The hammering at Anfield wasn’t much fun, but I’m more concerned about Rafa Benitez’s post match comments and demeanour than the result – what else did we honestly expect?
We know Joselu isn’t up to it as it is, never mind when he’s up against Virgin Van Dijk, we were up against arguably the most frightening attacking trio in world football right now, and a side who we played at the worst possible time – with them on a high and playing their big guns while we were forced to rotate with one eye on Watford.
As I say, I’m not sure what else people expected in the circumstances at Anfield (it’s not like we didn’t try?), but I will be expecting more this weekend against Watford. Given the fixtures we’re set to face over the coming weeks, this is one of our most winnable games – and it still looks like a very tough game to me.
We beat them in the home tie a few months ago to finally get our first win on the board, but they created plenty of chances and have the ability to blow us away if we’re not at it at the back.
As ever, here’s the team I’d like to see, followed by the side I expect Rafa to go with:
First things first, I think I’d leave Lascelles out for this one. He doesn’t look right and has made errors that have (or almost have) cost us dearly in just about every one of our last five games. It would’ve been barmy to suggest that we wouldn’t want the skipper starting this time last season, but on current form it’s clear that Schar and Fernandez should be starting.
Ki quality and calmness in the middle will continue to be a big miss, so the need to get Shelvey fit and firing has never been greater. If he’s not ready, I’d be inclined to give Longstaff a shot. Hayden runs around and ‘gets stuck in’, but we need someone who’s happy to get on the ball and try things – and I think Longstaff has it in his locker to bring some of that to the team.
Out wide it’s anyone’s guess. Aside from Murphy – who rarely gets a chance these days – the likes of Ritchie, Atsu and Kenedy all seem to huff and puff but fail to offer consistent results or any meaningful threat. That said, Rondon will be licking his lips if Ritchie can put in some of the crosses he did from the left at Anfield.
Predicted NUFC team – (5-2-2-1) – Dubravka – Yedlin, Schar, Lascelles, Fernandez, Dummett – Diame, Shelvey – Atsu, Perez – Rondon.
Here’s some of my ‘ones to watch’ in Watford’s side:
Gerard Deulofeu – He’s been playing in a more central forward role in recent weeks and has found the net in two of his last three. He’s very direct, has bags of pace and is the sort of elusive player our big centre-backs could struggle to contain on his day.
Roberto Pereyra – Quality wise, players like Pereyra could be the difference in this one. He has the ability to unlock to door – whether it be a key pass or a quality finish – so he’s one we MUST keep a real close eye on today.
Adrian Mariappa – Watford fans don’t seem to rate this lad, and it looks like he’ll come in for the injured Kabasele. He’s just shy of 6ft and isn’t the biggest, so Rondon could have some joy here – especially if Ritchie can put in the sort of delivery Joselu failed to convert at Anfield.
Abdoulaye Doucoure – One of the best players outside the top 6 for me. It will be a big battle between him and Diame – and who ever is partnering Mo will need to help him out more than Hayden did at Liverpool or we’ll get overrun again.
Jose Holebas – Not the best defensively and always good for a yellow card, but a brilliant left-back from an attacking perspective. With the likes of Deeney to hit up top, we need to make sure he isn’t allowed too much space to swing crosses into the box.
Predicted Watford XI – (4-2-2-2) – Foster – Femenia, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas – Capoue, Doucoure – Pereyra, Sema – Deulofeu, Deeney.
Shelvey has made the trip with the squad and has been deemed fit by Benitez, but whether he starts is another matter. Clark and Darlow have been ruled out while Ki is on international duty ahead of the Asian Cup.
For Watford, first-team centre-back Kabasele is out after colliding with the post against Chelsea on Boxing Day, with Andre Gray and Will Hughes likely to miss out as well for the hosts.
This time last year Rafa got us some huge away wins at West Ham and Stoke to set us up nicely for the new year, but I can’t say I’m confident of a big result here.
I can’t see us keeping Watford out and I’m not convinced we’ll score more than once. We’ve scored just three in our last 6 and have managed just two goals or more in just THREE of our 19 games this season – so it feels like we must keep clean sheets to win games of football these days.
Heart says draw – head says they go in at half-time 2-0 down and struggle to claw it back.
Prediction: Watford 2-1 Newcastle
Howay the lads!