Roy Hodgson will be hoping to dent former club Liverpool’s Premier League title dream on Saturday, as his Watford side head to Anfield.
The Reds are back in action after the international break, as this potentially legendary season reaches its most pivotal stage.
Jurgen Klopp’s men host a Watford side sitting 18th in the table and in a perilous position as they desperately battle to remain in the top flight.
Victory for Liverpool would see them leapfrog Man City at the league summit, at least temporarily, putting pressure on their title opponents.
Ahead of the game, we spoke to Watford fan and podcaster Mike Parkin (@RookeryMike) to get the lowdown on the Hornets, as well as Liverpool’s title chances.
How do you assess Watford’s season so far?
You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a disaster.
The fact that we’re adrift at the bottom and are on our third head coach of the season tells the story.
Ultimately, the squad wasn’t strengthened sufficiently in the summer; we were crying out for defensive reinforcements and they simply didn’t arrive.
That meant that we started the season with a squad that wasn’t really up to it and the majority of results have borne that out.
It’s been a tough watch, especially for long-suffering home fans. Watford have managed to lose their last eight in a row at Vicarage Road.
So far, it’s been a season to forget.
What are your thoughts on Hodgson’s appointment?
Plenty of supporters have been critical of the appointment, with his prickly demeanour and pragmatic tactical approach making it easy to be less than positive.
That said, I’m not sure where else Watford could have turned at that stage. It was clearly going to be a short-term role, so it needed someone that was going to be happy with that.
It also needed to be someone with a decent track record of shoring up a defence – Watford had been conceding an average of almost three goals a game before his arrival – so on the face of things, it was probably a sensible call.
He has transformed the away form, scoring notable victories at Aston Villa and Southampton and keeping a clean sheet at Old Trafford, but if Roy is really going to win over all Watford supporters, he will have to do something about the home form.
There are five games left at Vicarage Road and four of them are against direct relegation rivals.
It’s a massive ask and one that most think is unlikely, but if he can somehow keep us up then he’ll go down in history.
If he doesn’t, it will be a chapter that most supporters won’t look back on with much fondness.
Who have been Watford’s three best players this season?
It’s hard to pick out too many for high praise as the results have been so poor.
Joao Pedro has impressed when he’s featured. He is an incredible player with an undoubtedly huge future in front of him.
skillful, fast, direct and tough; he’s a real handful.
His occasionally attacking partner Cucho Hernandez has also won the hearts of the Hornets faithful – his all-action style and ceaseless effort, along with the odd spectacular goal, have made him a firm favourite.
January signing Hassan Kamara has also found himself quickly established as a terrace favourite.
Left-back was one of the positions in which we were woefully short, so seeing someone competent come in there has been as much of a relief as anything.
A notable mention for Northern Ireland international Craig Cathcart, too. Never flashy, but very rarely lets the team down.
Which individuals have struggled?
There are too many to mention.
Before January reinforcements arrived, the defense was almost unbelievably easy to penetrate – have a look at Watford’s goals against column and you will see what I mean.
Do you think Ismaila Sarr could potentially shine at Liverpool?
It has been a difficult season for Sarr.
He suffered a long-term injury before joining up with Senegal at AFCON and has missed another clutch of games since.
He will be off in the summer, so Watford fans are now well used to life without him, but I suspect a move to one of the genuinely top teams like Liverpool will, for now, be out of his reach.
I just don’t think he’s done enough to warrant it and wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the black and white of Newcastle United next term.
His pace is electric, and when he’s on his game he is unplayable, but it just doesn’t happen often enough.
Looking ahead to Saturday, how highly do you rate this Reds side?
They are just relentless, aren’t they?
There seems to be an excellent blend of talent and personalities – as a group they just seem to enjoy their football.
It’s easy to do that when you’re winning most weeks, I guess, but you earn that right, don’t you?
To have kept pace with another extraordinary team in Man City is an achievement in itself, so you would have to say that this squad is up there.
I started watching football in the 1980s when Liverpool swept all before them and it feels like this is a similar period of dominance.
It will be interesting to see how the various contract issues are sorted – how do you replace a player like Salah? – but as it is, this Reds team is just brilliant.
Apart from Salah, which Liverpool player would you most like to see at Watford?
This could be recency bias as our defense has been so relentlessly bad, but I’d take Virgil van Dijk, please. Oh, and Alison.
They are absolutely two extraordinary players that are worth so much to a team: vocal, authoritative, calm, strong, super talented.
They probably still wouldn’t be enough to keep Watford up, but I would love to see them give it a go.
Where do you see the key battles taking place this weekend?
In the queues for the exit after about 70 minutes!
Watford fans will have seen enough, while Reds supporters can beat the traffic, safe in the knowledge they’ve seen plenty of goals and another three points in the bag.
Finally, what’s your prediction?
Liverpool plenty, Watford not enough.