most of the opportunities that come our way.
It's important, therefore, that we sign another right winger before the end of the transfer window. Whether that be Aaron Lennon or Andre Carrillo. We simply need a new right winger, as I'm afraid Amrabat simply cannot be starting in the Premier League in a couple of months' time. Yes, I know new signing Richarlison can play out on the right, but his preferred position is on the left-hand side of midfield.
Personally, while I feel the signing of a right winger is needed, I wouldn't mind seeing Isaac Success being given a go out wide. Silva experimented with him out wide during pre-season and I think his pace could frighten opposition full-backs. He can also deliver a good cross as well, as we saw against Southampton last season, when he put in a great ball into the box which was turned home by Okaka. I was surprised that he was left out of the squad for the game against Liverpool myself, but that is another discussion for another day. Amrabat though, is just not good enough I'm afraid and he will always remain a frustrating player if he wastes opportunity after opportunity. He's our Ikechi Anya of the Premier League.