For the second year running, the Golden Boys will open the Premier League season against Brighton & Hove Albion at Vicarage Road. Last season, Watford took away four points, including a 2-0 home opener win and an away draw in February.
It’s been a productive off season for Javi Gracia and the Hornets as they have addressed their defense by signing former Baggies defender, Craig Dawson. He partnered with Craig Cathcart and this should help solidify the defense, which didn’t impress last season. Take nothing away from the playing of journeyman, Adrian Mariappa, who’s been with Watford since 2005 but returned to the Hornets in 2016 after four years away with Reading and Crystal Palace.
Dawson brings size, strength and a former playing relationship with Ben Foster, as they were teammates at West Brom, where they played together from 2011 until Foster moved to Watford in 2018. In an interview with Foster, Dawson said, “You had a great season here, so hopefully we can improve on that as a group and as a squad. Just looking through the squad today it’s an exciting squad and one which is a brilliant premier league team.”
The defense is otherwise unchanged as Jose Holebas will start at left back, while Kiko Femenia locked down the starting right back spot at the end of last season. Femenia, like Holebas, loves to bomb forward, while his size and defending is questionable at times.
The midfield will continue to be the strength of this Watford squad, as it’s anchored by two of the league’s “unsung heroes” in Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure. There was much speculation last season, after Doucoure signed a contract extension he would not make it through the summer as a Hornet. Thankfully, Watford wasn’t in a rush to move the Frenchman on and he will partner with Capoue as they patrol the midfield.
Outside, Roberto Pereyra, who started last season on fire returns after a fine Copa Americana with Argentina and will look to hit his stride early in order to boost his confidence, something he lacked much of last season. His ability and ball control make his play very dynamic with Will Hughes and Gerard Deulofeu on the pitch. Hughes should start on the right wing but has continually been given the nod by Gracia to fade into a central position, where he is much more effective, as Femenia joins the attack from defense.
Up top, it’s captain, Troy Deeney and Deulofeu, who are effectively “speed and power” that combined very well last season combining for 19 goals and 10 assists. This year, the Hornets start with a fit Deulofeu, after missing the first eight weeks of the season, after picking up an injury in preseason.
For Watford to be effective at the attacking end, Deulofeu needs to improve. “In some periods of the season I missed chances, but I hope this season I score more than 12 goals [all competitions] because I can score” said Deulofeu. He’s got the opportunity to start off well, as the Seagulls conceded 32 goals away from The Amex.
There were glaring differences in the two games last season against Brighton, as Watford took 19 shots in the opening game, five on target, as Pereyra hit for the brace. On the road, the Hornets mustered just five shots but none on target. Against a lower table team like Brighton, Watford needs to put much more pressure on the defense and balls on target to be successful.
This should be one-way traffic for Watford at the Vic opening day weekend. Possession and tempo should be controlled early by Capoue and Doucoure in hopes we can get Deeney and Deulofeu into the game early with some quality chances. Watford need to come out fast and gain some confidence, to control the game. Final score, 3-0 as the Hornets get off to winning ways to start the season.
Fantasy Players to Watch
Gerard Deulofeu: Now reclassified as a forward, he’s going to have a difficult time equaling his point total (133) from last season. He could be a 15-17 goal scorer this season, if he remains healthy, involved and improves his chances on target. There is some concern over his minutes, as Gracia regularly hooks him between 65-70 minutes due to his high intensity play on the pitch. I give a nod to the Spaniard for the first four game weeks (BHA/eve/WHU/new) but then turn away until GW12. He’s got potential to start the season well with Brighton at home.
Defenders: I am still not backing ANY defender from the squad. Cathcart and Dawson will be the preferred center backs, there have been many questions about the viability of Cathcart at £4.5 million. Hopefully the inclusion of Dawson improves the defense as a whole, but I am still a bit worried about our ability to keep clean sheets.