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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 - @96PearsonW.

Watford

Watford castaway Steven Berghuis on fire in Netherlands with Feyenoord

The Dutchman has found his feet at Feyenoord and Watford might wish they gave him a chance.

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Photo: Getty Images

In July 2015 Watford beat off competition from all over Europe to sign Steven Berghuis. The attacker arrived from AZ Alkmaar in a deal reported by BBC Sport to be in the region of £4.6 million.

He was Watford’s 10th signing of the 2015 summer and that depth of competition stifled the Dutchman’s progress. Berghuis simply never got a good run of games at Watford. He featured in just nine Premier League matches for the Hornets, failing to score a single goal.

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores suggested Berghuis’ training performances were behind his struggles. He was quoted by the Watford Observer as stating:

“Maybe some players in training are thinking that it is very easy to make Watford’s list. Maybe that is because we are humble team.

“But it is very difficult to choose every player because everyone wants to be in the in the first XI and the 18.

“So when a player is not on the list they need to think about what we need if they want to go on the list.”

Berghuis could not find a way into the team with Flores not playing a system that suited him out wide. In terms of playing as a striker, the Dutch talent was never going to budge Troy Deeney or Odion Ighalo from their lofty perches during that campaign.

Flores was not a fan, and his replacement Walter Mazzarri had a similar viewpoint. Berghuis left for Feyenoord on loan the following summer, with Watford fans never seeing the best of the Dutchman.

ALMELO, NETHERLANDS – SEPTEMBER 09: Steven Berghuis of Feyenoord celebrates scoring his teams first goal of the game during the Dutch Eredivisie match between Heracles Almelo and Feyenoord Rotterdam held at Polman Stadion on September 9, 2017 in Almelo, Netherlands. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Now Watford must be wishing they still had the player on their books. Berghuis has been on fire for Feyenoord this season. He has been the star at Rotterdam throughout 2017-18. The 26-year-old has scored 17 goals this season in 35 games. Berghuis has established himself as a regular at Feyenoord after joining permanently in the summer. His form in Rotterdam has even seen him earn international caps for the Netherlands.

Watford have had a good season in the Premier League, despite the wobble after Marco Silva’s near-switch to Everton. However, it is fair to wonder how good Berghuis could have been at Watford if given the chance to thrive in the first-team.

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Stoke City

Stoke 0-0 Watford: Three talking points from the Bet365

Martyn Cooke

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There were plenty of fresh faces in the dugout at the Bet365 Stadium on Wednesday evening as Stoke City and Watford played out an uninspiring goalless draw.

Paul Lambert was taking charge of his second game for the hosts, looking to build on the victory against Huddersfield Town ten days earlier, whilst Javi Gracia made his second managerial appearance for the visitors.

However, there was little for either manager to get too excited about during the ninety minutes with the game fizzling out to become a poor spectacle.

The point keeps Stoke and Watford clear of the relegation zone, for now, but both teams will need to improve in the coming weeks if they are to secure survival.

Here we look at three talking points from Stoke City versus Watford…

This relegation scrap isn’t going to be pretty

With Manchester City currently waltzing their way to the Premier League title the attention of football fans and the media has now been refocused on battle for survival.

The bottom half of the table is so tight that only five points separate Swansea City in 19th place from Bournemouth in 10th and almost a dozen clubs are nervously looking over their shoulders.

However, if this contest is anything to go by, it is clear that this relegation scrap is not going to be pretty.

The game was a dour spectacle with plenty of effort but a total lack of quality. At times it felt like you were watching a match in the park on a Sunday morning with neither side able to string together two passes or build any sort of momentum.

Clear goal scoring opportunities were few and far between and there was a absence of creativity, composure or innovation from both teams.
The Premier League likes to proclaim that it is the ‘best league in the world’, but there will be plenty more games like this in the battle for survival as clubs desperately scramble for points.

Lambert needs to find a balance between attack and defence

Under the management of Mark Hughes, Stoke City had the worst defensive record of any top-flight team in Europe and were conceding an average of two goals per game.

