BAPTISM OF FIRE Ranieri faces Klopp’s army

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WATFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool shoots as Miguel Britos of Watford attempts to block during the Premier League match between Watford and Liverpool at Vicarage Road on August 12, 2017 in Watford, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Claudio Ranieri mash fire in his first game back in the Premier League, with his Watford side to host a rampant Liverpool to Vicarage Road at lunchtime today.

The Hornets lost 1-0 to Leeds United during Xisco Munoz’s last game in charge, while Jurgen Klopp’s men played out a thrilling 2-2 draw with Manchester City.

After Watford’s trigger-happy board relieved Xisco of his duties – a decision that received mixed responses given their respectable start to life back in the big time – the Hornets wasted no time in bringing back revered title-winner Ranieri following the end of his Sampdoria spell.

The former Leicester City, Chelsea and Fulham coach has immediately brought a charismatic energy back to the Premier League – vowing to take his side out for dinner should they keep a clean sheet this weekend – but the Hornets’ most recent battle on the pitch did not go according to plan.

Having taken four points from fixtures with Norwich City and Newcastle United, Watford’s last game under Xisco ended in a 1-0 defeat to Leeds, with Diego Llorente scoring the game’s only goal 18 minutes in to swiftly halt the Hornets’ momentum.

Ranieri takes the reins with Watford lying 15th in the table with seven points taken from a possible 21, and there is a comfortable four-point gap separating them from the relegation zone at this early stage.

While the promise of dinner on Ranieri could provide an added incentive for Watford to make the new manager bounce count, the Hornets have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 17 Premier League games, and that streak is unlikely to end against one of the most potent attackers in world football.

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Refusing to let the constant speculation surrounding his contract situation affect him, Mohamed Salah continues to stake his claim as one of the best in the world with the pick of the bunch in a pulsating draw with Man City just before the international break.

After laying the ball on a plate for Sadio Mane to draw first blood, Salah weaved his way through a sea of blue shirts before smashing home past Ederson in front of the Anfield faithful, but strikes from Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne ensured that Liverpool would have to settle for a point.

The Reds could not hold their position atop the rankings following that terrific watch for the neutrals and have now dropped to second place – one point adrift of leaders Chelsea – but they remain the only team in the division yet to suffer defeat this term.

Klopp must also factor in next week’s Champions League battle with Atletico Madrid as he prepares to navigate another unrelenting fixture schedule, but his side are now unbeaten in 19 competitive fixtures across all tournaments and have scored three goals in each of their last four Premier League games away from home.

However, the Reds will need no reminding how an Ismaila Sarr inspired Watford stormed to a 3-0 success in February 2020 to end their 18-game winning run, and with Ranieri boasting four wins from five home league games against Liverpool, the Vicarage Road faithful have every right to dream of a memorable start to the Italian’s reign.

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