Nathan Ake’s first and only trip to Anfield was certainly a memorable one. It came in April 2014 and the young defender witnessed first-hand one of the most dramatic moments in Premier League history.
The Dutchman was on the substitutes’ bench as Chelsea took on Liverpool in a game which had great bearing on that season’s title race. The Reds were leading the pack and closing in on a first top flight title since 1990. The Blues were there to spoil the party.
What unfolded was pure theatre. Seconds before half time, with the game level, Mamadou Sahko passed the ball infield to Steven Gerrard. There was no danger, until Liverpool’s captain slipped. We all know what happened next. Demba Ba raced onto the ball and scored. Willian would add a second in the dying moments of the game. Liverpool would go on to miss out on the title to Manchester City.
“I remember that day there was an amazing atmosphere because they were close to the title,” Ake told us this week. “Everyone knew what was on the line for Liverpool but we felt we could win. We played really well and it was a good game to watch. Afterwards everybody was really happy in the dressing room. It was a great experience.”
Ake has come a long way since. He has become much more than a player who is happy to simply have a great view from the substitutes’ bench. During his loan spell with Watford this season he has proven he is Premier League class for a side who should finish in the top half of the table and one who were pushing for a European place at Christmas. He’s fought off competition from Jose Holebas to be the first-choice No 3, even though sound judges like Paul Robinson believe it isn’t even his best position.
Ake is a big favourite of the head coach but he was left on the bench for the last home game and out altogether for the one before that.
“Of course I want to play,” he said. “The last couple of games have been difficult for us but we are all looking forward to playing at Anfield. People will say Liverpool might be tired because of playing in the Europa League on Thursday but I think they are used to it now. I don’t think it will make a difference. We just have to be on our game and be 100 per cent ready. We have to try and repeat what we did when we played them at home.”
That seems an almost impossible task for the Hornets, but then they said that about Graham Taylor’s side when they headed to the red half of Merseyside in 1999. Watford were also the underdogs when Jurgen Klopp’s side visited Vicarage Road five days before last Christmas, yet Sanchez Flores’ side ran out 3-0 winners in their best performance of the season. It could’ve been more. They seized the all-important momentum thanks to Ake’s first senior goal after three minutes and never relinquished it.
“I think it was our best performance,” Ake said. “From the first minute we were on them. We didn’t give them any time on the ball and they couldn’t get forward. They couldn’t play. We obviously got the early goal and then another through Odion. After that we were in control of the match and never looked like losing. It was certainly one of, if not the, best games of the season. But we know it is going to be very different this weekend. That match was a long time ago and a lot of things have changed.
“I must admit we’ve had some ups and downs since then. There have been good games but also very bad games. We’re not naive, we know that. Whenever we lose we just have to look at our mistakes and improve and develop. We have done that as a team over the course of the season, I think. It is important we start well at Anfield and try and quiet the crowd. They are so important for the team.”