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Liverpool were denied a win to start the 2017/18 Premier League season after Watford scored a stoppage-time equaliser to cap a six-goal thriller and earn a 3-3 draw at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
The Reds were 3-2 ahead thanks to goals from Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, who found the net on his Liverpool debut. They led until the 94th minute, when Hornets defender Miguel Britos bundled in from close range amid a goalmouth scramble.
Watford had been 2-1 in front at the break after Stefano Okaka and Abdoulaye Doucoure found the net.
However, Firmino equalised from the spot, after Salah won a penalty before the pair combined to give Liverpool a lead they couldn’t hold.
There was a surprise in the Liverpool lineup as Alberto Moreno started at left-back, per the club’s official Twitter account:
Liverpool FC @LFC
📋 The #LFC team to face @WatfordFC. https://t.co/8rt2KSODme
As James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo noted, manager Jurgen Klopp left out summer buy and former Hull City left-back Andy Robertson.
Meanwhile, Watford included Tom Cleverley and Nathaniel Chalobah in midfield but left ex-Burnley striker Andre Gray on the bench, per the club:
Watford FC @WatfordFC
⚽ | #watfordfc XI v @LFC: Gomes (GK) (c); Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Chalobah, Doucouré; Amrabat, Cleverley, Pereyra; Okaka https://t.co/ABvMPpCKfa
Liverpool meandered through most of the opening exchanges. The Reds clearly missed the influence of injured No. 10 Philippe Coutinho, who submitted a transfer request on Friday, per BBC Sport.
Without Coutinho, the supply lines to wide forwards Mane and Salah were inconsistent. Salah struggled to get the timing of his runs right, while much of the visitors’ approach play was disjointed.
It was no surprise when Watford claimed a deserved lead on eight minutes, with Okaka rising unopposed to head home a corner.
As BBC Match of the Day noted, burly striker Okaka is at his best at Vicarage Road:
Match of the Day @BBCMOTD
He’s well and truly a home boy 🙌
Six of Stefano Okaka’s seven #PremierLeague goals have come in home matches.
Liverpool had struggled for fluency but responded in style on 29 minutes. The Reds put together a rare flowing move as Emre Can teed up Mane to score via a smart layoff.
Sadly for Liverpool, being level was a fleeting feeling, as midfielder Doucoure finished into an empty net two minutes later, following another mix up at the back among the visitors.
Former England full-back Danny Mills lamented Liverpool’s struggles defensively, per BBC 5 live Sport:
BBC 5 live Sport @5liveSport
“The defending’s abysmal”
Danny Mills hasn’t been impressed with #LFC’s defending so far this season
Despite problems at the back, Liverpool should have been level soon after when Firmino played in Salah. Unfortunately, the Egyptian poked the ball over the bar when he should have found the net.
The match turned Liverpool’s way nine minutes into the second half when Salah finally got free in behind. Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes took him out, conceding a penalty that Firmino tucked away calmly.
Brazilian Firmino has been prolific in the league during his Liverpool career, per Squawka Football:
Squawka Football @Squawka
Roberto Firmino has now scored more league goals for Liverpool (22) than any other player since he joined in June 2015
Tucked away. https://t.co/nSrfoXY8hX
Firmino was heavily involved again when his clever run and deft attempted finish left Salah with a tap-in on his debut to give the Reds their first lead of the day.
Salah hit the side netting after another swift break entering the final 15 minutes, as Liverpool stepped up the intensity. While his finishing radar wasn’t quite in sync, the Egypt international’s pace was proving a nightmare for the Watford defence.
Yet for all their impetus going forward, the Reds remained brittle at the back. Gray’s introduction gave Watford more aerial menace, and deliveries into the box saw Liverpool defenders nervy again before Britos turned in from a corner to snatch a point.
The frantic finish offered the perfect illustration to doubt Liverpool’s title credentials this season. Going forward, they are a match for anybody, but there are just too many question marks defensively.