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Watford

Five reasons why Watford should be delighted with their start to the Premier League season

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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.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @willypearson.

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Leicester City

Watford 2-1 Leicester City: Three talking points from Vicarage Road

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Watford recorded their first victory in seven Premier League matches as they recovered from going behind to beat Leicester City and claim a much-needed three points at Vicarage Road on Boxing Day.

It’s easy to forget that the Hornets were just three points off the Champions League places back in October and it seemed like their rotten recent run of form would extend to seven league games without a win when Riyad Mahrez found space at the back-post to head home a deserved opener.

But within eight minutes – and on the stroke of half-time – the hosts responded, with defender Molla Wague being left unmarked to prod home an equaliser and leave things level at the break.

Watford started the second-half in the ascendency just as they had finished the first and they got their reward in fortunate circumstances when the ever-influential Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot somehow found its way into the back of the net from on the by-line off ‘keeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester pushed for a late equaliser only for Wes Morgan and Leonardo Ulloa to be denied by Heurelho Gomes, and Watford managed to hold out for a precious and richly-needed three points.

The result sees Watford move to within two points of Leicester in tenth place, now eight points adrift of Burnley in seventh place, whilst Claude Puel’s side remain in eight spot on goal difference.

Job done for Silva’s side

Watford’s early season momentum has slightly stalled somewhat in the past few weeks, and whilst there was nothing vintage about their win yesterday it will come as a relief to manager Marco Silva.

The Hornets hadn’t tasted victory in the league since the 3-0 win away at Newcastle in late November, going on a run of five defeats and one draw in the six matches prior to Boxing Day.

Tuesday’s win was also only their third in the previous 12 Premier League outings, picking up just ten points from a possible 36 since mid-October, and Silva will be hoping that getting three points against the Foxes can bring an end to a barren run that’s seen Watford drop down the table quickly.

It is perhaps the manner of victory that will have pleased the Watford boss more than anything, falling behind before half-time to a rare Riyad Mahrez header, and his decision to bring on Stefano Okaka and move Richarlison back onto the left-wing was one that ultimately turned things around.

Within moments Molla Wague – the centre-back making his first Watford start since arriving from Italian side Udinese on deadline day – levelled things up on the stroke of half-time, and from that moment on the hosts seemed to have a spring in their step.

Their winner came in fortunate circumstances but the Hornets won’t care how it went in, nor care that they scored twice from just one shot on target all game, and it’s now about backing this win up with another one against bottom side Swansea City this coming Saturday.

Another miserable Boxing Day for the Foxes

Leicester City supporters will be sick of the sight of Boxing Day soon as, for the 11th time in their previous 12 games played on December 26, they failed to win.

It’s a miserable record that has stretched throughout the club’s Premier League history and yet another Boxing Day defeat, this time at Watford, means the Foxes have now lost in their last four league outings on this particular day.

Claude Puel’s side will be left to rue their wastefulness in front of goal in a match where they would have been favourites prior to kick-off, and had Jamie Vardy not uncharacteristically missed when through on goal early on or had Wes Morgan’s late effort found the net it could have been different.

But instead they fell short against a team that possessed little attacking intent on the day, and the defeat means that Leicester have now gone four games without a win having lost just one of Puel’s first eight games in charge.

The ex-Southampton man claimed post-match that a draw would have been a fair result, and arguably so, but his side will have to pick themselves back up for a tough trip to Liverpool next up.

Doucoure’s return leads Watford to win

One of the main architects of Watford’s early season form, along with the irrepressible young Brazilian Richarlison, was Abdoulaye Doucoure.

And whilst Watford’s form has gradually derailed over the past months one man who hasn’t dropped his own performance levels is the Frenchman, and he was superb again against Leicester.

The 24-year-old central midfielder has been a revelation after an underwhelming first season at Vicarage Road last time out, spear-heading the Watford midfield in the long-term absence of Nathaniel Chalobah, and it was little surprise that he had the final say once against on Boxing Day.

He was a huge miss for Marco Silva in Saturday’s disappointing defeat away at Brighton & Hove Albion and it was clear to see how much his return buoyed his side, being the glue that holds this Watford side together, and he single-handedly created the winning goal from out of nowhere.

Whilst it went down as a Kasper Schmeichel own goal it once again highlighted the impact he has been having in front of goal for a central midfielder – after half of the season he’s already scored some six times – and it wouldn’t be surprising if there was heightened interest in him in the upcoming January transfer window.

But his impact runs deeper than his goal tally and he’s forged an identity for himself this season leading by example, being the driving force for a team that are a shadow of their 2015/16 selves.

