Soccer

Watford ends Liverpool's unbeaten run in Premier League

AP

Arsenal’s class of 2003-04 can breathe easy: Liverpool will not be joining them as Premier League “Invincibles.”

“Phew…” was the immediate reaction from Arsenal’s Twitter account after Liverpool collapsed to its first league loss of the season on Saturday, a 3-0 defeat at Watford — a team languishing in the relegation zone.

It marked the end of a 44-match undefeated streak and a record-tying 18-match winning run for Liverpool in the league.

Juergen Klopp’s team headed to Vicarage Road as the champion-in-waiting — with its record 22-point lead — and needing to get through 11 more matches to become only the second side after Arsenal to complete a full season unbeaten since the start of the Premier League in 1992. Preston also went through the 1888-89 season undefeated.

Liverpool was five games short of equaling Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten streak in the Premier League from May 2003 to October 2004. That run ended when Arsenal lost 2-0 at Manchester United.

Few could have foreseen the manner of Liverpool’s meltdown against Watford, which scored all of its goals in the second half through Ismaila Sarr (two) and Troy Deeney.

Thankfully for Liverpool fans desperate to see their team back on top of English soccer for the first time in 30 years, the loss is far from terminal.

Four wins from their last 10 games will see the Reds become champions for the 19th time.

“There is no reason for panic,” Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said.

“The (unbeaten) record, and the talk of the records, is all media. We just try to win every game ahead of us.”

The performance will be a major concern, though, coming soon after a 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in the first leg in the Champions League’s last 16.

Indeed, Liverpool’s players have been far below their usual high standards since returning from the Premier League’s first midseason break, having edged past last-place Norwich 1-0 and coming from behind to for a 3-2 win over West Ham, another team fighting relegation, on Monday. The loss to Atletico was sandwiched between those league matches.

The absence of captain Jordan Henderson, who sustained a hamstring injury against Atletico, has been significant, while the defense looked ragged against Watford with Dejan Lovren filling in at center back for Joe Gomez.

Liverpool’s next game is at Chelsea in the F.A. Cup on Tuesday.

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

Elsewhere around the league, Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso made it three goals in two games since returning to the lineup after a two-month absence when he scored twice — including an 85th-minute equalizer — in a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth.

“Marcos Alonso has had a big week,” Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said, “but I don’t want my left back top of the scoring charts. I want our attackers scoring goals and they haven’t.”

The 72-year Roy Hodgson is poised for talks with the Crystal Palace board about a contract extension next week, and can go into them feeling fairly content about another solid season’s work in the wake of a 1-0 win at Brighton.

“If they go well,” Hodgson said about upcoming games against relegation candidates Watford and Bournemouth, “we can kiss relegation goodbye.”

West Ham made a bid for survival with a 3-1 win over Southampton, while clear-cut chances were at a premium at St. James’ Park, where the match between Newcastle and Burnley finished 0-0.

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