Watford welcomed the start of training for the 2018-19 season last week, as Vicarage Road is buzzing with transfers, news and anticipation. While the Hornets finished last season on a slow, painful slide, supporters look to the new season with high expectations with manager, Javi Gra After a season in which Watford struggled to regain any constant form after Gameweek 8, injuries played a key role in the inability to field their best starting XI. Marco Silva had Watford in 4th after eight weeks in 2017/18, but his rumored move to Everton, coupled with injuries and the inability to score regularly caused the Hornets to slide to mid-table before Gracia righted the ship, to salvage the season, finishing on 41 points, 14th in the overall ranking.
While the transfer window is still open, there is reason to believe Watford could be a top 10 squad this season, depending on the new players brought. Gerard Deulofeu made his move from Barcelona permanent and will provide skill, pace and quality crosses down the right wing. Drop in Richarlison down the left side, rested and ready to start the season and Watford could be very dangerous in their midfield attack. Our player of the year, Abdoulaye Doucouré returns to anchor the midfield with the likes of Will Hughes, Tom Cleverley, Étienne Capoue, Nathaniel Chalobah and new signee, Ken Sema. The obvious strength of Watford lies in the middle of the pitch, as this group will be key in transitioning up the pitch.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, we still have not signed any new forwards, as Watford scored just 44 goals last season (8th worst in the EPL). Currently, Troy Deeney and Andre Gray are the best we have up front. Isaac Success and Stefano Okaka haven’t played any key role for Watford in season’s past, both have showed flashes of brilliance, but were left watching the old guard try to find the net. Deeney is still respected, as leader and captain on the pitch, but his more productive seasons came with Odion Ighalo on the pitch in the 2015/16 season. Last year, Gray and Deeney split time as the lone forward option, but some of the best production on the pitch came when they played a 2-forward system with Gray or Okaka.
Defensively, Watford have been adding depth to their squad, as injuries saw the Hornets concede 64 goals last season, the worst record defensively after West Ham and relegated Stoke City (68). While Heurelho Gomes and Orestis Karnezis played well between the sticks, the lack of healthy defenders, playing as a unit caused many problems. Since the start of the year, Watford have added Ben Wilmot, Marc Navarro and Adam Masina to the growing list of defenders to start the season. Some bright spots last year to consider, the play of Kiko Femenia at right wing-back looked an exciting prospect both offensively and defensively. He played out of position when Deulofeu went down to injury with Daryl Janmaat behind him. In the left wing-back position, the Hornets re-signed 34-year old, José Holebas through to 2020, more recently signing Masina from Bologna in Serie A. Navarro could represent the future at centre back or right-back, as the Spaniard recorded 31 starts last season for Espanyol in La Liga.
Still on the books at centre back for Watford are Sebastian Prödl (31), Craig Cathcart (29) and Younès Kaboul (32), all of whom missed substantial time due to injury. This group is key to the defensive success of Watford for the new season. It will be a combination of experience and youth that should help this defensive unit improve on our poor record for the upcoming season. One area that has recently been sorted has been the starting goalkeeper for the when the season begins.
Last season Gomes was lost to injury after Gameweek 23 and played just one game in the rest of the year, as Karnezis saw a bulk of the keeping duties the second half of the season. While he did an admirable job between the sticks, he’s left for Napoli in Serie A, while Gomes, now 37 years old with 148 games for the Hornets could be leaving the Vic. He told ESPN Brazil, “Let’s see what happens, but probably I will not stay at Watford because the manager does not count on me for next season, so I have got to sort out my future.” His leadership on the pitch and managing the defense are two aspects that will be difficult to replace, as 19-year old, Pontus Dahlberg, bought from IFK Göteborg in 2017 isn’t ready, but is the future for the Hornets. Former Manchester United loanee and West Brom goalkeeper, Ben Foster has returned to Vicarage on a 2-year contract. At 35 years old, he’s experienced and played very well in his previous stint with the Hornets. “It was a chance to come back to a team that I don’t think has ever been this good. The quality we’ve got within the team from top to bottom is probably the best it has ever been,” said Foster.
Questions still remain unanswered as the Hornets train in anticipation of their August 11 opening fixture at home to Brighton. With about three weeks in which to train for the upcoming season, hopefully Gino Pozzo and Javi Gracia can secure a few more moves and fill some holes. Realistically, the Hornets will be a mid-table team, but there is excitement in the air as football returns to the Vic.