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Watford 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview

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Watford return to the top division of English football after an eight year absence as they look to preserve their Premier League status beyond the first season for the first time ever. They will be looking to build on some brilliant form last season as they look to follow in the footsteps of Leicester City and beat the drop at the first attempt. The Hornets look to combine the core from last season with lots of additions to the squad as they look for relative success.

Story of Last Season

The Hornets had a phenomenal 2014/15 campaign as they were promoted from the Championship after a 2nd place finish. In fact, Watford could well have lifted the title but for a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday on the final day which saw them lose out to Bournemouth in that particular race. Their success was built on the three front-line strikers as Troy Deeney, Matej Vydra and Odion Ighalo netted 57 league goals between them. Watford finished with 27 wins, 8 draws and 11 defeats to reach the figure of 89 points. They also scored 91 goals and conceded 50 which resulted in a highly commendable goal difference of +41.

Transfers In

Watford FC have made an astonishing number of signings so far this summer as they look to build a side capable of staying in the top division this season.

Matej Vydra: The Czech international striker has signed on a permanent basis from Udinese after a successful loan spell at the club. Matej Vydra; 23, scored 16 goals in 31 league appearances last season and has since signed on a five year contract at Vicarage Road for an undisclosed fee.

Sebastian Prodl: Austrian defender Sebastian Prodl has joined on a free transfer from Werder Bremen.  28 year old Prodl made 133 appearances for Bremen, netting 11 goals and securing an average rating of 7.02 last season.

Giedrius Arlauskis: Lithuanian goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis has been added into Watford’s ranks from Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest. The 27 year old helped his side to a domestic treble in 2014/15 and has signed on a free transfer. The stopper will provide competition for current number one Heurelho Gomes but will face a challenge to displace the former Spurs man.

Jose Holebas: Greek international defender Jose Holebas has signed from Serie A Runners-up Roma. Now at the age of 31, Holebas made 30 starts in his only season in Rome, netting 1 goal in the process and assisting a further goal to finish with an average league rating of 7.27. The athletic full-back has been contracted to a 3 year deal after moving for an undisclosed fee.

Etienne Capoue: Former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Etienne Capoue has joined the Hornets after a decidedly poor spell in North London. Capoue made just 24 starts in two years at Spurs with an average league rating of just 6.92 last season, although he did achieve a pass percentage of 87.4%. The 27 year old Frenchman has been awarded a 4 year contract after a fee believed to be around £7 million was agreed between the two sides during the summer.

Valon Behrami: The ex-West Ham midfield enforcer Valon Behrami has signed from German side Hamburg. The 30 year old Swiss international made 22 appearances in the Bundesliga but struggled with indiscipline, picking up 7 yellows and a red card over the course of the campaign. He finished the season with a disappointing average rating of 6.94. The fee is rumoured to be somewhere between 2 and 2.5 million pounds.

Allan Nyom: Cameroonian international right-back Allan Nyom is another player to have signed for Watford from Udinese, after spending his entire time registered to the Italian club on loan to Granada. The 27 year old defender made 135 league appearances in four seasons in Spain, scoring 1 goal. Nyom had an average rating of 7.00 last season and has moved for an undisclosed fee, signing a 4 year contract.

Miguel Britos: Centre-Back Miguel Britos has been acquired from serial Serie A powerhouses Napoli.  At 30 years of age now, Britos made 82 starts for Napoli after signing from Bologna, netting 3 goals and securing an average league rating of 7.30 in 2013/14. His performance levels dropped off last year, averaging just 6.89 and has signed for the Hornets on a 3 year deal for an undisclosed fee.

Jose Manuel Jurado: Spanish playmaker Jose Manuel Jurado is another addition to Watford’s from Russian side Spartak Moscow. The Spaniard made 44 starts for the Russian outfit, scoring 11 goals along the way but achieved an average rating last season of just 6.85. Jurado, 29, signed on a 3 year deal for an undisclosed fee.

Steven Berghuis: The Hornets have recently acquired Dutch forward Steven Berghuis from Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar. 23 year old Berghuis has signed for a reported £4.6 million on a 4 year contract. The Dutchman made 56 appearnces for AZ, scoring 20 goals and setting up a further 10. Berghuis had a brilliant season last year with 11 goals in just 19 starts, with an average rating of 7.47.

