After a dramatic, exciting, and most importantly, expensive pre-season the Premier League returns on Friday. Liverpool and Watford commence their respective seasons on Saturday at Vicarage Road, anxious to make their mark and throw down the gauntlet to other clubs for the coming season.
Liverpool arguably have the most to prove of any club this season: 4th last year for the Merseysiders but yet 17 points off the winners Chelsea, so the gap to make up is considerable. Yet they come off the back of a relatively successful preseason: unbeaten in normal time, including a remarkable 3-0 win over Bayern Munich, losing only to Atletico Madrid on penalties in the Asia Cup.
Their investment too has been smart: Salah comes with a bit of baggage from his time in the Premier League previously with Chelsea but he shone at Roma last season and with his blistering pace is guaranteed to cause a full back all sorts of trouble. Solanke too has come in from West London and his predatory nature has been evident in pre-season, provided he can get the service he will score goals for the Reds.
Liverpool’s remaining issue is a huge one: will they keep Coutinho? The talk in recent days has been that Barcelona have come with a colossal £120m bid to test Liverpool’s resolve and they have sent a three man delegation to London to negotiate the sale of the Brazilian.
With £220m in the bank following the sale of Neymar they certainly have the funds to prise him away from Liverpool, but we shall see what the future holds. If they can get a full strength XI on the pitch I can see them being quite a handful for the club from North London.
Now coming on to the Hornets themselves. They have been relatively active in the transfer market, identifying weaknesses and working to strengthen them: the main area of focus being central midfield, Chalobah from Chelsea (£5.67m), Will Hughes from Derby (£8.19m), and Tom Cleverly from Everton (£8.37m) have all been brought in and then to add the attacking flair Richarlison has been purchased from Fluminese for £11.16m and then most remarkably in the past day Andre Gray has been taken from Burnley for £18m.
Added to this, they have brought in Marco Silva after he left Hull off the back of a fairly impressive season, despite their subsequent relegation. So, with the combination of a fresh-faced young Portuguese manager, strong investment from new foreign owners, and a strong London based fan base Watford look like a fairly well set up club for the coming year, sound familiar?
To all intents and purposes Watford should end the season as an established mid-season Premier League club, I can’t imagine them challenging for Europe but nor can I envisage them battling relegation. Liverpool up first is a stern test for the Hornets but they are up to the task, Vicarage Road will most certainly be loud and one imagines rather intimidating for the visitors, but an interesting game lies ahead.
As for the results, I do see Liverpool posing an incredibly tough challenge but I see this ending in a draw, and a high scoring one at that. Liverpool have not yet been able to land Van Dijk and Watford have a plethora of attacking talent, yet Liverpool always come flying out of the blocks under Klopp, so for me it will end 2-2.
Written by Olly Norman.