As highlighted in my first article, defense will play a key role this season and is one of the areas Watford need to address during the transfer period. Looking further up the pitch, there were many positives to take away from the play of the midfield and forward positions. At times these positions lacked quality in the final third, but their play over the season was quite consistent.
The heart of the Golden Boys is built upon out central midfielders, Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure. While not the biggest names or flashy on the pitch this pairing has been Watford’s players of the season the last two years, with Capoue taking the honors after the 2018/19 season. Their stalwart play for the Hornets were the engine that made this team go each game.
While Doucoure signed a four-year contract through 2023, there is some speculation he could move away from Vicarage Road during this transfer window. This would leave the Hornets empty but could allow the likes of Will Hughes to slide back to a central role or provide Tom Cleverley playing time aside Capoue.
Bringing in Gerard Deulofeu was a masterclass by Scott Duxbury, making his loan final and signing him for £10 million. However, his ability and technical ability, as well as his speed saw him start the season out of position, partnering with Troy Deeney. The play of Doucoure and Capoue in the middle, pushed playmaker, Hughes wide right. Not an ideal position for him, but with the dynamic play of Roberto Pereyra and Deulofeu, we saw Hughes drift centrally often.
Pereyra has been one of the brightest players when in form, but his lack of consistency last year, on the left flank, from a departed Richarlison was quite evident. He started the season in great form, scoring five in the first 10 games, but just one the rest of the season. For Watford to be more successful, his interchange and play needs to improve. He may not get that chance as he could go back to Serie A to reunite with former manager, Walter Mazzarri.
One player many supporters are still watching and waiting for, Nathaniel Chalobah, the Chelsea youth was sold to Watford in 2017 but featured in just 15 games for the Hornets over the last two years, partly due to his inexperience and knee injury, which saw him miss much of the 2017/18 season. He could potentially fill a central defensive position, next to Capoue, if Doucoure departs. Gracia has been key to improving young players, such as a Hughes and Chalobah, who was given his first national team call up.
Domingos Quina was bought from West Ham in 2018 and while not a major part of the current team has shown some flashes of brilliance in his play. One to watch, who will fill in as a squad player to get more experience. At 19 years old, it could do him well to go on loan to gain some experience. Ken Sema is a quality role player, took part in 17 games last season for the Hornets and can be counted on by Gracia when called upon.
While Deulofeu did not start the season, missing the first eight games, Watford opened with Troy Deeney and Andre Gray as front men in a 4-4-2. Deeney continues to captain the Hornets, wears his heart on his shoulder and plays an intense brand of football to inspire his team. Much loved in Watford, but much maligned by others due to his antics on the pitch. At 30, Deeney is on the downhill side of his career, but played his best football since partnering with Odion Ighalo in the 2015/16 season. He finished on 9 goals but along with Deulofeu, played an up-tempo style of football that was exciting.
It was a surprise to see Deulofeu slot in as a forward along side Deeney for much of the season. It was a pairing that worked well for the Hornets and show the Spaniard remain at Watford, something they could build on. Deulofeu with speed and skill, Deeney with power and aggressiveness to hold up the ball. His 10 goals were a season high in his career in top flight football.
Andre Gray has been somewhat of a bust since coming over from Burnley, unable to produce the result seen in his final season with the Clarets or their 2015/16, which gained them promotion to the Premier League. His seven goals were the best since the 2016/17 season, but much of the season was played as Gracia’s, “super sub” off the bench, to spell Deulofeu and give the Hornets that needed speed and nose for the goal late in games. We also saw Issac Success fill a similar role early in the season but seem to fall out of favor at the turn of the new year.
Going forward, Watford struggled to generate shots on target, this is most evident in Deulofeu or Pereyra. There were far too many games in which the Golden Boys were limited in their attempts on goal. Going forward our midfielders played a key role, but with Hughes on the right flank, it didn’t feel as if had a legitimate playmaker. Take nothing away from Doucoure or Capoue, as they were excellent on the season. Gracia even tried to slot Pereyra and Deulofeu in as an attacking midfielder to guide the offense but didn’t come off as expected.
While I don’t expect any new midfielders to come into the starting XI, there needs to be better consistency at the attacking end. Far too many games were lost due to no goals or having opportunities, but not putting them on target. That said, the offense goes hand in hand with the defense, they end up keeping a few balls out of the net and some of those 1-goal games go in the favor of the Hornets, the season could turn out differently.
In the final part of the series, I will look at rumors surrounding the Hornets, who could be on their way out and those players looking to be in the Watford squad next season. We have some excellent youth players making big names for themselves in South America.