Key Players

Troy Deeney:

Watford’s main player is without doubt their captain and striker Troy Deeney. Their poacher-in-chief must look to score in addition to being an asset off the pitch in an ambassadorial role. Deeney will have a vital role to play in the dressing room, keeping everyone motivated but at the same time help the team be successful going forward. The strong target man has been at the club for 5 years and took over the captaincy at the start of Watford’s memorable 2014/15 season following the retirement of Manuel Almunia. The Englishman will look to help his side move on to bigger and better things and his goals could be the difference between staying up and an instant return to the Championship. 21 strikes last season show just what the former Walsall man is capable of.

Ikechi Anya:

Scotland international winger Ikechi Anya is another player to watch out for as Watford look to preserve their top flight status. The flyer who operates primarily on the flanks has an abundance of pace and skill and was an important part of the Hornets’ promotion. Anya is known for his lung busting runs down the wing, but can also fill in anywhere along the middle of the park and at full back. It is that versatility that could ultimately help his side the most. Anya achieved 7 assists but must surely look to improve on his potency in front of goal, not managing to beat the ‘keeper once last time out.

Heurelho Gomes:

The other key player for Watford this season is their Brazilian keeper Heurelho Gomes who has previous top flight experience after an ill-fated spell at Spurs. The Watford shot-stopper will be an important member of the Vicarage Road outfit as they look to shore up the defence ahead of a very tough campaign. Gomes will need to make key saves at vital times, be commanding in his penalty area, and always keep his defence motivated and at their best. A weak season from the goalkeeper will surely lead to relegation whereas a few strong months could be the deciding factor in the extent of Watford’s stay in England’s top division.

Predicted Line-up
Watford - Football tactics and formations

Manager

Enrique Sanchez Flores is the new man at the helm for the Hornets after the club decided against renewing the contract of Slavica Jokanovic due to internal differences. The former Spanish international right back has become the new head coach of the Premier League side after spells in his native Spain, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates. Flores has been off the radar for a few years now after enjoying successful spells at Getafe, Valencia and Atletico Madrid, as well as some mixed fortunes at Benfica. He moved to the UAE, but struggled at the helm of both Al Ahli and Al Ain and returned to Getafe in January this year after 9 months without a club. After quitting the side just 6 weeks later citing personal reasons, he has made the move to the Premier League outfit. His honours include the Portuguese Cup, Europa League, UEFA Super Cup, President’s Cup (twice), the Emirates Cup in the UAE as well as being a runner-up in the Copa Del Rey.

First Six Fixtures

Everton (A), West Bromwich Albion (H), Southampton (H), Manchester City (A), Swansea City (H), Newcastle United (A):

Watford start with a tough test as they travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton. The Hornets will be looking for their new signings to be an instant success, but I can only see this going one way in what should be a comfortable win for the Toffees.

The Hornets then host West Bromwich Albion in arguably their most winnable of the first six fixtures. An early goal will be vital for either side and I believe Troy Deeney will be the difference between the sides, with Watford scraping the three points.

A tough fixture follows as they host the high flying Saints who have added to a season of promise with quality acquisitions. Watford will surely give it a good go, but I see them coming up just short in a valiant defeat.

Next up for Watford is arguably one of their toughest matches this season as they travel to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City. The key to retaining respectability will be solidity at the back, but ultimately this could prove to be a very heavy defeat for the London side.

Swansea follow up at Vicarage Road and this should be a good game between two decent footballing sides. Both teams will attack each other and look to cause damage and I think they will cancel each other out with both sides collecting a point.

The sixth fixture for the Hornets sees them travel to Tyneside to take on a Newcastle side that could produce absolutely any level of performance. This is a game that is exceptionally hard to predict, with the Geordies’ season full of Jekyll and Hyde performances, but I believe home advantage will just see the Toon Army through to the win.

Watford start with a mix of winnable games and tough games and I believe that 7 points from these first 6 games would be seen as a success for the side. Unfortunately I envisage the Hornets only picking up 4 points, with all 3 away games ending in defeats. If this is to be the case, then this could well be an early blow that the side find it difficult to recover from as they move towards the clutches of the Premier League trap door.

Final Standing Prediction – 20th

The Hornets have not heeded the warnings of QPR’s two ill-fated campaigns in the Premier League and I can only see it going one way; an immediate return to Championship football. If key players perform at their best then they could stage a surprise, but from the numerous signings so far, it seems quite clear that the manager does not have much trust in the side that got them promoted. The spine remains intact but as the additions continue to roll in, it will only add to the pressure and unsettle the side. I believe they are the least equipped of the promoted sides to stay up and I can see them finishing in last place.

