Watford made a massive impact in their return to the top tier of English football during previous Premier League campaign. Pozzo family, the Hornet’s Italian owners, spend a good amount of money to reconstruct their squad in order to avoid a relegation scare and fight for an upright finish in their first Premier League campaign since 2006-07.
Despite spending the majority of 2015-16 in the top half of the league table, their promising display remained largely unnoticed due to Leicester’s miraculous league triumph. Quique Sanchez Flores, who had previous experience of managing top sides like Valencia, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, was appointed as their new boss and started the campaign brightly with a few commendable victories against stronger opponents. However, he was not retained in spite of leading the side to a mid-table finish and the semifinals of the FA Cup as the owners were expecting a better outcome and appointed Walter Mazzarri to guide them a finish in top half of the league as well as keep pushing for a place in Europe.
Mazzarri rose to fame with Napoli after successfully implementing a 3-4-3 formation that earned his side Coppa Italia 2011-12 defeating Serie A winners Juventus who tasted their only domestic defeat of that campaign and won the first title in over twenty years. He made them Serie A runners-up in the 2012-13 campaign and left the job after handing Partenopei Gli Azzurri their best ever league finish in over twenty years’ time.
His spell with Inter Milan was not a long-lasting one. Although he got the sack following a series of disappointing outcomes, the decision is still believed to be a controversial one as Internazionale were only five points off third place.
But the Italian is now back in management, this time in Premier League, out of his comfort zone. Watford made a number of big moves and acquired the services of the likes of young Nigerian attacker Isaac Success, Roberto Pereyra from Juventus and experienced Premier League stars Younes Kaboul and Daryl Janmaat. He has experimented a 3-4-3 with the Hornets as well, which worked at times. But the question still remains whether they have upgraded themselves from the previous campaign.
Prior to their recent loss against Sunderland, the Hornets were 11th with 21 points, 4 points lower than the last campaign when they were 7th in the league table at the same stage of the season. They grabbed victories over Manchester United, Everton, West Ham United and Leicester City but have been largely inconsistent otherwise.
Watford were vastly dependent on Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney last term, but the striker duo are largely out of form and have been shadows of their former selves. However, Mazzarri has been successful to build up a team where the likes of Roberto Pereyra, Jose Holebas, Etienne Capoue et al. have been pivotal to anchor the squad so far.
Watford had a ‘should win’ fixtures against relegation-threatened Sunderland but were beaten despite putting in a good first half performance. Crystal Palace are up next and the fans will demand a better showing. These results might not be decisive, but will definitely provide an acid test for Mazzarri who needs to win games consistently in order to show the club have taken a step in the right direction rather than two steps back.