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Bruising hitmen Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney suffocated Liverpool's slipshod defence as Watford prevailed 3-0 at Vicarage Road for a fourth-successive Premier League victory.
Adam Bogdan endured a nightmare league debut for Liverpool, never able to settle after gifting Nathan Ake Watford's early opening goal.
Ighalo's brace pushed his tally to 12 goals in 17 appearances this term, partner Deeney claiming a hand in both strikes as Watford beat Liverpool at home for the first time since 1986.
Quique Sanchez Flores' flourishing 4-4-2 leaves Watford just one point shy of the top four. Claudio Ranieri's Leicester sit top of the table at Christmas thanks to the very same and humblest of old school English tactics.
Liverpool slipped to four games without a win, paying the price for starting without a recognised striker despite boasting Divock Origi and Christian Benteke on the bench.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has a sizeable job on his hands to resolve Liverpool's extensive defensive shortcomings, with the Anfield men languishing in mid-table.
Hungary stopper Bogdan was drafted in at the expense of Simon Mignolet, who Liverpool said had a tight hamstring.
Former Sunderland keeper Mignolet had suffered a miserable outing in Liverpool's 2-2 draw at West Brom last week however, failing to punch clear a corner leading to Craig Dawson's goal.
Klopp defended Mignolet and Liverpool over set-piece shortcomings in the build-up to Sunday's Watford clash, only for the Reds to succumb to further corner calamity.
Left-back Ake picked Bogdan's pocket to prod home the opener, when the Reds keeper should have completed a regulation near-post claim.
Watford doubled the dividend when Deeney and Ighalo flexed their strong-arm partnership once more.
Deeney dropped deep to collect a direct ball, turned and fired another arrowed pass through the inside-right channel.
Ighalo scampered off in pursuit of Martin Skrtel, who ought to have won the footrace, but instead was shouldered out of the equation.
Once Ighalo wrestled into position both Bogdan and Liverpool were in trouble again; the in-form Nigeria striker picked his spot and rolled the ball into the far corner.
Deeney caused yet more mayhem with a smartly flicked cross right into the danger zone. Bodgan elected for a punch from chest height - and only succeeded in smashing the ball into Lucas' face.
For once Skrtel stayed calm in the melee, biding his time before hacking clear.
That was as good as his afternoon got though, the 31-year-old hobbling off with a hamstring injury before half-time.
Klopp used the defender's injury to throw on Origi and hand Liverpool a recognised striker for the first time on the afternoon.
This was full acceptance from the German boss that employing Roberto Firmino as a false number nine had proved entirely fruitless.
Origi added something approaching bite to Liverpool's attack, but still the hosts controlled the tie.
Ighalo should have killed off the game after Sakho's unenforced slip, but could not beat Bogdan. The powerhouse striker made amends at the death however, nodding home to wrap up a fine victory.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) - "We've all had nightmare games but this must be at the top of Sakho's list!!!
Heurelho Gomes: 7/10 (Out of 10)
Allan Nyom: 7
Miguel Britos: 7
Jose Manuel Jurado: 7
Troy Deeney: 8
Craig Cathcart: 7
Nathan Ake: 7
Almen Abdi: 7
Ben Watson: 6
Odion Ighalo: 8
Etienne Capoue: 7
Valon Behrami: 7
Adlene Guedioura: 6
Ikechi Anya: 6
Adam Bogdan: 4
Nathaniel Clyne: 5
Martin Skrtel: 5
Alberto Moreno: 5
Mamadou Sakho: 6
Jordan Henderson: 6
Emre Can: 5
Adam Lallana: 5
Philippe Coutinho: 6
Roberto Firmino: 6
Jordan Ibe: 5
Divock Origi: 6
Christian Benteke: 5
Odion Ighalo. The in-form striker had another impressive performance, troubling the Liverpool defence from the start. He opened the scoring in the 14th minute, latching onto a good through-ball from strike-partner Troy Deeney before showing good strength to hold off Martin Skrtel and then driving his shot into the far bottom corner of the net. The 26-year-old Nigerian continued to cause problems before sealing Watford's fourth successive Premier League victory - the first time they have achieved the feat in the top flight since 1987 - with a thumping close-range header late on.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Watford came out fired up - their fans put on a pre-match display of thanks to the Pozzo family for their continued ownership of the club - but in truth they did not need to do anything to get going. Adam Bogdan dropped the first corner, Nathan Ake put it in and that was that.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
Jurgen Klopp was forced into starting Bogdan with Mignolet injured but his decision to go without a striker was a baffling one. Only when Skrtel went off injured did he bring one on, but the damage was done by then. For Watford boss Flores, nothing is going wrong at the moment. His 4-4-2 is working a dream and he is making the most of the pace and power of his strikers.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
You could throw a blanket over the entire Liverpool team but in truth, their defensive performance was a shocker. From the moment Bogdan dropped the opening corner at Ake's feet to to Ighalo's second it was a tale of woe.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Chelsea v Watford (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, December 26)
Liverpool v Leicester (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, December 26)
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