Looking back on the festive period to close out 2018 and open the new year, Watford had a positive run of fixtures. The Golden Boys recorded just five points over the 4-week period between gameweek 18 and 21. The Hornets got started with a 0-2 win at the London Stadium against West Ham as Gerard Deulofeu and Troy Deeney netted and the defensive posted an important clean sheet, as Ben Foster had an excellent game.
Coming home Vicarage Road saw the Hornets host Chelsea, in what was going to be the toughest match over the festive period. Watford played 45 minutes of strong football, before giving up a 45+1’ goal to Eden Hazard, but showing resilience, Watford responded off a corner and a beautiful volley from Roberto Pereyra to draw level on 45+3’. Out of the break, we didn’t get all the calls, a potential missed penalty, followed by a penalty award to Chelsea, as Hazard slotted it away to give Chelsea a 2-1 victory.
To close out the year, Watford played host to Newcastle, a team that nicked a 1-0 at St. James’ back in November. This time around, it was a bit more wide open, in part to manager Javi Gracia making six changes to the starting XI, that potentially was a weaker side facing the magpies. Defensively, the Golden Boys were awful, as Salomon Rondon, gave Newcastle the 1-0 lead in the 28’. Watford would wait until the 82’ when a headed ball from Abdoulaye Doucoure knotted it up at 1-1, which is how the game would end.
Being done by Bournemouth earlier in season, was the worst loss on the season, 0-4. Watford came out strong and fast and opened up a 2-0 lead, as Deeney braced inside the half hour mark. All was going well until the 34’that saw 4 goals fly in just six minutes. Nathan Ake got the Cherries on the board and Callum Wilson drew them level just 3 minutes later. The lead lasted less than 90 second, as Ken Sema hit to give Watford the 3-2 lead, but Ryan Fraser, standing alone in the box slotted it past Foster, as the teams went into the half at 3-3. That’s how the game would finish, but many yellow cards on the day that could have resulted in a few red cards, but none were handed out by David Coote.
As has been the case much of the season, Watford continue to play fundamentally sound football. As evidenced by their position in the table at 8th, sitting on 29 points, the Hornets have avoided that slide they experienced last season under Marco Silva. The Hornets have a good run of fixtures to start 2019; BUR/tot/bha/EVE over the next four games, but six out of nine will be played away from Vicarage Road, where the Hornets are 3-4-3 on the season, scoring 14 goals, conceding 13 and recording just two clean sheets.
Gerard Deulofeu (£5.5) continues to pass the eye test, while the statistics back Roberto Pereyra (£6.3). Both players were the most active of the Hornets going forward, recording 25 and 34 penalty touches respectively and looked in form, however it was Troy Deeney (£5.9) stealing the limelight on the back of three goals over the festive period. Goals from the midfield were spread out as six midfielders netted at least once.
I continue to back the cheaper option, Deulofeu as my selection going forward. While his statistics (3g / 3a) aren’t as strong as Pereyra (6g / 4 a), he’s been more consistent in his play than the Argentine. At £5.5, you could leave Deulofeu on the bench, where £6.3 for Pereyra makes it a bit more difficult to leave him out of the starting XI. As mentioned, six of the next nine are away from Vicarage Road, which has been tough going for Pereyra to find any consistency since joining the club. He’s changed that a bit this year with a goal and four assists on the road, an improvement over last. Deulofeu continues to partner with Deeney and Issac Success, playing out of position as a forward, which have given him a decided advantage in attacking scenarios.
Depending on how you are setting up for the next block of games, Watford attackers could be kept in mind starting this week, as the Hornets host Burnley. There are some modest options with Deulofeu and Abdoulaye Doucoure (£5.9) both priced nicely. Dourcoure has four returns in his last seven games and continues to dominate in the midfield, but not as attacking as Deulofeu. Up front, if you need to move off Danny Ings, you might look at Deeney, based on his minutes and touches in the box. He’s getting some much-needed service and has played well as of late.
Defensively, I still like how Ben Foster (£4.5) has been playing in goal, but I just find it very difficult to recommend him, as Watford have struggled to keep clean sheets. Foster has been posting good save numbers, making 19 over the festive period, but just a single clean sheet. Feel there are strong £4.5 goalkeepers to look at right now.
Watford is in the market for a center back, depending on how the January transfer window plays out, the defense could get a journeyman to come in and shore up a defense that has struggled recently. Christian Kabasele should be back in the starting XI, after he suffered an injury. As it stands now the only defender thinking twice about would be Jose Holebas (£4.8). Priced a bit high, you won’t get many clean sheets, but he’s posted eight attacking returns on the season, takes corners and set pieces. He’s been solid for much of the season, but does have a penchant for yellow cards, which means he could miss out due to accumulation. When looking at budget defenders, he doesn’t quite cut it. Numbers are strong with 146 crosses on the season, second best only to Luca Digne, creating 28 chances, eight of them big chances. Both stats are second best in the Premier League.
Preview: Crystal Palace
Watford visit Selhurst Park and a Crystal Palace squad that have secured 10 points from their last five games, losing a tough game to Chelsea, 1-0. Over that period, they’ve posted three clean sheets, as there has been a bit of a defensive resurgence at Palace. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Patrick Van Aanholt are both in form, having benefited from the change as Vincent Guaita has assumed duties in between the posts.
Looking back at gameweek 3, Palace visited Vicarage Road losing 2-1 in a game that was dominated by Watford, going up 2-0 with goals from Roberto Pereyra and Jose Holebas, before Max Meyer was subbed on, finding Wilfried Zaha to half the lead. The game was quite chippy, with six yellow cards on the day and a questionable call, or no call by Anthony Taylor on Etienne Capoue. Capoue was yellow on dangerous two footed tackle that ranked the back ankles of Zaha. It could have resulted in a red card, but Taylor issued yellow and the Hornets kept all players on the pitch.
Crystal Palace has been in excellent form since gameweek 17, posting back to back wins against Leicester City and Man City, gaining 10 points in the last five games. They got 2019 off in winning fashion with a 2-0 victory at Molineux over Wolves. While they are in form at both ends of the pitch, goals have been few and far between, just 5 goals over that period, but when you are keeping clean sheets, a single goal is all you need.
Luka Milivojevic has regained his form, scoring in two of the last wins for Palace. The biggest attacking threat remains Zaha going forward but he has only contributed an assist over the last six games. Still, Palace is a dangerous side that could cause Watford some problems. Contain Zaha, you contain Palace. While Watford hasn’t been posted but a single clean sheet over the last 11 weeks, they have played well at the back, led by Ben Foster. If they can limit the shots, Palace could find it hard to get on the board.
From an attacking perspective, Watford have scored 11 goals in their last six games, losing only to Chelsea, 2-1. From a team that couldn’t find the net in November, Javi Gracia has the Hornets seemingly firing on all cylinders as witnessed by the Bournemouth game, posting three goals, as captain, Troy Deeney hit for a brace.
Deeney is just one big option up front and has benefited by the strong play of Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu, who continue to create space and chances in the box. Only knock on Pereyra has been the consistency from the Argentine, who posted five returns in four games, but against Newcastle and Bournemouth he struggled.
Much like the reverse fixture, I like Watford over Palace this weekend at Selhurst Park. While Palace has been winning and posting clean sheets, I think Watford has been in some of the best form since the start of the season. Deeney continues to play a big role on the pitch, posting attacking returns as well as the leadership he brings to the players around him. The Hornets are more of a complete team at this point of the season and will pick up three points in a 2-1 win.