There will be a sense of deja vu for Liverpool when they travel to Vicarage Road on Saturday to face newly-promoted Watford.
Jurgen Klopp’s side last visited Watford in the middle of a record breaking season where they had won 26 of their opening 27 games, only dropping points in a 1-1 draw at Manchester United.
The Reds were romping to the title and looked on course to complete the first ‘invincible’ season since Arsenal managed to do so in 2003-04. That was until they came across Ismaila Sarr and a Watford side who were languishing in the relegation zone.
Ismaila Sarr faces Liverpool for the first time since he ended their invincible dreams in 2020
Liverpool had gone the first 27 league games unbeaten in 2019-20 before a 3-0 loss to Watford
Many expected the Reds to continue their crusade and march to victory but were left stunned as Sarr delivered a career break-out performance, scoring two goals and assisting another to dish out Liverpool’s first Premier League loss in 13 months.
Unsurprisingly, his performance in Watford’s 3-0 victory alerted Liverpool who considered signing the Senegal winger to provide desperately needed cover for Mo Salah and his good friend Sadio Mane.
Instead, they went for Diogo Jota, with Sarr left to face a season in the Championship following Watford’s relegation.
Nearly 18 months on, although early in the season, Liverpool are again unbeaten this season and return to the scene of their disappointing defeat, against Watford who have a new manager this weekend in the form of Claudio Ranieri.
Liverpool will be wary of Sarr who has made an explosive start to the season with four goals in seven games and will be eager for a repeat of his performance from February 29 last year.
Sadio Mane asked Troy Deeney to look after Sarr after Liverpool beat Watford in December 2019
The next time the sides played, Sarr scored two goals and provided an assist in their victory
Sarr’s second goal that day was a lovely chip over Alisson after running in behind Virgil van Dijk
The 23-year-old joined Watford for a club record £31million in the summer of 2019 but took some time to get going, as he was mainly used as a substitute in the opening weeks of his first season.
By the time the Hornets faced Liverpool in December 2019, Sarr had plenty of reasons to feel sorry for himself after he was beset by injury problems following his arrival, with Watford bottom of the table having won just one game so far that season.
Despite a valiant display, the Hornets suffered another defeat with the Liverpool juggernaut continuing to walk through the league with a 2-0 victory thanks to a Salah brace.
Sarr had spurned a golden opportunity to record his second Premier League goal that season during the game, embarrassingly missing the ball when it fell to him unmarked in front of the Kop with the score level.
The Watford bus was just about to leave Anfield but Sadio Mane had a message for Troy Deeney about his Senegal team-mate which was captured on camera.
‘Take care of my boy,’ the Liverpool forward urged. ‘He’s a shy boy, shy boy.’ Standing awkwardly in the background with his hands in his pockets and peering down at the floor, Sarr looked exactly that.
‘He just needs to speak English, he’s working on it,’ came the reply from the then Watford captain. ‘He’s a good boy.’
A month on, Mane’s advice to Deeney seemed to have paid off as the Hornets went on a good run taking four wins in six games. Sarr scored in victories over Manchester United and Aston Villa, before providing assists against Wolves and Bournemouth.
The Hornets went on another bad run in which they failed to win five games before Liverpool arrived at Vicarage Road in a match which many expected to be a walkover for the impressive visitors.
It didn’t work out that way and after the game it seemed like Mane’s advice to Deeney was perhaps too good, as Sarr ran rampant against the Reds. Liverpool had gone 13 months of not knowing how to lose but appeared vulnerable and had no answer as Sarr and Deeney bullied Liverpool’s defence.
For the first goal, Abdoulaye Doucoure beat Virgil van Dijk to the ball before playing it back for Sarr who nipped in front of Andy Robertson to tap home. The second saw him latch onto a Deeney pass, with Sarr running in behind Van Dijk before coolly chipping Alisson to double the lead with a classy finish.
Liverpool were rocked and things got worse when a poor back-pass by Trent Alexander Arnold found Sarr who cut the ball back for Deeney to place the ball into the top corner.
Sarr and then Watford team-mate Troy Deeney bullied Liverpool’s defence at Vicarage Road
It was the shock result of the season and it was a result that damaged the Reds going forward. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter too much as Liverpool went on to secure their first league title in 30 years.
But they no longer looked unbeatable as they went from the defeat at Watford to a Champions League exit with a rare home loss against Atletico Madrid. After the first lockdown, Liverpool would face further defeats by Manchester City and Arsenal before the end of the season.
For Watford it wasn’t enough as they lost six of their last eight games which led to their relegation down to the Championship.
Liverpool had been interested in snapping up Sarr, after previously signing Andy Robertson and Gini Wijnaldum from relegated teams to much success. It looked a natural move but Watford were in a position of enough financial strength to demand £40m or higher for the Senegal winger, a price at which Liverpool baulked.
Instead, they went for Jota for an almost identical fee but only had to fork out £5m immediately, the rest paid out in installments.
Sarr has made an excellent start to the season with just three players scoring more goals
Liverpool will have no regrets over the signing of Jota who scored 13 goals in 30 appearances last season and so far appears to have overtaken Roberto Firmino in the pecking order this campaign.
The links of Sarr to Liverpool don’t go away with the Reds still needing extra cover for their front line. Salah, Mane and Firmino will all be in their 30s next year and all see their current contracts expire in 2023.
In the Championship, Sarr managed to chip in with 13 goals and 10 assists, which amounted to an involvement in more than a third of his side’s league goals.
He has continued that form into the new season with four goals in the first seven games, showing the jump he has made after a year out of the Premier League.
The game will see Claudio Ranieri take to the dugout for the first time since his appointment
His current performances will likely lead to interest from teams like Liverpool next summer, with many seeing Sarr as a potential future replacement for a player the Watford star considers as his ‘older brother’ in Mane.
Sarr has the same amount of goals as Mane so far this season, with only Mo Salah, Jamie Vardy and Michail Antonio finding the back of the net more.
On Saturday, Sarr plays Liverpool for the first since that memorable day in February last year and will be looking to haunt the Reds once again. He will look to expose a weakened Liverpool side who will likely be without goalkeeper Alisson due to his involvement with Brazil.
It will be a chance for the winger to perhaps prove Liverpool they were wrong for backing out on a transfer and he will be a man the Reds need to stop if they are to put to bed the memories of their agonising defeat the last time they faced Watford.