Watford caused a monumental upset after becoming the first team to beat Liverpool in the Premier League this season with Ismaila Sarr's second-half double helping to condemn the league leaders to a stunning 3-0 loss at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
Sarr nipped in to break the deadlock after 54 minutes, before then racing through to double the Hornets' lead six minutes later.
With 18 minutes left to play, Watford captain Troy Deeney rounded off an incredible 18-minute spell by taking advantage of yet more sluggish defending from the visitors to add a third.
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Nigel Pearson's side move out of the relegation zone thanks to a first league win since January 12, while Liverpool remain 22 points ahead of Manchester City, albeit having now played a game more than the champions, after seeing their 44-game unbeaten league run come to an end in spectacular style.
Watford: Foster (7), Femenia (7), Masina (7), Cathcart (8), Kabasele (7), Hughes (8), Capoue (7), Doucoure (8), Sarr (9), Deulofeu (8), Deeney (8)
Subs: Chalobah (6), Pussetto (6), Pereyra (7)
Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (6), Robertson (6), Lovren (4), Van Dijk (6), Fabinho (6), Wijnaldum (6), Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Mane (6), Salah (6), Firmino (6)
Subs: Minamino (6), Lallana (6), Origi (6)
Man of the match: Ismaila Sarr
How Watford stunned Liverpool
Liverpool arrived in Hertfordshire needing just four more wins to claim a first top-flight title in 30 years, not that you would have known it from the opening 45 minutes.
The visitors produced a strangely laboured and disjointed display before the break as Watford - who started the match a massive 55 points behind the league leaders - harried them into distraction.
The end of Liverpool's record-breaking runs
Liverpool lost in the league for the first time since going down 2-1 at Man City in Jan 2019, 44 matches ago
Liverpool’s 0-3 loss was the biggest margin of defeat for a side starting the day top of the Premier League since November 2015 (Man City 1-4 Liverpool)
Liverpool failed to score in a Premier League game for the first time since March 2019 (0-0 v Everton), ending a run of scoring in 36 consecutive league games
Liverpool have fallen behind in both of their last two league games, having not trailed in any of the previous 15 before this
Liverpool have conceded 2+ goals in consecutive Premier League games for the first time since December 2016 conceding as many goals in their last two league games (5) as they had in their previous 14
Liverpool had just one shot on target in a Premier League game for the first time since February 2019 in a goalless draw against Manchester United (1)
The returning Dejan Lovren - in for injured centre-back Joe Gomez for his first league start since December 7 - in particular looked rusty at the heart of the back-line in the first half, with Watford unfortunate not to be ahead at half-time.
Gerard Deulofeu curled one early effort inches over the bar, while minutes later Abdoulaye Doucoure had his close-range effort crucially blocked by Virgil van Dijk as the home team looked to get after their opponents.
It was Deulofeu who was causing Liverpool's defence most problems, that is until the Spanish forward came off worse after a clash with Van Dijk just past the half-hour mark that resulted in the influential player being stretchered off.
Watford came desperately close to taking the lead in first-half stoppage time after a scramble in the box saw Alisson spill the ball straight at the feet of Deeney, only for the Brazilian to make amends by reacting smartly to then block the striker's close-range effort.
Those first-half misses were not to matter, however, as Watford continued their dominance after the interval, deservedly opening the scoring nine minutes into the second half.
Lovren allowed a long throw to bounce in the box without realising Doucoure was behind him, with the midfielder then squaring for Sarr to convert from close range and the forward soon had a second.
Watford made two changes from the 3-0 loss at Man Utd last weekend, with Ismaila Sarr and Kiko Femenia starting in place of the benched Craig Dawson and Roberto Pereyra.
Meanwhile, Liverpool also made two alterations from the side that beat West Ham 3-2 on Monday, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in for the injured Naby Keita (hip) in midfield, while Dejan Lovren replaced the injured Joe Gomez at the back.
Again there will be question marks over the Liverpool defence as Sarr latched on to Deeney's pass and raced clean through on goal, before keeping his cool to dink the ball over the advancing Alisson.
Liverpool drop their 1st @premierleague points in 1️⃣3️⃣2️⃣ days, since 1-1 at Man Utd, Oct 20— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) February 29, 2020
Their 1st defeat in 4️⃣5️⃣ PL games - ending the 2nd longest ever top-division unbeaten run
First time they've failed to score in 3️⃣7️⃣ PL games, since at Everton, Mar 2019 pic.twitter.com/vQ6VoIWDAx
It was fitting that it was Deeney who added the icing on the cake after 72 minutes as Sarr intercepted Trent Alexander-Arnold's back pass, before squaring for his skipper to chip the ball into the unguarded net.
