Review: Watford vs Everton
It was a hotly contested match ahead of the last Saturday’s action at Vicarage Road, as Marco Silva brought the Toffees to town. The first time Silva or Richarlison had returned since a change in jersey color. Troy Deeney stirred the pot, when asked at a fan forum, “Final question to Troy asking if the squad understands importance of Saturday to fans.” His response in typical Deeney fashion, “We’d prefer it if you left him alone… It’ll only motivate them more. Leave him alone, let us kick the shit out of them.”
That comment set the stage for the music and pregame festivities aimed at Silva’s return, where he ran the Hornets into the ground after a very promising start. Replaced by the competent, Jaavi Gracia, he turned around a rather flat season to give supporters something to look forward to this season. Obviously, there were boos from around the ground for both Silva and Richarlison throughout the game.
On the pitch, it was a rather uninspiring performance for the first 45 minutes. Both teams had limited chances as Jordan Pickford and Ben Foster were called into action on shots by Kurt Zouma and Etienne Capoue. Capoue had the best chance from inside the six-yard box, as the ball careened off Jordan Pickford’s head, over the goal. Everton arrived at the Vic on the back of 10 losses in the last 16 fixtures, losing three in a row in the Premier League. Potentially inspired by Deeney’s comments, the Toffees struggled.
Watford continues to struggle as well in the attacking third, as the Golden Boys could only manage two shots on target, this off the back of none at Brighton a week earlier. Over the last four game weeks, Watford have recorded a league low, 6 shots on goal. During that period, they’ve picked up five points. Still, it’s a big concern with only two goals from 30 attempts and a shot conversion of just 20%.
Andre Gray looked good when he came on at half time replacing Ken Sema. A pacier player to potentially provide problems for an Everton defense that has struggled, conceding 8 goals over five game weeks. Most notable, the defense worst in the league conceding from set pieces.
Ben Foster, the hero of the weekend has played excellent all season long and put in another strong performance that helped Watford to victory. It’s back to back clean sheets for the 35-year old, who recently became the all-time saves leader in the Premier League. His experience and leadership at the back has solidified a problem area last season during Silva’s reign. While Watford is still in need of depth at half back, Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele played well in defense.
Second half action saw a flurry of activity in front of Foster’s goal that had Gylfi Sigurdsson nearly break the deadlock as his looping shot found the crossbar and was chased down by Foster to keep the game scoreless. Jose Holebas keyed the go-ahead goal from a corner kick that fell to Abdoulaye Doucoure, who pushed the ball out wide to Holebas. A step around Lucas Digne, as the ball went into Cathcart, who played a one-time ball to the onrushing Gerard Deulofeu, centering the ball as Gray finished it off. An excellent example of how good Watford can create.
Report Card: Ben Foster
I’ve mentioned the play of Foster all season, he gets my vote for most valuable player on the Hornets and the best acquisition during the off season, as he “came home” to Vicarage Road, after West Brom were relegated. Now, older and more experienced, the former Manchester United goalkeeper has been a constant for Javi Gracia this season.
While he’s not highly touted like some bigger names, he’s technically sound, smart, has excellent positioning skills and a leader in the Watford defense. Having once said, the trick is to find “balance between having ambition and having a life.” This season, returning to Watford he seems to have done so.
The pressure and stress created playing football can create challenges for younger players, especially highly touted ones. Social media doesn’t help, as fans continually call out players for lack of drive, desire and poor performances. “There is so much pressure and stress in football that young players don’t have chance to soak it in and enjoy it. They come off the field and they are straight on their phones to see the reaction and it’s a total mind-f*** of stuff.”
From a fantasy perspective, Foster is the fifth highest scoring goalkeeper with 105 points and fourth with 82 saves at a price of £4.6. It’s been tough watching the Hornets defense play well, only to concede late in the game, frustration over the face of Foster. Games at Newcastle and Southampton in game week 11 and 12 stand out. Watford have a mixed bag of games going forward with five games against top six opposition.
Watford is still alive in the 5th Round of the FA Cup and a trip to Loftus Road to face QPR.
Preview: Cardiff vs Watford
When Premier League action returns, Watford travel to Cardiff City on Friday evening to take on the Bluebirds. On paper this should be a straight forward win for the Hornets. As we saw last week, Bournemouth struggled and were turned inside out by Neil Warnock’s squad, as they lost 2-0, as supporters celebrated the life of Emiliano Sala ahead of the game.
Cardiff City has won back to back games for the first time all season, as they have climbed to 17th in the league table, tied with Newcastle on 25 points. Watford maintained their 8th spot with their 1-0 win against Everton, just two points behind Wolves. The Hornets are 2-2-1 over the last five games but continue to struggle in the attacking end with just 6 shots on target. Cardiff is identical recording six points in the last two weeks.
Defensively, the Hornets will depend on Ben Foster to keep a clean sheet, as Cardiff have netted five times in the last four games. Gracia will be without Jose Holebas, as he picked up his 10th yellow card of the season, now suspended for two games. Adam Masina could be called upon to make his seventh start on the season. While Kiko Femenia continues to gain fitness from a previous thigh injury, it appears Daryl Janmaat will continue to start on the right. Cathcart is a key figure for the Hornets going forward and will partner with Kabasele, in front of Foster.
Change could be a good thing for Watford, as Gray could find his way back into the starting XI. Roberto Pereyra will face a late fitness test, as he returned to training just a few days ago. If he can’t go, then chances are we see the more dynamic Gray slotted in of the left flank to give the Hornets some much needed punch on the offensive end.
Will Hughes has played OOP all season long on the right and while not his natural position has had the freedom to transition inside to help create going forward. Femenia and Janmaat have proved to be smart and dynamic down the right flank, offering some good balls in that haven’t been finished.
Unlike last year, Gracia decided to use a two-forward set, which has been a trademark all season. Unlike Silva, who was set on a single forward, Deeney and Deulofeu have combined to be a good combination of power and precision up front. Unfortunately, Deulofeu’s finishing hasn’t been precise enough, as he’s been wasteful with the final product. He continues to get into excellent positions, both as a scorer and provider. Now Watford need to start banging goals in as we approach the business end of the season.
Cardiff, you’ve got to give them credit, but as well as Watford has been playing, outside the Brighton game, they should pick up another three points. With Abdoulaye Doucoure back in the starting XI, he and Capoue should command the pitch next at Cardiff. Neil Etheridge could be busy in goal, if Watford are allowed freedom to move forward.
Prediction, Watford 2 Cardiff 0