Goals from Joe Allen and Roberto Firmino helped Liverpool earn three points against Watford in an underwhelming 2-0 win at Anfield on Sunday.
Neither set of fans will take home warm memories of this match as it was a classic end-of-season stuff between two teams with few domestic ambitions left this term.
Reds manager Jurgen Klopp clearly had Liverpool’s upcoming Europa League final against Sevilla in mind, changing eight members of his starting XI from the side that defeated Villarreal in the last four of European club football’s second-tier competition on Thursday.
Only Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho made the cut for this contest, with the in-form Daniel Sturridge and Firmino on the bench.
Meanwhile, the likes of James Milner and Adam Lallana were rested completely.
Premier League glory may have to wait a while for Klopp but if he can end his first season in charge of Liverpool with significant silverware, it will do wonders for the confidence of both the players and the fans.
Watford would almost certainly have leapt at a mid-table finish if it had been offered at the start of the season, even if Quique Sanchez Flores’s future as manager seems uncertain.
But a run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, plus a comfortable season in the top-flight, are not expected to be enough to ensure the Spaniard’s future at Vicarage Road.
Neither team could really gain an early foothold in this contest, their attacking intent producing precious little end product.
Almen Abdi blasted over for Watford after nine minutes while Liverpool did not really worry Heurelho Gomes in the Watford goal.
Watford seemed keen to sit back and hit Liverpool on the counter-attack, relying on Odion Ighalo’s pace to outfox Lucas Leiva and Martin Skrtel in the home team’s defence.
But Watford spent large parts of the first half chasing shadows and the ball –- even if Liverpool rarely made them suffer.
This was an opportunity for Christian Benteke to get back into Klopp’s first-team thoughts after falling down the pecking order at Anfield, but the £32.5m signing looked off the pace in front of goal.
After half an hour, Ighalo and then Abdi caused some panic in the Liverpool penalty area but they could not twist the knife.
Instead, Liverpool did that 10 minutes before the break. Coutinho’s free-kick was nodded into Allen’s path by Benteke and the Welshman slid past Gomes to open the scoring.
Straight after the break, Coutinho should have made it 2-0 after Benteke delivered the perfect short pass eight yards out, but the midfielder somehow miscued it.
Soon afterwards, Mignolet preserved Liverpool’s clean sheet with a wonderful save that denied Ighalo from just six yards.
Ighalo manoeuvred past Moreno and only had to slot past Mignolet but the Liverpool goalkeeper somehow clawed his effort away in a stunning demonstration of his athleticism.
With 20 minutes to go, Watford became the more threatening side as Liverpool tensed up.
An Abdi free-kick flew over the crossbar and Steven Berghuis should have done better when unmarked on the edge of the box.
Liverpool then made Watford pay when Firmino thrashed a low effort at Gomes that slipped through the Brazilian’s hands and nestled into the bottom corner at the Kop end.
There seemed to be no way back for Watford and their body language showed that they knew it as well.
Liverpool duly collected the three points, but it is Europe that dominates their hearts and hopes at present.
– by AFP