Ahead of a third successive year in the Premier League, Watford remain in an almost permanent transitional phase. Under the ownership of the infamous Pozzo family, the Hertfordshire club has failed to stick with a manager for more than one season and this year sees another new face in the dugout.
In their return to the top flight, the Hornets became a favourite of neutral supporters, as a strike partnership of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney proved a tricky prospect for even the sternest of defences. However, since the former’s departure to China in January, the side has struggled.
Under Walter Mazzarri they managed just a 17th place finish last campaign – four places worse off than the previous year and just six points above the drop. Most worryingly, Watford had the 3rd worst goal difference, scoring only 40 in a season which was finished in poor form – losing 9 of their last 12 fixtures.
How has their summer gone?
Silva’s work in the transfer market has brought in three English midfielders: Nathaniel Chalobah (22), Will Hughes (22) and Tom Cleverley (27) and has this week broken the club’s transfer record to bring in striker Andre Gray (26) from Burnley. Another forward to arrive will be less familiar to most English fans: 20-year-old Brazillian Richarlison who arrives from Fluminense.
The additional firepower was a clear requirement after last season’s struggles. It was further highlighted by pre-season fixtures that brought three draws and a defeat from six matches. Watford failed to score in two of those games, and only found the net once on three other occasions.
Gray is an interesting addition and could form a lethal partnership with Deeney. Neither player managed more than 10 goals last season, but Gray had a better goal per minutes ratio than his new strike partner and scored 25% of his side’s goals last term. Arguably, the biggest effect of his move is the loss to Burnley and the increased probability of their own relegation. This may prove crucial to Watford’s survival.
In regards to the new midfield additions, Chalobah and Hughes both have great potential but have played almost exclusively in the Championship. Despite good performances for England Under-21s, doubts remain over their ability to make the step up in the top-flight. It looks likely that they will both play significant roles and will have to deal with the pressure that brings.
Manager: Marco Silva
Since then, Mazzarri has predictably been replaced. His successor, Marco Silva, has been given the task of reversing their fortunes after his short stint at Hull City – in which the Tigers were relegated; a poor result not entirely of his doing. Six of his side’s nine league wins came during his 18 matches in charge, and until the defeat to Sunderland, he held an impressive personal record of being unbeaten in 41 home games.
That defeat effectively sealed Hull’s fate, but the results which followed – a 4-0 defeat at Crystal Palace and the embarrassing 7-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur – raise questions over Silva’s ability to overcome disappointment. At Watford, being unable to reverse poor form will quickly cost him his job. The ex-Olympiacos man appears to be a solid appointment.
How could the Hornets line-up this season?
This formation uses the 4-2-3-1 which Silva used predominantly at Hull and throughout pre-season. The club record signing of Gray suggests that another striker will have to be squeezed in, possibly forcing a move to 3-5-2.
Either formation does, however, bring its own selection headaches. In recent warm-up matches, Tom Cleverly has taken the no.10 role in the 4-2-3-1. Yet this forces Pereyra (arguably the side’s most talented player) out wide. To fit in both club captain Deeney and new singing Gray, Silva will either have to deploy wing-backs (dropping either full-backs or wingers) or play 4-4-2 (losing Pereyra and Cleverly’s preferred position).
Given the manager’s clear formation preference, it will be interesting to see if Gray is deployed as an attacking midfielder/winger. In that system, the full-backs would surely be short of defensive cover. Having multiple options can be a positive. However, if Silva has to start experimenting or too many players find themselves dropped or played out of position, things will start to go south.
Who are Watford’s best fantasy football options?
One of last season’s biggest fantasy football surprises was Watford’s Etienne Capoue, who racked up seven goals and two assists, making him one of the bargain buys. He remains a decent purchase at 5.5m (on the official Premier League game) but it is unclear how frequently he will feature under Silva.
In terms of forwards, Watford’s offer little value compared to the Plethora of expensive (Romelu Lukaku/Harry Kane) and cheap (Tammy Abraham/Kelechi Iheanacho) players available. However, in Roberto Pereyra (6m), the Hornets have a player who could thrive under the new manager and system, after missing most of the last season through injury.
Premier League Verdict
Due to the significant changes in management and personnel, Watford are certain to have an interesting season. Optimistic supporters will argue the case that they have had a brilliant transfer window, by spending big on Gray and recruiting promising midfielders. However, it is difficult to say whether the club has actually improved on the personnel they already had.
Settling on a formation that gets the best of new additions without upsetting the squad will be crucial. If Silva does this quickly then the club should be comfortable. Yet, that is much easier said than done. The squad is still packed with average players and replacing them with other, inexperienced or average players, means that the club may still be heading backwards.
It looks likely that the club will struggle to make any significant improvement on last season’s finish. The performance of newly promoted sides and impact of Gray’s departure from Burnley may well be the biggest factors in determining their success/failure.