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford: Zaha outshines Richarlison as Hornets ill-discipline strikes again

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Crystal Palace moved out of the relegation zone for the first time this campaign as two late goals earnt Roy Hodgson’s side a dramatic victory against ten-man Watford at Selhurst Park on Tuesday night.

Daryl Janmaat’s opener inside three minutes made it seem like a long evening was ahead for the hosts, finding space at the back-post to fire home a header after some neat work from Richarlison out wide.

Marco Silva’s side had numerous chances to double their advantage either side of the break, with Troy Deeney first skewing a shot wide of the mark from just six-yards out with the goal at his mercy before Richarlison’s strike from inside the area was expertly blocked by Julian Speroni’s legs.

And it looked like the visitors were comfortably heading for three points until the match turned on its head in the dying moments, sparked by Tom Cleverley’s dismissal for a late lunge on Jeffrey Schlupp.

Substitute Bakary Sako bundled in from close range for Palace in the last minute of normal time before James McArthur popped up inside the area in the 92nd minute to lift the roof right off of Selhurst Park.

The three points – gained in the most dramatic circumstances – see Palace rise up and out of the relegation spots for the first time this season into 17th in the table, whilst Watford remain in ninth.

Palace turn it around late on

On September 12, Roy Hodgson took charge of Crystal Palace with the Eagles rock bottom of the Premier League table, devoid of confidence, sitting on 0 points and simply struggling to find the back of the net.

On December 12, Palace lifted themselves out of the relegation zones for the first time this season.

It’s a remarkable turnaround in such a short space of time led by a man that many Crystal Palace supporters labelled a laughable appointment, and it’ll go a long way to keeping his big critics quiet.

For long periods of Tuesday’s encounter it looked like it wouldn’t be Palace’s night, with Hodgson’s side struggling to test Heurelho Gomes whilst Watford spurned a number of chances to extend their advantage.

Yet at 1-0 they were always in the game, and as soon as Tom Cleverley was given his marching orders late on there was a new sense of urgency to the way that Palace pushed players forward.

The character and drive on show in those final few minutes was a stark contrast to where Palace were when Hodgson took on the job and it’s testament to the mentality instilled by their manager.

There’s still an awful long way to go until May, and there will no doubt be a few ups and downs around Selhurst Park between now and then, but Palace look like a team determined to battle for their survival.

Zaha outshines Richarlison

One person at the heart of Crystal Palace’s efforts was the enigma that is Wilfried Zaha.

If there was ever a match to summarise just how frustrating the 25-year-old can be then it was this one, failing to provide any meaningful contribution for 88 minutes until turning into a match-winner.

Throughout Zaha’s entire career he’s been tarred with the same brush, being clever and willing to drive at defenders in solid build-up play before falling short when it comes to finding an end product.

And it seemed that that would be the story on Tuesday night again as despite all of his endeavours and efforts in the final third Palace failed to have a shot on target until the 85th minute. That was, until he produced two pieces of inspiration in a matter of minutes in the most unlikely of victories.

Out of nowhere he became irrepressible, firing in a fierce low drive that could only be parried into Sako’s path, before he created the winner himself by bamboozling Janmaat with some tricky footwork down the left-hand side and bursting into the area, feeding McArthur to deftly slot home.

It’s not often that a player can outshine Watford’s new Brazilian wonderkid Richarlison but that’s exactly what Zaha managed to do, and now the emphasis is on the need for him to find consistency.

Watford’s ill-discipline proves costly again

Another week, another red card.

It was an all-too familiar story for Watford once again on Tuesday night as the Hornets’ prominent ill-discipline reared its ugly head, ultimately costing them some points for the second time in a week.

On Saturday it was Marvin Zeegelaar who saw red for a rash challenge, with Burnley capitalising on their man advantage just minutes later, and this time around it was Tom Cleverley’s turn to see red.

His dismissal in the 87th minute sparked a dramatic finale at Selhurst Park and condemned the Hornets to a fourth Premier League game without a win against a team they should have beaten.

It also signalled the eighth red card that Watford have received since the start of the 2016-17 season, more than any other top-flight club, and it’s now a real problem that they have to address.

Whilst there was no disputing Cleverley’s challenge on Jeffrey Schlupp that earnt him a second yellow, Watford boss Marco Silva believed that the hosts should have had a red card of their own shortly before when Patrick van Aanholt’s tackle from behind on Roberto Pereyra went unpunished.

There’s certainly an argument for the Palace man being sent-off but, either way, Watford should have had the intelligence and mettle to see out the remaining few minutes and kept the hosts out.

Instead, the Hornets will be left ruing their ill-discipline and wondering what could have been again.

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Manchester United

Three talking points as Manchester United beat Watford in an enthralling encounter

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Manchester United

Manchester United continued their pursuit of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table as Ashley Young’s stunning double was enough to see off a spirited Watford on Tuesday night.

