As attentions return to the Premier League this weekend, Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side will know they must keep the pressure on Manchester City ahead of a hectic Christmas Period.
Yet to be beaten in their opening 12 games, the Reds sit two points adrift of the defending champions in the race for the title.
On Saturday, Liverpool will face a stern test against a Watford side who have dipped slightly after getting out of the traps at a lightning pace.
While five places and 10 points may separate the two in the table, Javi Garcia’s side find themselves above Manchester United and will have their sights set on a surprise European push this year.
Ahead of Liverpool’s trip to the capital, what are the three key battles to look out for at Vicarage Road:
Although Garcia has helped Watford play a more attractive style, Saturday’s hosts still have a reputation for their physicality.
One man who epitomizes that is captain Troy Deeney.
Now fully recovered from a hamstring injury that saw him sidelined for almost a month, the 30-year-old is likely to be recalled to Watford’s starting XI on Saturday.
With Garcia opting to play a 4-4-2 for large spells of this season, Watford are not afraid to go long and only three Premier League sides have played more long balls.
Despite missing three games, Deeney unsurprisingly sits in the top 10 for aerial duels won and a potential relationship with Gerard Deulofeu could be Watford’s best opportunity to catch Liverpool out.
The Hornets skipper has previously expressed his displeasure when coming up against the Dutch defender.
Troy Deeney is definitely a Virgil van Dijk ultra…
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) September 25, 2018
As for the world’s most expensive defender, while Virgin van Dijk’s £75million move from Southampton may have raised plenty of eyebrows back in January, his arrival on Merseyside has been a huge part of Liverpool’s transformation.
Often taking possession of Liverpool’s armband this year, the 27-year-old will play a crucial role in a potential title push.
With a tackle success rate of an astonishing 95%, Van Dijk has also won 44 ariel duels, more than double Joe Gomez’s tally.
A battle of two heavyweights, expect the duo to closely be watching one another from set pieces.
While on paper it appears that Roberto Firmino is used as Liverpool’s leading striker, the Brazilian has found himself in a far deeper role this season.
With Klopp opting to swap to a 4-2-3-1 in their 2-0 win over Fulham prior to the international break, the 27-year-old found himself almost playing in a number 10 role.
Although Firmino has failed to find the net in his last seven Premier League appearances, there is no doubt that he remains a firm favourite of Klopp’s and is a vital part of Liverpool’s attacking trio.
When he does eventually drop back and find himself between the lines, it is important that Garcia finds a way to stifle the service into the 28-cap Brazil international.
No attacking player has had more touches for Liverpool so far this year and they can not allow him to link up with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
One man who could be given that very job on Saturday is the vastly improved Etienne Capoue.
Enjoying by far his brightest spell in England’s top-tier, his partnership with Abdoulaye Doucouré at the heart of Watford’s midfield has played a huge part in their start to the season.
The one time Tottenham misfit sits in the top 10 for the Premier League’s tackles completed and only Huddersfield’s Zanka and Southampton’s Mario Lemina have made more interceptions.
His performances have been so impressive that Garcia believes the 30-year-old is one of the divisions top midfielders.
“Capoue is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League and do not have any doubt about that.”
Missing the Hornets 1-1 draw with Southampton a fortnight ago due to his suspension, Capoue’s ability to illegally break-up play could be a huge factor in keeping Firmino quiet.
Only Watford teammate José Holebas has picked up more booking than the Frenchman’s five already this season.
Along with Capoue, one man who is also making an early case for Watford’s Player of the Season has been winger Roberto Pereyra.
Doing an impressive job of filling the Richarlison shaped void at Vicarage Road, the former Juventus man is the Hornets’ leading goalscorer with five goals in his 12 appearances.
Undoubtedly enjoying his brightest start since his move from Turin back in 2016, Pereyra’s performances have earned him a recall to Argentina’s national side and his stats compared to last year’s PFA Player of the Year show just how important he is to Watford.
— StatZone (@StatZoneSports) November 22, 2018
While it has been Pereyra’s creativity in the final third which has gained him the most plaudits, Liverpool’s arrival this weekend will call for a more disciplined display from the 27-year-old.
Scoring his first international goal and picking up the Man of the Match award in England’s 3-0 win over the USA earlier in the month, Trent Alexander-Arnold is once again enjoying a successful start to the season.
Along with being part of the joint best defensive record in the Premier League, along with Manchester City, the 20-year-old right-back has once again been a huge part of the Reds’ attack.
Completing the most crosses for Liverpool this year, Alexander-Arnold is also the only Premier League youngster to be shortlisted for the Golden Boy award.
With no player for Watford being dispossessed more than Pereyra after 12 games, Garcia will know that he can not allow his wide man to give Liverpool the chance to break on the counter.
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