Paul Lambert has moved quickly to address these defensive frailties and be will be delighted that the team have kept two clean sheets in his first two games in charge of the Potters.

Under the Scotsman, Stoke are now more organised, harder to beat and have a new found resilience that bodes well for their battle for survival.

However, on Wednesday evening this defensive solidarity was undermined by a lack of quality in the final third.

Goals win games and Stoke simply were not able to create enough chances to secure the three points, much to the frustration of the home supporters. Barring Xherdan Shaqiri’s second half strike, Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis had little to do.

Lambert should take the plaudits for finding an immediate solution to Stoke’s defensive issues but he needs to get the right balance between attack and defence if he is to successfully guide the club to safety.

A solid start for Javi Gracia

The managerial merry-go-round has been in full flow at Watford this month with Marco Silva dismissed and replaced by the little-known figure of Javi Gracia.

The 47-year-old was handed a trip to The Potteries for his second game in charge of The Hornets and he will have been relatively content with a draw to start his reign.

Gracia made only two notable changes to the team, recalling Troy Deeney to the starting line-up and handing Gerard Deulofeu his debut, whilst setting up his side to stifle the hosts.

In fact, the visitors were arguably the better team on the night but struggled to create clear cut goal scoring opportunities.

Watford have struggled to pick up points on their travels this season so a draw at the Bet365 Stadium, regardless of how dour the contest, is a good result.

Only time will tell whether Gracia is the right man to guide The Hornets to safety, but this was certainly a positive result and something that he can build on in the coming weeks.

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Watford

Can Javi Gracia succeed at Watford where so many have previously failed?

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Javi Gracia
Photo: Reuters

There were mixed reactions on Sunday morning when Watford announced the sudden departure of popular manager Marco Silva from the club.

In the early part of the season, Silva transformed the Hornets from relegation battlers to European candidates with a mixture of positive attacking football and shrewd signings.

The club’s away form was particularly impressive, with convincing wins over Southampton, Newcastle United and Swansea, as well as defeating Arsenal at home.

Richarlison arrived from Fluminense and immediately set the Premier League alight, with Kiko Femenia, Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah also enjoying strong starts.

If it wasn’t for a serious knee injury suffered in September, Chalobah would surely have gone on to be one of the stars of Watford’s season, with the ex-Chelsea midfielder already having achieved England honours.

Former Derby midfielder Hughes also impressed before he suffered injury, having scored in consecutive games against West Ham and Newcastle.

Watford conceded plenty, though, and defence has been an issue all season. Nonetheless, the huge number of goals scored meant that Watford looked set to establish themselves as a secure top half outfit.

That all changed in October, when Everton sacked Ronald Koeman and quickly identified Silva as their replacement.

The Portuguese remained quiet on rumours linking him away from the club although, crucially, he never made a concrete statement that he wanted to stay.

One of the reasons Watford gave for Silva’s sacking was “the unwarranted approach by a Premier League rival”, which they clearly believed was a major factor in the club’s downturn in form – they have only won three games in 13 since that approach in mid-November.

After Silva’s sacking, Watford quickly acted, bringing in former Malaga coach Javi Gracia as his replacement.

The Spaniard, who signed a 18 month contract, has gained a reputation for taking points off big teams, with one of his most famous results being a win over Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

Gracia’s Malaga went unbeaten against Real Madrid home and away in the 2015/16 season, and also beat Atletico, recording consecutive top ten finishes from 2014/15.

When Malaga were struggling at the foot of La Liga earlier this season, many fans were calling for Gracia to return to the post he held until May 2016, before he joined Russian giants Rubin Kazan.

His defensive coaching is sound, a quality which he will need to employ on a Watford side who have shipped plenty of goals this season.

Only Stoke in 17th have conceded more goals than the Hornets.

He also speaks good English, meaning he will not need a translator – something which Walter Mazzarri consistently used when talking to his players and the press, to the disappointment of the Watford board.

Gracia is entering a club which is not known for sticking with managers, and he has never stayed at a club longer than two years, but his track record in terms of results is positive and if he can get off to a good start, Watford could finally be set for a spell of managerial stability in the Premier League.

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