“It’s difficult to explain because I think we had a good performance. It’s true it wasn’t enough to get the points but I’m happy with the performance.” – Javi Gracia
This has been the underlying theme to this Watford season, one in which the lads on the pitch play very well, but when the whistle blows at 90 mins, the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the work rate. Fingers will point at Javi Gracia for making wholesale changes in the defense; giving Miguel Britos just his second start on the season, Adam Masina, his second start in a row for the flagged, Jose Holebas and Christian Kabasele, out of favor since a Boxing Day injury.
This was not the first time he’d brought around change ahead of a Premier League game, while keeping an eye on the upcoming FA Cup game at Wembley Stadium against Wolves this coming Sunday. In the words of midfielder, Abdoualaye Doucoure, “I’m really proud of all my players, not only with good results, bad results as well.” Doucoure picked up the Watford goal in injury time, as he continued his dominating season, which will set him up for a summer exit from Watford, leaving a hole in what has become a strong part of our game.
Looking at the two clubs, Watford is the healthier of the lot, the hiring of Gracia has breathed new life into a cast of unique players, who failed to flourish under Marco Silva. United’s snap decision to hire Ole Gunnar Solksjaer after just 19 games highlights their desperation to get back into contention at the top of the league. Watford have gone through a rough patch, much like the previous year, losing four out of five to start November, a throwback to the Silva regime. However, Gracia was confident and that confidence shined through and the Golden Boys pulled together. What happens when the honeymoon is over for Solksjaer and he needs to make the tough decisions? How about that payroll wasted on players like Alexis Sanchez? The Red Devils needs to take a hard look at that team and move some of the old and dead weight.
Watford will post arguably their best season in the Premier League. To date they have score one fewer goals then they did in 38 games last season and are on 43 points, just one less then their 2017/18 total. Gracia’s impact has been impressive. At Old Trafford last Saturday, the Hornets dominated the Red Devils. While many of the possession statistics favored the men in red (51.5% possession), Watford took an unprecedented 20 shots of David De Gea! That is unlike anything we’ve seen this season from an attack that has faltered at times. However, much like previous games, the eight shots we put on target, just one found the back of the net, much too late to be a deciding factor. However, it was a statement goal, that Watford isn’t just one of the other 14 teams in the Premier League.
As big teams usually do, they can capitalize on limited chances, especially when playing “smaller” clubs, who tend to sit back on defense. Solskjaer said postgame, “Watford are a good team, they’re playing in the semi-final of the FA Cup they’ve got some very good players, play well on the counter attack as well. They had a couple more shots than us, I don’t think you’re giving them any true respect there, they’re seventh in the league, or eighth in the league.”
Give credit where it is due, the long outlet pass from Luke Shaw to Marcus Rashford caught the Watford defense out of position. One can argue for a different outcome had Adrian Mariappa or Craig Cathcart been in the defense, but Rashford’s speed and presence beat Ben Foster at the top of the 18-yard box.
It’s the season goal that I’ve watch on replay that leads me to believe Anthony Martial was in an offside position on the cross from Jesse Lingard. Maybe that’s that supporter in me wanting justification to take a point back to Vicarage Road after one of the best Watford performances on the pitch this season.
While the loss is tough to take, we remain a point behind Wolves in the league table, as they lost. However, both managers are looking ahead to the FA Cup clash at Wembley on the weekend.
REVIEW: vs. FULHAM
Watford hosted Fulham at Vicarage Road, with teams headed in opposite directions. Watford keeping an eye towards the weekend and the FA Cup Semifinals, which Fulham with a loss would be relegated. In the winning words of boss, Javi Gracia, “The best way to prepare for that game on Sunday is to try to win the next game, to respect the FA Cup competition and the Premier League as well.” However, the win didn’t appear as straight forward as it should have been as the teams were tied, 1-1 going into the break.
Abdoulaye Doucoure opened the scoring with a screamer from the edge of the penalty box, past a diving Sergio Rico to give the Golden Boys a 1-0 lead. Yet, all was not golden on the pitch, as the Hornets seemed to get lazy and the Cottagers tried to capitalize. At the break, Gracia made tactical changes, “In the first half, yes, because I didn’t like what I saw, but after I think the team needed to change something, support and to be calm and to play better in the second half.” Ryan babel equalized about 10 minutes later, beating a drawn-out Ben Foster.
The second half started, much like the first ended, with Cottagers having a bit of momentum, but were unable to take advantage of Watford. The Hornets got going on 60 minutes, as they scored three goals in quick succession to power Watford to an important win.
The scoring started with a banger from Will Hughes on a volley to give the Hornets the 2-1 lead, but six minutes later they extended that lead as captain, Troy Deeney slotted home a pass from substitute, Andre Gray. It was could Kiko Femenia finishing off a golden day for Watford, on another assist from Gray. Final score, 4-1 Watford as they prepare for the FA Cup and Wolves.
