Last season Watford finished second in the Championship, a solitary point behind winners AFC Bournemouth. The Hornets were three points ahead of 3rd place Norwich City who gained promotion via play-off wins over Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough. If the old adage that “the table never lies” is true, then the best three teams in the English second tier went up. None of the trio are at present sinking without a trace, but equally none are especially setting the Premier League world alight. Watford are faring best by some distance at this stage of the season, sitting comfortably in mid-table, whilst the Cherries and the Canaries hover in and around the top of the relegation zone.
Head Coach Quique Flores has assembled a side that has a solid spine and dosen’t concede as many goals as one would expect for a newly promoted side. Successive 2-0 wins against West Ham United and Stoke City preceded a 2-1 defeat at Leicester City. This season, a narrow defeat to Leicester City and wins over West Ham and Stoke are very impressive achievements for the new boys.
The Hertfordshire side were certainly active over the summer bringing in 13 new faces, notably Etienne Capoue, Valon Behrami and Juanfran for a combined fee of over £10 million. Capoue and to a lesser degree Behrami have played a crucial role in solidifying the Watford midfield –more on that momentarily.
In comparison to the other promoted sides of the Class of ’15, Watford look the most at home with the big boys. The loss of Callum Wilson (amongst others) will hurt Bournemouth, and Howe’s men have been rather enigmatic this season. From poor performances against Southampton (in the first half at least) and whilst not surprising, still disappointing 1-5 defeats to Tottenham and Manchester City; to somehow losing 0-1 to Newcastle despite dominating the game. A 3-4 dramatic away win at Upton Park back in August remains a highlight of this season for the Cherries. Bournemouth have the second worst defence in the league, conceding 25, whilst Watford have conceded only 12 in 12 matches – the solid midfield at Vicarage Road has gone a long way towards this.
Watford have not been well beaten by any side thus far this campaign, barring a 0-3 defeat at the Emirates, and have also kept five clean sheets. Compare this to the leaky defence of Bournemouth and Norwich City who were somehow hammered by Newcastle United!
One cannot comment upon Watford’s season without giving air time (or rather a significant section of the word count) to Odion Ighalo. Going into match week twelve, the 26 year old is the third top scorer in the league with seven goals. Much attention has gone to Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, and rightly so, but Ighalo should not be overlooked for his goal scoring exploits.
So far the Nigerian international has scored almost three quarters of the Hornet’s goals, and is a returning face from Watford’s promotion campaign, in which he netted on twenty occasions. The powerful 6ft 2 striker adds to Watford’s arsenal of Troy Deeney and Victor Ibarbo, and perhaps surprisingly it is the Nigerian that has taken the scoring duties upon himself. Club captain Troy Deeney has only scored twice, and Almen Abdi once. The remaining Watford goal was scored by Miguel Layun, now on loan at Porto. Ighalo has played top flight football in his native Nigeria, Norway, Italy, Spain and now England. Added to this second tier football in Spain and the Championship and Ighalo has footballing pedigree.
That said, Ighalo’s time at Watford has been his most prolific (not that this will bother Watford fans) and this recent form has led to his first international call up. His blossoming partnership and growing chemistry with Deeney can only be a good thing for Flores and Watford, as the two big men complement each other well.
Will this Watford success continue? It’s hard to say, but certainly all the foundations are in place and Elton John will have been very pleased most Saturday nights, looking at the league table. I reserve some fears in regards to Bournemouth and Norwich, who will have a long, tortuous season. The Hornets, on the other hand, should be eyeing a comfortable mid table finish.
Featured image: all rights reserved by Franziska.