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Burnley

Burnley 0-1 Manchester United: Three talking points from Turf Moor

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Anthony Martial scored the only goal of the game as Manchester United recorded their third consecutive victory by seeing off Burnley at Turf Moor. In a game devoid of end-to-end entertainment, the Frenchman struck in the 54th minute when his right-footed shot found the net via the underside of the crossbar.

Burnley tried in vain to force a leveller but could not find a way past David de Gea, as their winless run extended to seven Premier League matches. United, meanwhile, have maintained their grip on second spot but remain 12 points drift of runaway leaders Manchester City. Here are three talking points…

United pass another away-day test

Despite rumours of unrest at Old Trafford, United are now unbeaten in eight Premier League matches. While their hopes of reeling in Manchester City may be remote, Jose Mourinho’s men are red-hot favourites to finish as runners-up. That would be a huge improvement on last season – their first under Mourinho – where United finished sixth. It was only their success in the Europa League that guaranteed them a place in the Champions League.

The Red Devils are definitely progressing and the expected arrival of Alexis Sanchez would give them another dimension. In particular, their away form will please Mourinho. This was United’s fifth victory in their past six Premier League games on their travels, a run that is helping to keep the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool at bay.

Burnley is a notoriously tricky place to visit, but United withstood the physical threat of the hosts and just about had enough to claim all three points.

Burnley are feeling the effects

When looking at the table, Burnley’s position appears to be very comfortable. In eighth place and with 34 points to their name, the Clarets are all but guaranteed to be playing Premier League football again next season. That would have been manager Sean Dyche’s priority and he can feel satisfied with the job he has done.

Nonetheless, this is a difficult period for Burnley, who have not tasted victory since they beat Stoke City on December 12. Scoring goals has been their biggest problem, having drawn a blank in four of their seven-game winless  run. The Clarets are not renowned as being free-scoring – they have found the net only 19 times this season – and rely on a solid defensive foundation.

Perhaps the exertions of their promising start have taken their toll on a settled side. The challenge for Dyche, who had been linked with the Everton job during the height of Burnley’s success, is to ensure his players do not fall into the trap of thinking they have nothing to play for.

Martial is making rapid progress

The Frenchman began the campaign out of favour at United, but he has regained his place in the side thanks to a series of consistent performances. His output has been productive, too. His goal against Burnley was his third in a row, taking him to 11 for the season. Allied to his seven assists, Martial is beginning to fulfil his immense potential.

He cut a frustrated figure at being kept out of the starting XI by Marcus Rashford – there was even speculation he might be on his way out of Old Trafford. But Martial said all the right things publicly and is no longer in the ‘supersub’ category. Competition for places will only intensify if and when Sanchez’s switch from Arsenal is completed.

But the former Monaco starlet should not fear the Chilean’s arrival, but relish it. He has proved he can be a trustworthy player for United. Like Luke Shaw, he is another to have benefited from some stern words from Mourinho, who will soon have an embarrassment of attacking riches to call upon.

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Bournemouth

West Ham 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the London Stadium

Rob Meech

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Hernandez
Photo: Reuters

West Ham United and AFC Bournemouth extended their respective unbeaten runs with a 1-1 draw at the London Stadium. Both clubs have climbed away from the relegation zone in recent weeks and this was a keenly-fought encounter between two evenly-matched sides.

Following a goalless first half, the Cherries broke the deadlock through Ryan Fraser after a breakaway, only for Javier Hernandez to equalise for the hosts 64 seconds later. A share of the spoils was a fair reflection and means West Ham and Bournemouth, 11th and 12th respectively, have identical records from the past six Premier League matches. Here are three talking points…

Future looks bright for both clubs

Just a month ago, the outlook was markedly different for both West Ham and Bournemouth. At Christmas, the Cherries were in the bottom three and the Hammers were not much better off. But the eventful 3-3 draw between these two teams on Boxing Day proved to be the start of an unbeaten run for each, which has given both real hope of avoiding relegation.

Such is the congested nature of the bottom half that it only takes a couple of victories to change the complexion on the table. Both clubs have won two and drawn three of their previous five fixtures, which has been enough to put clear daylight between themselves and the drop-zone.

This game, much like the corresponding fixture at the Vitality Stadium, suggests neither West Ham nor Bournemouth should be in serious trouble at the end of the campaign – if they can maintain their form. Equally though, David Moyes and Eddie Howe will be aware that complacency is not an option.

