Ahead of the late Sunday fixture, as Watford welcomed Spurs to Vicarage Road, there was much anticipation and expectation in the air, as Watford were riding an early 3-game winning streak that saw them on 9-points at the top of the Premier League with a share of the lead. Spurs weren’t much different, coming into the weekend with wins over Newcastle, Fulham and Manchester United. Not sure Mauricio Pochettino expected what was to come on the pitch.
If there was any time you didn’t want to play Watford, that time is now, as Javi Gracia has the Hornets playing some of their best football since the start the of the 2017/18 season, when Marco Silva was manager and Watford had posted eight points through the first four gameweeks.
This Hornets team has a different feel to it to previous squads, as there is a positive feeling reverberating through the club, as they play with a unity and confidence on the pitch. Javi Gracia has prasied the efforts of captain, Troy Deeney, “Today he has been very important and not only in scoring a goal. I said many times it is not only when the strikers score goals that they are important for us. They work during all the minutes and help us score goals.” His play on the pitch, partnered with Andre Gray has been instrumental in the success Watford have seen going forward.
As expected, it was Spurs on the front foot early and often, controlling the tempo of the game and possession of the ball. Some early chances went begging, as Watford looked strong in defense, with Ben Foster playing a key role for the Golden Boys. Yet of more importance, the partnership developing in front of him with Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele. Unlike last season, these defenders have been outstanding to start the campaign and continued with fine form against the strong Spurs attack. The center backs combined for 15 aerial duels, winning 10 of them, while they forced 26 clearances in front of Foster.
While there was end to end action in the first half, the teams went into the breaks scoreless, with Spurs statistically better. Watford were impressive, holding their own, willing to bend, but not break on defense. They looked comfortable and organized through the midfield, creating a few chances in front of Michel Vorm, who got the start for Spurs, as Hugo Lloris picked up a thigh injury. If you could point to a weakness in Spurs, Watford needed to capitalize on the fact that Vorm had no minutes played coming into Gameweek 4.
As Andre Mariner whistle started the second half, it was Watford attacking the Rookery End at the Vic. Spurs got started just seven minutes into the half, when a loose ball bounded around the 6-yard box, in front of Foster, who came out, but instead of grabbing or knocking the ball clear, ran into Kabasele. The ball ricocheted off Abdoulaye Doucoure, back toward the goal, as Foster was unable to recover, and the ball found the back of the net.
This was a tough goal to stomach as a Watford fan, after the way the Hornets has played for 53’. Spurs were on the right side of luck and deserved the goal for their constant pressure they placed on Watford. Spurs could have picked up a second goal, as Etienne Capoue was fouled, as Spurs attempted a quick restart, near the center line that potentially could have provided an attacking chance. Mariner stopped play, as Capoue was attended to.
Watford had a chance to get back into the game when Jose Holebas stood over the set-piece on 69’, as he sent a beautiful ball into the box that connected with Deeney’s head, leveling the score, 1-1. It was a well-deserved goal, after conceding the OG moments before. It would be just seven minutes later when Watford had another chance at the Rookery End. Again, it was Holebas on the corner, providing another well delivered ball into the box that Cathcart got on the end of it sending Vicarage Road into pandemonium! Watford had come from behind to take a 2-1 lead, with time to play.
Last year, this one goal lead most likely would have been given away with an even higher probability of giving away the game and ending up with zero points, but this team chemistry is different. On this day, it was not to be, as Watford came together in defense, repelling a few last minute chances to hold the lead and take the 3-points, remaining perfect on the season, 4-0 headed into the international break.
Player Report Card
Ben Foster (£4.5) | Grade B+: Last week against Crystal Palace, I called the match, “the first true test” for Foster and the defense. While Palace brought a staunch attack, Spurs are a perennial top six side with a dominating attack. Foster for the fourth week played very well between the sticks, commanding and controlling his defenders. The mistake that led the goal, wasn’t completely Foster’s fault, but more Kabasele not listening to the goalkeeper coming for the ball. It was a shared responsibility and a sprinkling of bad luck that lead to the Doucoure own goal.
Fantasy: In terms of fantasy value, it’s still hard to recommend Foster, as Watford have played amazingly well in defense, conceding just three goals to start the season, backed by a single clean sheet in Gameweek 1. While I still back at £4.5, he needs to be in a rotation with either Wolves, Burnley. Crystal Palace or Southampton through Gameweek 9. After Arsenal in three weeks, Watford has a stronger schedule.