“They are many games left to play and some of them where we are feeling really well. It is something special for us. To get 46 points, the best ever in the Premier it is something which is a very good reward for all these players working very, very hard from the beginning. It’s important but the players don’t want to stop there. They want to keep going, keep getting more points and they are very, very demanding,” said Gracia in a post-game interview.
Can FPL managers make a case to look at Watford players after BGW33? If Watford defeat Wolves, the FA Cup final will be held on May 18th, six days after the end of the Premier League. Of their opponents remaining, the Golden Boys face Arsenal (H) in GW34 and Chelsea (A) in GW37 with Huddersfield, Southampton, Wolves and West Ham to round out the season.
Watford will feature in a double game week in 35, away Huddersfield and home to Southampton, which is arguably the best of the schedule. FPL manager could find themselves gun shy, based on how Javi Gracia has approached his starting XI. Based on history that has been done because of the Golden Boys advancing in the FA Cup. Before progressing, Gracia had a simple mindset that saw formation and personnel unchanged. It wasn’t until the fourth round of the FA Cup that rotation started to creep into the picture.
FA Cup aside, it’s a settled squad led by Ben Foster in goal. No reason at all to thing Heurelho Gomes will get any Premier League games but will hopefully finish his career on the high note, lifting the FA Cup. Defensively, we’ve been settled at the back with Craig Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa. Prior to injury Christian Kabasele was in the picture, but the play of Mapps has seen Kabasele getting scraps off the bench. Jose Holebas, even at 32 years old is the starting left back, no reason to consider Adam Masina, who is a downgrade at the position. On the right, Gracia seems confident to play both, Kiko Femenia and Daryl Janmaat. I feel Dutchman is probably the strong defender, but like watching Femenia bomb forward, adding to the Watford attack from the right flank.
The midfield is anchored by one of the best duos in England; Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure. This pairing has been unsung on the season, controlling and dictating the game for Watford, as they go forward in transition. Don’t overlook Doucoure, he isn’t a defensive mid, as he’s been a bit more forward thinking this year but has the ability to cover a lot of pitch partnering with Capoue. The Frenchman doesn’t get the accolades that Doucoure does but works tirelessly in the center of the pitch.
Out wide, Roberto Pereyra has looked like the former Hornet, Richarlison. When he’s in form, he’s unstoppable with his pace, skill and dynamic play, cutting inside to curl a ball into the far corner. This season, those moments were lost after GW10, he’s been spotted more on the side of a milk carton than playing down the left flank for Watford. Again, very similar to Richarlison, going missing in the second half of the Premier League. Will Hughes, playing OOP on the right flank, could drop back into a central role next season, if Doucoure is sold. This season it’s been somewhat of a lost cause down both wings. Hughes is given the freedom to slide into a central role when on attack but doesn’t possess the speed or cross ability from the flank to make a real impact.
Up top, it’s been career seasons for captain, Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu. It was a stoke of genius by Gracia to move the Spaniard into a forward role, one which he has flourished in. One area Deulofeu needs to improve on is his finishing, which has left supporters and teammates frustrated, unable to find that final ball. He’s partnered with Deeney all season, this is the look Watford supporters thought they would get with Andre Gray filling that role, but it never materialized. Deeney is an inspirational player and leader on the pitch that players look up to. He posted some excellent stats on the season.
None of the Watford players are highly owned (Holebas TSB 10%) making each of them a differential for the final push of the FPL season. Holding my second Wild Card until GW34 will allow me to plan for DGW35, which could see two Hornets in my starting XI. Ben Foster is a strong candidate, just 6.2% TSB and the 8th scoring goalkeeper this season, priced at £4.6, the best price of any goalkeepers in the top ten. Watford have recorded just 7 clean sheets on the season but have played better then their defensive record indicates. That’s a problem, but with two excellent fixtures in DGW35 looks promising, as the Golden Boys have lots to play for.
While I am not considering any defenders in my squad, you could make a case for Jose Holebas, who’s posted 10 attacking returns on the season (3 goals/7 assists). At £4.9, he’s a budget price for a defender who likes to get forward and has set piece duties. Rest assured, he’s got few returns left in him the rest of the way.
While Deulofeu (£5.7) is listed as a midfielder, he’s ownership is at 5.9% as he plays up top next to Deeney and has figured in nearly 28% of all Watford goals. He is very much in form with 5 goals and an assist in the last six games. While Abdoulaye Doucoure doesn’t get a second look, his form is good with two goals in two games and at £5.9, just 1.8% owned could be a nice differential for a fifth midfielder.
Troy Deeney continues to shine up top, recording his ninth goal on the season to go along with five assists. It’s four returns in four for the talisman and his £5.9 is inviting as a third forward. He will continue to get most of the starts, regardless of the FA Cup outcome. In this record setting season for the Hornets, Deeney continues to play with confidence and determination. We can’t overlook Andre Gray, but he’s become Gracia’s “super sub” off the bench and priced the same as Deeney shouldn’t be considered.