Thursday, January 27, 2022

Watford Has Been Brilliant And Our Research Says They Could Continue This Brilliant Run

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Dan Attwood
London based, Brighton fan.

A draw and two defeats have followed Watford’s perfect first four results, and yet there is still plenty of optimism that the club can continue to over-achieve this season. Any early suggestion that Watford could replicate Leicester’s rise to the top was tongue-in-cheek given the strength of Manchester City and Liverpool.

But performances still suggest they are among the best teams outside the “Big Six”. Thirteen points collected from seven games means that Gracia’s men already have over a third of the points required for probable Premier League survival. Watford needs just over 1.3 points per game in their remaining fixtures to match the tally that earnt Burnley a place in the Europa League draw.

Season so far:

Tactically this season, Gracia’s main adjustment has been to play two strikers in a narrow 4-4-2 shape, and it appears to be generating greater involvement for both Deeney and Gray. The latter, who scored his third of the season at Fulham, has been more predatory so far and is benefitting from feeding off a strike partner.

The front-two are aided by two supporting wide midfielders, Pereyra and Hughes, who have the freedom to drift inside and overload central areas. Hughes isn’t a recognised wide player, so it suits his game to pick up the ball more centrally, in turn freeing up space for Janmaat on the overlap.

A resolute defensive structure has provided a stable platform for Watford’s early-season form with Gracia unearthing a couple of stand-out pairings which have contributed to a resilient spine that allows the technical flair of Hughes and Pereyra to shine. Centre-backs Cathcart and Kabasele are highly rated among Watford supporters, yet vastly under-rated elsewhere. They are committed, battling defenders and have formed a reliable partnership despite neither being certain starters last season.

Ahead of them, Doucoure and Capoue are both multi-functional box-to-box midfielders, who add physicality to the central area. They cover a vast amount of ground to drive the ball forward in possession and recover quickly when possession is lost. Doucoure has developed into one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the Premier League and is generally the more advanced of the two central players.

Former Juventus winger, Pereyra, is the most technically proficient player in the squad and has arguably been Watford’s stand-out performer after six games. The Argentine cost Watford £9m a couple of years ago and is in a rich vein of form, contributing with three goals and an assist already. While not having the explosive pace of a conventional winger, Pereyra has become the team’s creative focal point. He is comfortable using either foot and operates in tight spaces with intelligence to find passes when under pressure from the opposition.

Can Watford continue to exceed expectations?

Away from home, Watford must still prove that they can replicate the aggressive style that makes them such an awkward proposition at Vicarage Road. Four of their opening five games were at home, perhaps skewing their initial points tally. Any points collected at the Emirates last weekend would have been a bonus, but Watford were off-the-pace in the second-half at Fulham and relinquished two points and their 1-0 lead after dominating the early stages.

Over the course of the season, Watford must also prove that their squad has enough depth. They were able to name six consecutive unchanged starting XIs in their first six fixtures, which is very rare in the Premier League and Gracia may have to adapt his tactical approach if a key player suffers an injury. For example, Chalobah is a useful ball-playing replacement, but does he have the physical attributes to imitate the aggression of Capoue or Doucoure in their absence?

Watford have gathered several exciting, though mostly unproven options that give their squad depth. The likes of Masina, Navarro, Kiko Femenia, Deulofeu, Success and Chalobah as mentioned above, have the potential to plug gaps but may not offer the same level of consistency if they are called on for prolonged spells this season.

The Hornets progression since their promotion in 2015 is under-appreciated by outsiders. They were repeatedly tipped for relegation in the off-season, but their start has demonstrated that the club’s fluid managerial model is continuing to over-perform against expectations. Their owners aren’t scared to sell assets on if the price is right and have rebuilt to good effect. Gracia has now found a settled system that suits the players at his disposal and is working regarding chance creation and limitation. Victory at Wolves next week, would signal that this Watford team are genuine top-half contenders.

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