Welcome to the first of a three-part series where I look at the current situation of Watford. In the first article we will look at Javi Gracia and the position that plagued us most last season, defense. Part two will focus on the midfield and forwards, while the final installment will look at the rumors and speculation on youngsters and potential transfers ahead of the Premier League Season
It was a first, full season under Javi Gracia at Vicarge Road, as the Hornets shot out of the blocks undefeated after four games, picking up an important, 2-1 come from behind victory against Spurs. Over the course of the next 34 weeks, we knew this start would be a hard act to follow. After 10 weeks, we hit a rough patch, much like we did the prior year, as we lost four out of five games, as Watford dropped out of the top half of the Premier League table.
Thankfully, Gracia was able to right the ship and kept the Hornets playing some good football on the pitch with a positive and unified approach, something we never saw from his predecessor, Marco Silva. A run of good luck and key goals saw the Hornets climb to 7 th place in the table, after a 5-1 rout of Cardiff City in late February.
The Hornets run to the FA Cup Final was glorious! It did appear the team was keeping one eye on the finals the last part of the season, as represented by their poor performance, losing seven of the final 11 games. Wolves got a bit of revenge after their 3-2 added extra time loss in the FA Cup, as we got completely turned over by Chelsea and West Ham to finish the season.
Javi Gracia – The Real Manager of the Season
The most important piece of the puzzle is returning, Javi Gracia. He’s the first manager since Gianfranco Zola in 2012 to record 50 games as gaffer. He signed a four-and-a-half-year contract last November that could potentially take the Spainard through 2023.
Stability at the top, something we, as supporters haven’t seen since Aidy Boothroyd, Ray Lewington and legend, Graham Taylor.
Never considered a contender for Premier League Manager of the Season, supporters saw the job Gracia did that has earned him praise after the Hornets finished the season in 11 th place on 50 points, their best Premier League finish.
Gracia has transformed the Hornets in a competitive side with his brand of football that sees consistency as a key element. Early in the season, we saw his successful 4-4-2 post four wins to start the season without any changes in the starting XI. However, later
in the year as the Hornets run in the FA Cup continued, Gracia was never afraid to go to the bench and rotate his starters. This was a key frustration for FPL managers, as some regular starters were finding themselves not so reliable.
Gracia’s demeanor and leadership is seen on the pitch. He’s unified this group and they play as a team, win or lose. Many times, last season, the effort on the pitch didn’t result in a win, but the statistics and eye test showed a lot of promise from this group.
It will be a tough act to follow this season for Gracia and the Hornets, but I’ve got a strong feeling he can improve this squad and where they finished in the table. In 16 games last season we lost or draw games by a single point. Just picking up wins in a
few of those games could have really turned the season around, which could potentially have the Hornets looking at European football.
If we need to pinpoint one deficiency in the squad last season, we must look at the defense. This was a group that struggled much of the season, even when we were stringing wins together. Over the 38-game season, the Golden Boys kept just seven clean sheets, keeping in mind 16 games that were a one goal loss or a draw.
No matter how you look at it, the lapse or should I say collapse of the defense at the end of the season needs to be addressed. While Daniel Bachmann will return from loan, he is keen on pushing Ben Foster for the starting shirt. The Austrian keeper spent last
season on loan at Kilmarnock FC in the Scottish Premier League, starting 21 games, conceding 16 goals with 11 clean sheets.
Still feel Foster has the upper hand 12 years the season of 24-year-old Bachmann. Foster brought a great work ethic to the squad and his leadership in the back was second to none. Depending on new defenders bought over this off season, Foster could
potentially play a bigger role in their work ethics and on pitch communication.
The only defender locked into the starting XI next season, Jose Holebas. Yet the Greek enters the season at 35 years old and could be set for a reduced work load. We must weigh in the yellow cards and potential suspension he is prone to pick up. Adam Masina
was brought in last year from Bologna but featured in just 14 games. I don’t feel he’s the quality to play in the Premier League, but many Watford supporters saw something I didn’t last season.
At the right back position, it was either Daryl Janmaat or Kiko Femenia. The 28-year-old Femenia featured in 29 games and while he does represent an attacking option down the right, as he was also played OOP as a winger during the season, his defensive skills
are a bit lacking, as is his size and his play wasn’t on par to what we saw the previous. Janmaat filled when Femenia was unavailable, but his defensive skills are much stronger, while carrying some threat. “I’m a completely different player to the one I was when I was playing in Spain,” he admits. “That’s what the Premier League demands. It forces you to adapt. The first
season was difficult. This second season, I’m feeling a lot better. I’ve got to know the city, the club, how it functions. I’m a lot more relaxed and comfortable,” said Femenia. As for Janmaat, Feyenoord are looking to bring him back, where he played in 2014
ahead of his move to Newcastle.
The center back position is the Achilles heal of this Watford club. Last season under Silva, the defenders were a mix of walking wounded and untested youngsters. While the injuries decreased, Seb Prodl remained in the training room, picking up just 13 minutes this season. Don’t see Prodl returning next year, at 31, he’s expendable. His playing partner, 30-year-old, Craig Cathcart put in a good season this year, scoring three times! He’s a regular in the Northern Ireland squad and could start the season as a starter.
As for our other center back options, none of them could return. Adrian Mariappa, now 32 played in 32 games this season, unexpectedly and was my stand out at the position. Not really slated as a starter, but the Jamaican has been at Watford since 2016.
Depending on new defenders brought he, he could return to the role of squad player. There was excitement about Christian Kabasele two years ago, but after a Box Day injury last season, he never returned to the kind of player he was before going down.
While not young, he’s now 28 years old, he was a serious liability last year, a step behind and not making smart plays, which cost us several goals late in the season. I feel he could be on his last leg as a Hornet. Youngster, Ben Wilmot featured in just 6 games in England before going on loan at Udinese, where he started five games. While he shows promise, he needs more pitch
time to gain experience before being slotted into a starting spot for the Golden Boys. This is one of those positions, Watford is scouting for the upcoming season, as it stands right now, we’ve lost Miguel Britos and Tommy Hoban, neither with big contributions.
We will look at potential players in the final episode of this season.