Memorable Match: Watford 3-3 Liverpool - Thriller opens 2017/18 season
Photo by Getty Images/Tony Marshall

Another era begins at Watford on Saturday. Their trip to face Liverpool, the juggernaut-like pace-setters of this Premier League season thus far, will see new head coach Nigel Pearson take his seat in the dugout for the first time since his appointment last weekend.

The predicament of the club which Pearson has joined is not to be envied. Bottom of the table and six points adrift of safety, the prospect of relegation is becoming more intense by the week. Sooner, rather than later, those elusive wins will need to come — though a trip to the champions elect will do little to help the cause.

Liverpool were also the opponents when Marco Silva began his reign at Vicarage Road in 2017. How different times were back then: the appointment of the Portuguese gave buoyancy to supporters depressed by the mediocrity of the season prior, and the effervescence of the club was reflected in a scintillating afternoon of football in Hertfordshire.

Even if the respective circumstances surrounding the fixtures bare no similarities, Pearson will be hoping for a result akin to that which his new side achieved some 28 months ago.

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Story of the game

The first chance of the encounter was Watford's. Possession was regained in the middle of the park and the Hornets quickly transitioned into a counter-attack, with Stefano Okaka threading a pass through to Roberto Pereyra who shimmied past Dejan Lovren and unleashed at goal, his shot deflected wide by a timely intervention from the Croatian defender.

And the opener would come from the resultant corner. The delivery from José Holebas was inch-perfect to meet the head of Okaka, whose power was such that it evaded Simon Mignolet's grasp despite the Belgian's best efforts to make the save. First blood to Watford, and a more than pleasant start to life under Silva.

Resilient, they held their own for the next 20 minutes, but the home defence was eventually undone by sheer individual mastery. Sadio Mané instigated a passing triangle on the edge of the box and was eventually fed into a goalscoring position by Emre Can. One-on-one, the clinical Senegalese forward was never going to miss.

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But it didn't take long for the hosts to restore their lead. Abdoulaye Doucouré picked up loose possession just outside the area and supplied Nordin Amrabat in acres of space on the right. The Moroccan drilled a cross into the six-yard box and it ricocheted kindly into the path of Doucouré to side-foot into the net.

The Reds had a golden opportunity to bring themselves level once more when Mohamed Salah — making his debut in English football — robbed possession from Holebas and drove towards goal, but the forward blazed his shot over the bar.

On the front foot, they began the second half as they had concluded the first, and were soon to be rewarded for their exertions. Salah continued to terrorise the Watford defence when he chased down a pass from Roberto Firmino and found himself felled by Heurelho Gomes. Firmino stepped up to take the spot-kick and duly dispatched, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way to even the scores.

Just two minutes later the visitors found themselves in the lead. Firmino latched onto a lobbed pass from Joël Matip and expertly chipped the onrushing Gomes, but it would not go down as a goal for the former as Salah rushed in at the back post to prod home. It was the first of many Premier League goals for the Egyptian.

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Not intent on stopping there, Liverpool persevered in their pressure. Alberto Moreno used grit and determination to bulldoze his way through Kiko Femenía and unleash at goal, but it was saved well. Matip then hit the bar after connecting with a sumptuous corner from Trent Alexander-Arnold, and his centre-back partner Lovren forced an impressive save from Gomes moments later.

There were chances too for Salah, hungry to increase his goal tally having got off the mark so early in his Liverpool career. Little did he and his teammates know what a price profligacy would pay.

In the third minute of stoppage time, Holebas whipped a corner into the box. The ball bounced awkwardly but was eventually controlled by Richarlison, who poked goalwards. Somehow it dodged the flailing arms of Mignolet and fell for Miguel Britos, lurking on the goal-line, to head into the empty net.

Vicarage Road erupted. A point had been secured, and it had been done the enjoyable way. The beginning to Silva's reign may not have been perfect as far as the scoreline was concerned but, as afternoons of football go, the home faithful — and to an extent their visitors, too — could hardly complain. 

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What happened next?

This was the first of four unbeaten matches for Watford to kick off 2017/18, and their early form would see them rise into the European places by the arrival of the first international break.

However, their fortunes would not last — an abject run of form during the festive period would eventually see Silva sacked as the threat of relegation grew, but Javi Gracia was appointed and managed to steady the ship and secure the club's survival for another year.

Meanwhile, the campaign saw Liverpool reassert their status as global powerhouses. Fuelled by the firepower of Mané, Salah and Firmino, they secured European qualification for another year and came close to winning the Champions League title, falling to the merciless Real Madrid at the final hurdle.

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