Impressive Fraser continues his resurgence

Bournemouth’s upturn in results since Christmas has coincided with a revitalised Fraser. The Scottish winger, affectionally known as ‘Wee Man’ by Cherries supporters, now has three goals and one assist in his past four appearances. His finishing has noticeably improved this season and he took his goal against West Ham with aplomb, firing the ball past Adrian after a defence-splitting pass from the returning Junior Stanislas.

Furthermore, Fraser’s improved stamina has enabled him to be effective for longer. Previously, the 23-year-old began to flag towards the latter stages and he was often replaced. But a better diet has paid dividends this campaign and he is rapidly becoming a key figure for Howe. Fraser has pace to burn and a directness that gives the team something different. Now though, he is having a real impact in games and his five Premier League goals are second only to Callum Wilson in the scoring charts.

Can West Ham afford to let Hernandez leave?

Speculation has surfaced in the past few days that Moyes may be willing to sell Hernandez, who only joined the club last summer. His arrival under Slaven Bilic was hailed as a real coup, but he has fallen down the pecking order since Moyes took the reins, with the former Manchester United supremo preferring Marko Arnautovic up top.

Hernandez though, has a creditable career goalscoring record and underlined his predatory instinct at the London Stadium. Only a minute after the Hammers had gone behind, the Mexican popped up in the right place to poke the ball past Asmir Begovic. It was Hernandez’s fifth Premier League goal of the season, all of which have been scored from inside the penalty area.

With Andy Carroll expected to be sidelined for a month through injury, West Ham’s striking resources would be depleted further if Hernandez is allowed to leave. While he may not offer much outside the box, as he illustrated against Bournemouth that he is the ideal man to call on when a goal is needed.

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Arsenal

Arsenal 4-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Emirates

Rob Meech

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Arsenal
Photo: Reuters

A barnstorming first-half performance against Crystal Palace saw Arsenal record their first victory of 2018. Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette all scored in the opening 22 minutes to stun Crystal Palace. Arsenal could not add to their tally as the visitors stemmed the bleeding and replied with a late consolation through Luka Milivojevic.

This was a much-needed victory for Arsenal, whose ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League have taken a blow in recent weeks. Palace meanwhile, have been in impressive form since Roy Hodgson took charge, but this defeat has checked their progress. Here are three talking points from the Emirates…

Mesut Ozil steps up in Alexis Sanchez’s absence

With Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United rumoured to be nearing completion, this was a chance for Arsenal supporters to see how the team might shape up without him. Sanchez was excluded from the side that lost to Bournemouth last weekend, but his absence was hardly felt here.

That might have had something to do with the return of Mesut Ozil from injury. The Germany international was influential throughout, particularly in partnership with the rejuvenated Jack Wilshere. Ozil is sometimes accused of drifting in and out of games against top-quality opposition, but when he is given licence to express himself without defensive responsibility, there are few better players to watch in the Premier League.

Although he failed to get on the scoresheet, Ozil showed Gunners fans that there can be life after Sanchez. It should not be forgotten that Ozil is another Arsenal player in the final six months of his contract. Tying him down to a new deal must be a priority for the club.

A reality check for lacklustre Palace

After losing their first seven Premier League matches – without scoring a goal in the process – relegation seemed nailed on for Palace. The appointment of Hodgson was largely derided, but the former England boss has had a remarkable impact in a relatively short space of time at Selhurst Park.

Survival is by no means guaranteed, but such has been their upturn in form that it is hard to imagine the Eagles being sucked back into trouble. It says a lot about their progress that many thought an upset might have been on the cards. Palace, however, were left shell-shocked after Arsenal’s four-goal burst.

When the Gunners click, they can be irresistible. Palace fans need not be too alarmed, even if their defending was lax. In fact, they should be heartened that their players did not capitulate in the second period, with the game effectively over. Although Milivojevic’s goal was too, little too late, it was just reward for a much-improved second-half performance.

Lacazette issues a timely reminder 

With a 3-0 advantage after just 13 minutes, Arsenal were in cruise control. But it was Lacazette’s goal, rounding off a superb team move to make it 4-0, that would have provided the biggest cheer. After hitting the ground running following his big-money transfer from Lyon last summer, the 26-year-old had endured a goal drought that stretched all the way back to December 2.

With questions being asked about his form, amid speculation that Arsenal are set to launch a raid for Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this was a timely reminder that Lacazette has plenty to offer. His overall record of nine Premier League goals from 24 appearances is more than respectable for a newcomer to the English game.

Lacazette will hope that his goal against Palace can be the catalyst for another scoring run. Without Sanchez, the burden rests more heavily on the France international and if a move for Aubameyang does not materialise, he will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s push for the top four.

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