Liverpool 2 Watford 0
A place in the Europa League final may be the clearest sign of Liverpool’s progress under Jürgen Klopp but the potency of his teams provides another gauge. Irrespective of who he selects at Anfield at present, Liverpool possess an end product. Watford wish they had one.
There was no chasm in performance between Liverpool and Quique Sánchez Flores's team, only a contrast in finishing as Odion Ighalo squandered several openings for the visitors while Joe Allen and substitute Roberto Firmino seized the invitations that fell their way. Liverpool have now scored two goals or more in eight of their last nine home fixtures. It is not only in Europe where Klopp's instruction to flood the opposition penalty area is reaping rewards.
Klopp made eight changes to the side that swept beyond Villarreal and into the Europa League final on Thursday. Simon Mignolet, Philippe Coutinho and Alberto Moreno were the trio remaining from the semi-final, the left back required with Brad Smith suspended, while reserve goalkeeper Adam Bogdan replaced Danny Ward on the bench after the Wales international suffered a knee injury in training. Ward will not feature in Liverpool's final games of the season but is expected to be fit for Wales' Euro 2016 campaign.
Unsurprisingly given Liverpool's selection, their date with Sevilla and Watford's secure position in the Premier League, the game unfolded at a pedestrian pace on a hot Merseyside afternoon. The visitors were content to sit deep with their two banks of four and hit Klopp's team on the counter-attack, an approach that may have paid dividends but for late interventions from Moreno and Martin Skrtel.
Odion Ighalo broke through the makeshift central defensive pairing of Skrtel and Lucas Leiva from Watford's first attack and was taking aim when Moreno dived in to Liverpool's rescue. A misplaced pass from Allen then offered Ighalo an opportunity to chip Mignolet from over 30 yards – the effort sailing just wide – and Almen Abdi volleyed over from Ikechi Anya's break down the left.
Flores’s side were cutting through Liverpool’s rearguard too easily, although the defence received little protection in the midfield in front of them. José Manuel Jurado had time and space to float an inviting ball over Skrtel for Ighalo to break into the area. Once again, just as the striker shaped to connect, a Liverpool defender’s boot intervened. Skrtel nicked the ball from Ighalo and made another block from Abdi’s goalbound drive at the resulting corner.
Despite the best endeavours of Sheyi Ojo, Liverpool’s dominance in possession did not produce many openings for the first half hour. But they were far more clinical when they did arrive. Watford were given a punishing lesson in the cost of losing concentration in the Premier League.
Heurelho Gomes in the Watford goal had only been troubled by a shot from Coutinho that deflected narrowly wide before the home side took the lead under minimal pressure from those in yellow. There was no defender near Christian Benteke when Coutinho's cross picked out the recalled striker lurking on the edge of the Watford area. Benteke showed good awareness to cushion a header towards the penalty spot where the unmarked Allen slid in to steer the ball under the hesitant Gomes.
Coutinho and Benteke combined again after the restart but the Brazilian was unable to convert in front of the Kop. Ighalo thought he had drawn Watford level when Troy Deeney’s touch released him inside the area and, having stepped away from Moreno’s challenge, he shot towards the top corner only for Mignolet to produce a superb finger-tip save.
Liverpool made the game safe when Coutinho’s replacement, Roberto Firmino, beat the unconvincing Gomes from 20 yards. Anya’s attempted clearance at left back was charged down by Ojo and fell to Firmino, who headed for goal as Watford’s defenders backed off. The Brazilian’s low shot took a slight deflection en route to the bottom corner and sailed through the goalkeeper’s grasp.
Jordon Ibe and Benteke both missed good chances to extend the advantage but Liverpool recorded a routine win regardless.