Two words sum up the weekend of football at the Etihad. Paul. Tierney. Now, I had no expectations Watford would travel to City and do them 1-0, let alone score on the second-best defense in the Premier League. However, Javi Gracia travelled with an excellent game plan that saw seven changes to the side, who features this weekend in FA Cup Quarterfinals, home to Crystal Palace. In the span of less than three minutes, Tierney undid 45 minutes of stalwart defensive plan, which derailed the Hornets and opened the flood gates.
Like the two games prior to Watford, the Sky Blues hadn’t looked all that dominating offensively, a 1-0 against West Ham and Bournemouth, gave me a bit of confidence ahead of the trip to the Eithad. No one expected such massive changes in the starting XI as Gracia shifted from his traditional 4-2-2-2 to a 4-5-1, throwing 10-men behind the ball. It was a strategy that worked for 45 minutes, before Paul Tierney overruled the line judge, awarding an offside goal to Raheem Sterling. Just 40 seconds out of the break, a quick hitting play that saw Sergio Aguero playa through ball to an offside Sterling, who slotted it home. One would have thought VAR is in use, as Tierney took minutes, consulting with the side judge before allowing the goal. The flood gates had opened.
While Hornet supporters expected a bit more resilience from their lot after the initial goal, the Sky Blues were back in the Watford end moments later looking to add to their lead. David Silva keyed the second City goal at the top of the 18-yard box, finding an onrushing Riyad Mahrez, who slotted it across the box to an unmarked Sterling, coming in from the back post to give City a 2-0 lead just 10 minutes into the second half. The England international wasn’t finished as he combined with Silva a second time, on a great individual effort inside the 18-yard box, dancing past Watford defenders to put his third goal past Ben Foster.
In a game that started very positively, it had all come undone, thanks to Paul Tierney. There was more scoring to come, as Gracia made two substitutions at the 66’ bringing on Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu for Issac Success and Kiko Femenia. In their first action, from a Foster restart, the goalkeeper sent a long ball, knocked on by Deeney to Deuloefeu, who chipped it past Ederson to give Watford their first and inject a bit of excitement back into the game. It caught City off guard, as it appeared they had switched off momentarily.
When questioned about his seven changes after the game, Gracia said, “If I have to take my decision again, I will do it the same way. I’ve chosen for this game these players, it’s because before the game I thought we needed fresh legs to compete today to defend well and run a lot.” Watford remain in 8th in the league table and host Crystal Palace this weekend in the FA Cup Quarter finals.
It’s difficult to look past BGW31, as unscheduled fixtures have yet to be confirmed for DGW32, BGW33 and DGW35. Can FPL managers consider Watford assets? I do feel there are some good options, even though the Hornet’s don’t’ have the kind fixture run to finish the season. First, the bad. Following the BGW31 fixture, it’s away to Man United in GW32, home to Arsenal in GW34 and away to Chelsea in GW37. In between those fixtures I could see Watford picking up 10-13 points as they have Fulham, Huddersfield, Wolves, West Ham and Southampton.
At the top of my list, Gerard Deulofeu (£5.6) in the midfield. No reason to look at the likes of Harvey Barnes or James Maddison, Deulofeu continues in sparkling form, coming off a great goal at the Etihad in GW30. He continues to get solid minutes, is dynamic and appears to have found the finishing touch in the attacking end. While it might not be advisable to start him against the top six teams, Watford has proven they can score against any team in the league. That said, you could buy in on Deulofeu and a player could potentially rotate with West Ham or Crystal Palace.
Troy Deeney is also in excellent form, the Watford captain picked up his fifth assist on the season against City. No reason to think he will be slowing down with some of the fixtures on the horizon for Watford. His play and leadership have been vital this season to propel Watford to 8th in the league table. Unfortunately, there are other forwards, lower priced excelling, however Deeney does offer a dose of differential at just 4.5% owned.
All in after 30 games, Watford is having their best season in the Premier League. The guidance of Javi Gracia and leadership of Troy Deeney have been instrumental in their success this season. It feels good going into the business end of the season knowing the Golden Boys can record their best record and points total, unfortunately it appears a Europa League berth is no more, as Wolves and Watford appear to be too far off the pace of the top six teams. (Editor’s note: 7th may be enough for Europa League qualification)