Going into the clash at Vicarage Road eight points behind their rivals, Jose Mourinho’s side took an early lead when Young – returning to his former side – thumped in a drive from the edge of the area.

Six minutes later the 32-year-old curled in a superb free-kick from 25-yards out before Anthony Martial’s clinical low finish gave the visitors a commanding three-goal lead with just 32 minutes played.

Watford were awarded a glimmer of hope with ten minutes to go when Marcos Rojo, making his Premier League return, hauled down Roberto Pereyra inside the box and Troy Deeney dispatched the penalty.

The most unlikely of comebacks was on when Abdoulaye Doucoure stroked home a second on the 84th minute, only for Jesse Lingard to go straight up the other end and scored a sensational solo effort.

The result sees Mourinho’s men close the gap on City to five points – at least until they play Southampton on Wednesday night – whilst Watford remain four points outside of the top four.

Watford come close to remarkable comeback

It’s not often that a team will be 3-0 down inside the opening half an hour, go on to concede four goals at home in the league yet still leave the pitch with their heads held high and their pride intact.

However, Marco Silva’s side will certainly be the exception to that after last night’s display, coming desperately close to pulling off one of the Premier League’s most remarkable comebacks ever.

Even when they went three goals down their heads didn’t drop; this wasn’t a case of Watford being outplayed by their opponents, it was more a case of United being clinical with the chances they had.

The Hornets didn’t change the way they applied themselves on the pitch, still looking to use Richarlison’s pace and trickery and get into the box, and when Doucoure turned home with six minutes still to play the rapturous response from the crowd sensed there was a point in the offing.

Whilst it might not have transpired like that, with Watford’s leaky defence proving costly once more this season, it was a vastly improved display from the 6-0 home humiliation against leaders Manchester City and Silva can take heart from the way his side battled against Jose Mourinho’s side.

Mixed feelings for Mourinho after breath-taking match

For all of 80 minutes it seemed like Manchester United were coasting to another victory in a match that would have been labelled prior to kick-off as the first tricky game of a testing period of winter fixtures.

The visitors showed a clinical edge in the final third, scoring their three goals with their first three chances of the match, and they could easily have put the game even further out of sight before Deeney’s penalty considering that Romelu Lukaku spurned two glorious chances to add to the lead.

Despite Watford’s late show of resolve, there were plenty of positives for manager Jose Mourinho to build on, not least the showing of Anthony Martial in a more advanced striking role.

Partnering Lukaku the Frenchman showed that he is a man playing with a vast amount of belief in himself and Watford could barely contain him, with his runs in-behind causing numerous problems.

His well-taken goal means that he’s now scored eight goals in all competitions this season (from 20 appearances), already equalling his tally from last season (from 42 games), and his ability to frequently break through the midfield and run at the defence will give Mourinho food for thought.

Yet, it was not all good news, with Nemanja Matic’s enforced withdrawal early in the second-half cause for concern with a tough trip to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal just around the corner.

Marcos Rojo’s erratic nature came to the surface once again too in his first Premier League appearance since returning from injury, needlessly coming in from behind to bring Pereyra down for Watford’s penalty, and it was this moment that nearly opened the door for Watford’s comeback.

Nonetheless, it was a night to be positive for United fans – after all, for 80 minutes they were convincing against a strong Watford side – and the Red Devils will go into Saturday’s crucial clash with confidence high.

Young and Lingard stunners light up Vicarage Road

It has been quite the season so far for Ashley Young, forcing his way back into the fold under Jose Mourinho before making the left wing-back position his own, but Tuesday was his best outing yet.

He seemed to save his very best for his former side – having spent four years at Vicarage Road as a youngster – and whilst his effort against Brighton is likely to be awarded as an own goal by the dubious goal panel there was absolutely nothing wrong with his stunning efforts this time around.

His first on the night was a firm low drive that whistled along the floor, giving Heurelho Gomes no chance, but he went one better when he whipped a sensational free-kick right into the top corner.

It is not often that a player can score a goal of that calibre but still not claim the accolade of the best goal of the evening, but Jesse Lingard will no doubt have something to say about that after his clinching effort, running 73 metres from inside his own half to top off an excellent display with a deserved goal.

The England international never really seems to be spoken about in the same manner that Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are, but he lit up Vicarage Road with dangerous runs and movement.

He was afforded far more freedom playing in a role behind the two strikers and he thrived upon it, seeing an awful lot of the ball and turning defence into attack at pace, and the athleticism and fitness he showed to maraud forward, beat countless Watford players and score should be praised.

On the night he created six chances for his teammates – one of which was the assist for Young’s opening goal – and he put in a performance that suggested he’s not just here to make up squad numbers.

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