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Claudio Ranieri faces uphill battle in keeping Watford in Premier League with daunting run ahead

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Watford were lucky to escape a sounder hiding by Liverpool and offered none of the courage often associated with a Claudio Ranieri side – the newly-appointed manager knows he has a big task to overhaul things

  • Ranieri replaced Xisco Munoz in charge of Watford in the international break
  • Italian endured nightmare debut as Watford were thrashed 5-0 by Liverpool
  • Defeat leaves Hornets 16th in the table, four points clear of the relegation zone
  • Ranieri faces a daunting run of games coming up over the next six weeks 


Jurgen Klopp doffed his cap respectfully to Claudio Ranieri and their pre-match embrace said ‘welcome back’ but the five-goal demolition left the 69-year-old Italian exposed to easy punchlines.

Dilly ding, dilly dong, you say? Alarm bells already for Ranieri? Sacked in the morning? Time for another change, perhaps, at the club where the manager’s revolving door spins like no other.

‘Defeat is always difficult,’ said the Italian as he lamented a ‘very nervous’ start and the inability of his Watford team to ‘face-to-face’ with Liverpool from outset. ‘Some of the goals were presents,’ he added ruefully.

Claudio Ranieri made his return to the Premier League with Watford on Saturday

Claudio Ranieri made his return to the Premier League with Watford on Saturday

The Italian's spell at Vicarage Road got off to a dismal start following a 5-0 defeat by Liverpool

The Italian’s spell at Vicarage Road got off to a dismal start following a 5-0 defeat by Liverpool

With his 50 years of footballing experience, Ranieri will back himself to crack the puzzle. He will settle into a system, injured players will return, and yet he is two months from a transfer window with a daunting schedule on the horizon.

Watford’s next seven games, however, are against Everton, Southampton, Arsenal, Manchester United, Leicester, Chelsea and Manchester City and the board at Vicarage Road is not famed for their patience.

Ranieri stood sentry on the sodden strip of artificial turf in front of his dug-out, taking it all in, tinkering with formations and making substitutions.

His team suffered one of those maddening offside decisions for the third goal but were never in the contest. They were lucky to escape a sounder hiding and offered none of the courage often associated with Ranieri’s teams.

He knows the score. When asked ahead of the match if he might be tempted to revive the policy used at Leicester and treat his players to pizza when they won, Ranieri wryly observed they deserved much more than a pizza were they to beat Liverpool.

Ranieri and Watford face a daunting run of games coming up over the next six weeks

Ranieri and Watford face a daunting run of games coming up over the next six weeks

Danny Rose (right) and the Watford defence endured a torrid afternoon against Liverpool

Danny Rose (right) and the Watford defence endured a torrid afternoon against Liverpool

In the end, Watford looked more like a dog’s dinner. With only one session to train with his squad, he stuck with the back-three system often deployed under his predecessor Xisco Munoz.

This plan was scrapped after 45 minutes at 2-0 down. Midway through the first half and Liverpool were touching 90 per cent ball possession. Ranieri reverted to a back-four, on went Tom Cleverley and the reshuffle relieved Danny Rose of the terrible trouble he seemed to have coping as one of the three central defenders.

Watford’s head coach changed coats during the interval, discarding the club-issue black padded overcoat he pulled on to beat the pre-match downpour in favour of a more sartorial navy blue woollen jacket.

Jurgen Klopp welcomed Ranieri back to the Premier League but his side were ruthless

Jurgen Klopp welcomed Ranieri back to the Premier League but his side were ruthless

It added an air of distinction but his team remained an eyesore, no better protected in the second half than in the first. Liverpool soon doubled their lead to prompt another flurry of changes from Ranieri.

More important were the changes by Klopp as the visitors eased down through the gears and Watford belatedly got the ball. Juraj Kucka mustered a shot at goal. It was easily saved and drew a sarcastic cheer from the home crowd.

‘We will improve,’ Ranieri promised. ‘The first match for a new manager against one of the best teams in the world is not easy but I know now much better my players. The truth is on the pitch when you play the big teams.’

Roberto Firmino scored a hat-trick as Liverpool overtook Chelsea at the top of the table

Roberto Firmino scored a hat-trick as Liverpool overtook Chelsea at the top of the table

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