More stats - Watford, Sarr, Pearson
- Watford are the first side to beat Liverpool in the Premier League since Manchester City in January 2019, ending the joint-longest winning streak (18) and the second longest unbeaten run (44) in English top-flight history
- Watford's victory over Liverpool today was the biggest over a side starting the day top of the top-flight table by a team in the relegation zone since Leicester beat Manchester United 3-0 on November 23rd 1985
- Watford secured their first top-flight victory against a side starting the day top of the table since the final day of the 1982-83 season, also beating Liverpool that day (2-1)
- Watford's Ismaila Sarr is the first player to score a Premier League brace against Liverpool since Marcus Rashford did so for Manchester United in March 2018.
- Watford boss Nigel Pearson is the first English manager to win a Premier League game against Liverpool since Sam Allardyce did so with Crystal Palace in April 2017.
Man of the Match - Ismaila Sarr
The forward struggled initially to make an impact after joining Watford from Rennes in a club-record deal last summer, that is until Pearson took over at Vicarage Road.
The new manager appears to have instilled Sarr with a new belief and confidence, as was seen with his dynamic performance against Liverpool on Saturday night.
The Senegal international firstly showed his nose for a goal after poaching the hosts' crucial opener early in the second half, before then showing great pace and a cool head to net his second minutes later.
And the 22-year-old then completed an outstanding evening's work by laying Watford's third goal on a plate for Deeney.
🥇Ismaila Sarr - Man of the Match— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) February 29, 2020
6️⃣ Shots (just 1 fewer than Liverpool team)
1st @WatfordFC player to score twice v Liverpool since Odion Ighalo, Dec 2015
Watford's joint biggest ever win v Liverpool - also won 3-0 in PL at home, Dec 2015 pic.twitter.com/IRmavoWSFL
What the managers said...
Nigel Pearson: "In the context of our season, it's a really important three points. We knew that we'd have to be at our best today and I think we were. Especially after last week (during 3-0 defeat to Manchester United) where we struggled to find any cohesion last week. So, today to bounce back in the way we have, I think is fantastic for us. To beat possibly the best club side in the world at the moment - well, not possibly, they are, is testament to how we played. So, it's very satisfying.
""It's just one game. We've got 10 games left and they are all going to be important. We've got to try and emulate what we've done today in terms of performance. But, I'm really proud of the players and they should be proud of how they've coped with a difficult situation. We've had a few weeks where we've not played, or the results aren't what we want."
Jurgen Klopp: "We were not good enough, simple as that," he told Sky Sports. "Watford did exactly what they wanted to do, we didn't do exactly what we should have done.
"First half was a lot of running, a lot of second balls, a lot of open situations, but we had more of the ball, but didn't cross at the right moment, didn't pass at the right moment because the positioning was not like it should have been.
"We changed at half-time and we started immediately better, but then we conceded a goal, so before we could get the benefit of the better start we conceded a goal from a throw-in.
"One-nil is not decisive if you react well, but then we conceded a second one. It's still not decisive, but then a third one, which we helped and had a big hand in. It was exactly the game, a lot of moments which Watford wanted. Congratulations. Really well done and well deserved. We have to accept it.
"The game was not clicking right today. It's like you could write a book and constantly talk, but it's not easy to reach the boys in these moments."
Pundit view - Jamie Redknapp
Former Liverpool captain Jamie Redknapp gave his view on Watford's shock 3-0 win over Liverpool.
"There were uncharacteristic mistakes out there from Liverpool," said the Sky Sports pundit. "Virgil van Dijk would normally do better for the first goal, and I think Watford had a game plan to make it really difficult for that back line.
"You do get off days, but Liverpool haven't had many - to be beaten so convincingly by Watford is a surprise but it's now about wrapping up the league as quickly as possible and forgetting about this one.
""They [Watford] were magnificent. To lose Deulofeu after 20 minutes after he looked their biggest threat. They kept going and showed no fear. They were aggressive and on the front foot from the off. This Watford team weren't scared. They were brilliant."
'Not acceptable that we lose 3-0'
Virgil van Dijk gave Watford credit for the shock win - but admitted the result was "not acceptable" for Liverpool.
"First of all, credit to Watford," Van Dijk told Sky Sports. "They deserved it with the chances they created. They stuck to their plan. They scored three goals and I don't think we created too many chances. We want to look to ourselves and we have to improve again. It is a tough one to take.
"The last game was one set piece and one good goal. Today, we should be better. If you look at the whole season, we have been good defensively. I think we have the most clean sheets in the league. The good thing about our mentality is that we will work to improve. It is not acceptable that we lose here 3-0.
"Losing hurts. The records are for the media. We never mentioned it. We want to keep going and win the next game ahead of us and that is in the FA Cup and then we have Bournemouth at home. We want to strike back and show what we have been doing all season. That is the only way forward."
Watford face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in the league a week on Saturday (3pm).
Meanwhile, Liverpool take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup fifth round on Tuesday night, before then hosting struggling Bournemouth at Anfield next Saturday lunch time.
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