Perhaps one of the biggest surprise packages so far during this Premier League season has been Watford, with Marco Silva taking over at the helm and completely turning their fortunes around.
The Hornets limped to a 17th place finish last season under Walter Mazzarri, and whilst there was never any danger of relegation it was an uninspiring year at Vicarage Road with little to shout about.
This underwhelming disappointment has very quickly changed to silent anticipation since Silva’s arrival though, and Watford are sitting pretty level on points with Liverpool heading into the break.
The Boot Room looks at the reasons why Watford fans can be thrilled with their start to the season.
Marco Silva’s rejuvenation of the Hornets
Marco Silva arrived at a relegation-threatened Hull City last January and, although they eventually fell agonisingly short of the great escape, he made quite the first impression on the Premier League.
It wasn’t long until he was snapped up by Watford following the dismissal of Mazzarri and it could turn out to be a stroke of genius by the owners at Vicarage Road, with the Portuguese tactician transforming an average group of players and – with a few additions of his own – creating an impressive squad.
He’s all of a sudden got his side pressing further up the pitch and taking the game to the opposition, almost injecting a hunger into his side and a desire to battle for the full 90 minutes.
It is this ability to compete until the final whistle that has earnt his side three points over the past two matches courtesy of late goals, and there’s a sense of something good happening at the club.
Obviously it’s still early days in his tenure at Vicarage Road and there’s a long way to go in this Premier League campaign, and the heavy home defeat against Manchester City showed there are still a fair few creases to iron out, but there’s now an all-too rare feeling of optimism starting to grow.
Watford new boys show signs of promise
Part of Watford’s sudden rise to the top half of the table can be attributed to Silva’s recruitment drive over the summer transfer window, making some smart and shrewd additions across the pitch.
Managing to steal England Under-21 star Nathaniel Chalobah from Chelsea for a measly fee of £5 million was perhaps one of the signings of the summer across the whole of the top-flight, and he found his rhythm quickly and had an impact before picking up a knee injury in training last week.
The attacking trio of Andre Carrillo from Benfica, Richarlison – the bizarrely named 20-year-old Brazilian – and club record-signing Andre Gray have added a sense of directness and potency when in the opposition third of the pitch, improving a side that scored just 40 goals throughout last year.
Further arrivals of Will Hughes, Tom Cleverley and Kiko Femenia have all of a sudden given Watford a new strength in depth, with two or three players vying for each position on the pitch.
Out of all of them it’s perhaps Richarlison that’s had the most impact, scoring two stoppage-time goals in the past two weeks to secure his side points, and it was reported by Sky Sports that Watford beat off competition from Europa League finalists Ajax to secure his signature over the summer – which says a lot.
It has been a real team effort since the start of the season to get Watford to where they are after seven matches, and Silva will hope his signings can keep on building on this momentum as the year goes on.
Form on the road has been transformed
Last season Watford’s away form left a lot to be desired, earning just 12 points from their 19 matches away from Vicarage Road, winning just three games and scoring 15 goals in the process.
But their away day woes seem like a thing of the past as, after four away matches of the 2017-18 Premier League, the Hornets have already matched their tally of three wins and secured 10 points.
Their performances have been as impressive as their results too, grinding both Bournemouth and Southampton down in respective visits and repelling anything their opponents had to offer in attack, and Silva has made Watford a hard team to break down – yet one that can grind out the goals too.
Midfield duo add much needed steel
Whilst Chalobah has arrived and provided a box-to-box presence that Watford have been needing for a few years, partner Abdoulaye Doucoure has also hit a purple patch and found some excellent form.
The 24-year-old was signed in January 2016 before being immediately sent out on loan to La Liga outfit Granada, and despite returning and featuring in the second-half of last season he failed to impress.
Yet, given another opportunity under Silva this season, Doucoure looks like a new man and has started the year like a runaway train, scoring three times and putting in a string of imposing displays.
His on-field partnership with Chalobah has been an intrinsic reason for Watford’s early rise to prominence this season and whilst the injury to the England Under-21 midfielder could have seen his performance level stall he’s merely continued in the same vein, proving to be an all-round asset.
Whilst his large frame lends himself well to physical battles and retaining possession, he also has a deft touch on the ball and is often the heartbeat of Watford’s attacking play, anchoring it from the back.
The dynamic midfield duo have added much needed protection to Watford’s defence and the reinvigoration of Doucoure has made it almost feel like another new signing in the heart of the side.
Watford show a new sense of character
One thing that Watford majorly lacked last season was a sense of confidence – due to too many disheartening results – and a lack of fight, but Silva has immediately changed that this campaign.
The Hornets have shown a togetherness that hasn’t been seen for a while, epitomised by coming back twice in two weeks to win 2-1 against Swansea City and claim an even more dramatic 2-2 draw away at West Brom, and the character that this Watford side have shown trumps that of last year.
They celebrated Saturday’s point at the Baggies like a victory and rightly so, showing that if you dominate possession and stay positive until the very end then you’ll often get your just rewards.
If Watford had gone 2-0 down inside 21 minutes last season then there are few that would have given them a chance of earning a draw – but less than a year later, and that’s the impact Silva’s had.