It ain't supposed to be easy
By Matt Rowson
Liverpool and Watford are not the same.
Liverpool have eighteen championships, four European Cups, two UEFA Cups. Watford won the Play-offs last season, and the Second Division for the second time the year before. Liverpool spent upwards of £25 million on squad strengthening over the summer. Watford's entire squad cost less than £1.5m. Liverpool is a world-famous name in the world of football. Watford are the bookies' favourites for relegation and a bit of a nuisance.
But does any of this give Liverpool a head start on Saturday ? Is there any regulation that prohibits an away victory ? Above all, is there anything to be afraid of ?
Is there bollocks. Because, for all the distinctions drawn above, the biggest difference between the two sides is the amount of hype surrounding them. Before this season, few Premiership fans would have heard of Richard Johnson. Few will have heard of Sammy Hyypia either. But Johnson arrives with the first division play-off winners. Hyypia signs for Liverpool for £3.5m, so he must be good, right ?
Now Hyypia may be a fine player, and by all accounts he's started his Anfield career positively. But Johnno's a fine player as well. And we have several fine players (albeit not all of them fit at the moment). That the rest of the division doesn't know this yet is only a problem if Watford allow it to be.
There are other things going for the Golden Boys. This won't be the only time this season that the pressure on the home side to give us a stuffing can be turned to the Hornets' advantage. In particular, Gérard Houllier's summer restructuring, whilst indicative of a healthy determination to recapture the Reds' former dominance, virtually demands that Liverpool's season is more convincing than their last. Failing to put the Hornets to the sword, particularly in the eyes of a support whose view of the club's significance is far greater than recent seasons have really merited, would be particularly ill received.
Plus: Houllier's record in signing players for Liverpool is hardly impeccable. Jean-Michel Ferri and Sean Dundee have both made minimal impact before leaving at a considerable loss. Meanwhile young Norwegian defender Frode Kippe, a £700,000 signing last season, was in one summer report described as the worst player anyone remembered seeing at Anfield. He hasn't been allocated a squad-number this term - hardly encouraging man-management.
Goalkeeper will be Sander Westerveld, at £4m the most expensive goalkeeper ever signed by a British club. Westerveld, who reputedly boasts a bomb of a drop-kick, which will obviously be incorporated into Liverpool's passing game, hardly had a shot to save at Hillsborough on Saturday. However, his pre-season performances have met with mixed reviews. His cover is Jörgen Nielsen, with Brad Friedel having followed the current trend of sulkily slating the Reds' management.
Right-back is the popular attacking Norwegian Vegaard Heggem, however left-back is probably Liverpool's most obvious weak-spot... again, Nicky Wright can't get fit soon enough. Stig-Inge Björnebye is the only senior natural left-back but is currently out of favour; with Phil Babb apparently on his way to Derby and Steve Staunton now at walking pace, Dominic Matteo is the current incumbent of this slot.
Current centre-backs are the enormous Finn Sammy Hyypia, who captained unfashionable Willem II to second in the Dutch league, and Jamie Carragher, an England U21 cap. Other options are Rigobert Song, who has played in two World Cups for Cameroon despite being only 23, the aforementioned Staunton and the much-maligned Bjorn Tore Kvarme. Another summer signing, Swiss Stephane Henchoz, is out with an injury.
In midfield, Jamie Redknapp is the current captain, whose career as an England automatic choice has thus far lasted the fifteen minutes or so before his injury against Scotland in Euro 96. Alongside him, German Dietmar Hamann was the most expensive of the summer recruits and is nominally a replacement for that nice, well-balanced Paul Ince. However, Hamann limped out of Saturday's game... if absent his place could either be taken by combative youngster David Thompson, or Jamie Carragher.
Also in the midfield are the two attacking Czechs Patrick Berger and Vladimir Smicer. Berger has re-established himself in the Liverpool side following a narrow escape when he nearly joined Graeme Sounness' preposterous regime at Benfica. Smicer has arrived from RC Lens, one of the sides to end Arsenal's interest in last season's Champions' League, and also featured in Euro 96.
Other midfield possibilities are Danny Murphy, whose return on loan to Crewe helped rescue them from relegation last season, and another local youngster Simon Gerrard. Oyvind Leonhardsen joined Tottenham last week.
Up front, Robbie Fowler has begun the season in sparkling form, but the rumours linking him with a move have yet to die down despite Arsenal's recent acquisitions. Leeds United, keen to replace the departed Hasselbaink, are the latest side with an apparent interest. Michael Owen's return to fitness may see him feature against us - he's supposed to be pretty good as well.
Other attacking options : the quick, boisterous Titi Camara, who sounds more like a gangster's moll than a footballer; lanky Dutchman Erik Meijer, and German international Karl-Heinz Reidle.
If rumours on the "Pass and Move" Messageboard are to be believed, another option up-front could be provided by the arrival of Francis Jeffers from across Stanley Park. Jeffers, who was allegedly seen at Anfield at the end of last week and didn't even make the bench for Everton on Sunday, would be a mischievous signing and would probably buy Houllier some time in the eyes of the support.
I've been talking up our chances, and deliberately so. If we go up there, team and support, expecting to lose then there's no way that's not going to happen. However, we've lost all of our visits to Anfield in League encounters. The way to view this fixture is that the Premiership ain't supposed to be easy. When games like this become easy, all games become easy, life becomes boring, and that would never do.
This is what it's all about.