Jose Holebas (£4.8) | A: Sunday was another outstanding performance by the 34- year old at left back, as he put in an excellent shift, playing a key role in both of Watford’s goals. Holebas has delivered some excellent balls from the corner spot, as well as the field of play and dead ball situations. He remains an integral part to the defensive success Watford have experienced to start this season. He’s posted four assists and a goal this season, but more importantly, he’s avoided those stupid fouls that have him seeing yellow.
Fantasy: Spell is Holebas or Cholebas, but Jose is playing on a level with some of the premium priced defenders, such as Marcos Alonso, Benjamin Mendy and Andrew Robertson. Currently Holebas is second in defensive scoring with 34 points, trailing only Alonso. Regardless of fixtures, Holebas could and should be considered as that “budget option.” Many managers are skipping this price bracket and rolling right to a £4.0 asset. If you have activated your wild card, I would give Holebas some real consideration.
Christian Kabasele (£4.5) | Grade B-: It’s been great to see a strong pairing in the middle, with Cathcart and Kabasele anchoring the center back positions, but still learning. He’s been strong in the air, winning 65.5% of his aerial duels and posted 25 clearances. However, it was his action or lack of, that contributed to the miscommunication with Foster that lead to the own goal that rebounded off Doucoure, past a diving Foster. That blemish aside, Kabasele put in another strong shift for the Hornets.
Fantasy: At £4.5, it’s tough to recommend the center back, when you have his teammate, Holebas delivering on the offensive end of the pitch. Clean sheets have been non-existent since GW1, but in a few weeks’ time, Watford will hit a much better stretch, with none of the top six teams. Great on the pitch, but not much fantasy value at this point.
Craig Cathcart (£4.5) | Grade A: I could repeat what I just said about Kabasele, as he has supplanted himself as a regular in Gracia’s starting XI. Paired with Kabasele, the two central backs have been outstanding this year. While not as prolific in aerial duels, Cathcart has posted 23 recoveries and 24 clearances during the season, in front of Foster. The more he pairs with Kabasele and Foster, the stronger this group with improve over the rest of the season.
Fantasy: Cathcart’s numbers are skewed by his first goal of the season, which gave Watford the win over Spurs (sorry to keep bringing it up James). Over the span of his career, he’s only posted 12 goals, with three coming in the 2014/15 season when Watford were in the Championship. Again, it’s hard to recommend the center back, when Holebas carries so much value at £4.5; dead balls, corners, attacking prowess.
Roberto Pereyra (£6.3) | Grade C The past few seasons for Watford it’s been a case of Pereyra posting returns at Vicarage Road, but not being able to score on the road. While that hasn’t changed to date, this season, he was unable to generate any attacking returns against Spurs. When we talk about a mid-price midfielder, these games against contending teams are a time they need to shine. He didn’t in this game, but still played a vital role down the left flank. He continues to carry a great threat when he cuts back inside, onto his right foot.
Fantasy: This is the first match in three home games that Pereyra hasn’t returned attacking points. His numbers on Sunday weren’t down from previous matches, just six penalty area touches on the day with a single attempt on goal, from inside the box. At £6.3, he is still a consideration in the midfield. Watford have been very productive at the offensive end and still represents good value. Based on his ‘value added per minute’ of 0.79, he carries a very real threat going forward. He carries and xG of 0.48 and xA of 0.27. He’s still heavily involved going forward.
Troy Deeney (£6.1) | Grade A: It’s been great seeing Deeney revitalized to start the campaign. There is a new-found confidence every time he walks onto the pitch. He’s a force to be reckoned with up top, partnered with Andre Gray. He has relished the role, wearing the captain’s armband and has been a big part of the early Watford success. The game against Spurs could have come down to a single moment, in which he dropped Davidson Sanchez with his shoulder, as he set the tone of the Hornets comeback.
Fantasy: Fantasy managers have started to take notice of Deeney at the offensive end of the pitch. It’s been a few years since he’s managed double digits, but that year he was partnered with Odion Ighalo up top. This year, it’s Gray and the two forwards have a yang-ying type of relationship. Deeney is the muscle, able to challenge defenders (as he did with Sanchez) and hold up play. This week, it was the captain using his strength to send a powerful header past Vorm, seeing the Hornets draw level. Going forward, Deeney does represent value, but not sure if it’s enough to warrant consideration, based on their upcoming fixtures. I would put him on a watchlist and reconsider him after the Arsenal game.
While Watford have stunned the Premier League, moving to the top of the table with four wins and 12 points on the season, it’s a case of being very team oriented, rather than the efforts of individuals. There is some good value to be had from a fantasy perspective (Holebas), but many Watford players, even though they are playing well, stringing wins together, very few of them are real assets for FPL managers. As a supporter, I would rather see this be the case, than battling relegation this early in the season with individuals posting excellent fantasy value.