Premier League Preview: Watford

A 14th place finish in their third straight season in the top flight masked what was a rocky season for the Hornets. The season began well under the stewardship of the newly appointed Marco Silva, with Watford losing just one of their first eight matches, a home defeat to eventual champions Manchester City. However, this form caught the attention of other clubs and a controversial approach from Everton rocked the boat. A significant deterioration in form saw the Hornets win just once in Silva’s final 11 games in charge – including a 4-1 home loss to Huddersfield, before he was sacked on January 21 and replaced by Spaniard Javi Gracia. The former Rubin Kazan manager steadied the ship and, ultimately, guided Watford to safety with relative ease. Safety will once again be the priority this term and experience will be sure to go a long way, with many of the other sides tipped to struggle having spent less time in the Premier League. Start the season well though, and fans may dream of a cup run come the new year.


SUMMER BUSINESS

Once more, Watford’s summer spending has been devoid of any big names, but the club have garnered a reputation for unearthing hidden gems in recent seasons. Their most important piece of business will likely be the permanent signing of Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona for £13million. The Spanish winger impressed during the second half of last season having joined on loan from the Catalan giants. Elsewhere, Gracia has strengthened the full-back positions, signing Adam Masina and Marc Navarro from Bologna and Espanyol respectively. Heurelho Gomes will face stiff competition between the sticks this season after the arrival of former England ‘keeper Ben Foster. Wide midfielder Ken Sema has also arrived for just £2.25million after impressing for Swedish side Ostersund in last season’s Europa League. The 24-year-old has big shoes to fill, though, as he expected to fill the void left by the £40million departure of Richarlison. The talented young Brazilian impressed in his one season at Vicarage Road and with Nordin Amrabat also earning a move following an impressive World Cup, the Hornets may prove to be lacking in left midfield.


KEY PLAYER – ABDOULAYE DOUCOURE

Since moving to Vicarage Road from Stade Rennais for £9.5million in February 2016, Abdoulaye Doucoure has established himself as an indispensable member of the starting line-up, despite playing under three different managers at Watford. The Frenchman has shown his quality both in attack and defence across the past couple of seasons, scoring seven times last term in all competitions as he finished as the club’s top scorer. Doucoure’s ball retention was also highly impressive, the central midfielder finished the campaign as the league’s best winner of the ball in the middle third of the pitch. Another strong display this season, and the Hornets will face a tough test in keeping hold of the 25-year-old.


MANAGER – JAVI GRACIA

Gracia was appointed in January and comfortably kept Watford in the Premier League, getting off to a flyer with a 4-1 home win against Chelsea. The Spaniard arrived in London following spells in charge of Rubin Kazan and Malaga, where he achieved mixed results. He did garner a reputation for humbling the bigger sides whilst managing on the Costa del Sol, which fans will hope he can replicate during his first full season at the club. Gracia’s preferred use of a 4-4-2 double six formation allows his side to have as many as four players in advanced attacking roles for most of their games, hopefully solving the team’s shortcomings in front of goal. A successful season is vital if Gracia is to stay in the job for a prolonged period; he is the 10th manager of the Pozzo family era. Since the Italian’s bought the club in 2012, Gianfranco Zola is the only manager to last at least 40 games as boss.


PREDICTION – 16TH

Another tough season looks likely for Watford, but they look as if they have just enough quality to retain their Premier League status. Work must be done in several areas to achieve survival, though. The Hornets were limited by a leaky defence last term, they had the third worst defensive record in the league as they conceded 64 times and finished with a goal difference of minus 20. Troy Deeney and Andre Gray must also improve at the front end of the pitch if Gracia’s men are to steer clear of the drop zone. Last season’s highest scorer, Doucoure, scored just seven and plays in defensive midfield, an embarrassing statistic for the two frontmen. Central midfield has also proved a problem area for the Hornets, but for all the right reasons. Gracia has an embarrassment of riches in the middle of the park with Doucoure, Etienne Capoue, Tom Cleverley, Will Hughes and Nathanial Chalobah all at his disposal. Finding the right midfield blend could be the starting point for a surge up the table by the end of May.


PROBABLE LINE-UP

Watford 4-4-2 football formation

Sub-edited by Sam Cox

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