Sarr Upstages Mane, But Liverpool Wear Watford Loss as Badge of Honor


Mid-December it was, and Liverpool had just beaten Watford 2-0 at home courtesy two classy Mohamed Salah goals, worsening the brave visitors’ chances of survival in the 2019/20 Premier League.

In the bowels of Anfield, with most of the other players departed or departing, two Senegalese, Sadio Mane and Ismaïla Sarr, met up for perhaps the first time since helping their country to a runner-up finish at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier in the year. We didn’t understand the words shared between them, but the appearance of Sarr’s Watford teammate and captain, Troy Deeney, offered us something in English.

“Take care of my boy, yeah,” Mane charged Deeney. “He’s a shy boy, shy boy.”

To which the Birmingham-born veteran responded: “He just needs to speak English, he’s working on it.”

Sarr has been playing in England since August, scoring on only his first league start, but he has even more to do in adjusting socially and culturally. Out on the pitch, though, the former Rennes man has made a statement devoid of any diffidence, in a manner that pierces right through Mane’s wildest dreams and into his worst nightmares.

Last Saturday, Watford welcomed a Liverpool side seeking to extend their remarkable run of straight league victories to a record-breaking 19. The hosts had more modest objectives, however, merely looking to avoid being sucked any deeper into the relegation quagmire: a draw, per their opponents run of form since the latter part of last season, seemed the most favorable outcome for Nigel Pearson’s team; yet the odds of even that happening wasn’t so high, with Manchester United the only team to have scraped as much as a point off Liverpool in said period, back in October 2019.

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In the end, though, Liverpool — and the remainder of the football world, just before making an endless string of jokes out of the Merseysiders — were stunned. Three goals from the Hornets, unanswered by Liverpool, stung and deflated the lofty ambitions of Jurgen Klopp’s charges. Sarr got the first two, with Deeney — his Mane-assigned ‘guide’ — being gifted the third. At the other end, Mane — the bigger Premier League star from Senegal — went without a shot or sniff at goal.

With that, the most sparkling record Liverpool — league champions already, surely — had in their sights fades, stopping at not many games short of Arsenal’s landmark of invincibility in Premier League history. Even with that milestone and a couple more shaved off the numbers Liverpool would have loved to garnish their incredible season with, there are still many within reach if the setback at Vicarage Road provokes the sort of reaction centre-back Virgil van Dijk rallies for.

“We want to strike back, we want to show what we’ve been doing the whole season,” the Dutchman said post-match. “That’s the only way forward.”

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Gleaning more positives, manager Klopp has talked about how, now no longer bearing the ‘unbeaten’ tag, his players would feel “unburdened” henceforth. Then, of course, there is the increased likelihood of Liverpool, should they and ‘closest’ challengers Manchester City win all their matches from now till their April 5 meeting, relishing the prospect of bagging the title at City’s Etihad Stadium (of all places).

For still another reason, Liverpool’s loss at Watford, though chastening, represents a gleaming badge of honor. For months, Liverpool have had to deal with detractors who dismiss their dominance of the Premier League this season as, at least in part, a consequence of the other top-flight sides just not being good enough — mentally or otherwise — when up against the European champions.

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It’s a claim that Watford have quashed quite emphatically and — while taking nothing away from the surprise victors — that’s to Liverpool’s credit, too. Klopp’s men, after all, have now been rendered quite vulnerable and beatable even in the context of a Premier League campaign they’ve absolutely bossed; if they’ve beaten everyone else, it’s only because they’ve been so much better on all the other days.

And, inspired by their fresh scars, they could yet resume their undisputed superiority. If not, and Liverpool continue to stumble on the rest of their nearly certain march to glory, even that would — though only ironically — validate their title-winning credentials some more.

NY Frimpong — Daily Mail GH

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