Watford Season Preview: Deeney stays

watfordWatford’s controversial decision to sack their manager will now be put to the test. It was a decision criticized by the majority of English football fans, but Hornets supporters who saw their team fall apart in the second half of last season may offer a different perspective. The club have had a quiet pre-season which saw them travel fewer miles than anyone in the Premier League, whilst bringing in players suited to Walter Mazzarri’s counter-attacking wing-back system. Are Watford ready to surprise a few people? Or are relegation tips justified? The Football Lab speaks to The Watford Blog (@WatfordFCBlog).

It seems a higher proportion of neutrals question the sacking of Quique Sanchez Flores than Watford fans. What are your views?

Personally, I think it was the right time to part ways and most fans would agree. In a sense, Flores was the architect of his own downfall. We were magnificent during the first half of the season and no one knew how to play against us. However, by the time we got to the second half of the season we had been sussed out and Flores seemed reluctant to change. Teams knew that by cutting out Deeney and Ighalo, they’d effectively be stopping Watford. Performances were becoming worse and worse and Flores seemed reluctant to change. We only won four league games in the second half of the season and despite this he kept playing the same players in the same positions which never worked for months. Players like Steven Berghuis shone when they came off the bench towards the end of the season, yet Flores never started him. Players like Jose Holebas, Adlene Guedioura and Obbi Oulare were also marginalised. So in the end, it was the right time to part ways. He did the job we all wanted him to in keeping us up but I don’t think he was the man to take us forward.

You conceded a respectable 50 goals last season, giving you a defensive record that betters 63% of teams. Was that down to performances of individual defenders like Craig Cathcart, or the disciplined setup of the midfield?

I would say it was down to the disciplined set up of the whole team. For large parts of the season, our team was difficult to break down and we were well organised at the back and all over the pitch. Up until March, we were solid and well organised and we were never really out of any game. However, as we headed into the final 2 months, that organisation started to disappear and we conceded far more goals than we had done over the course of the season. I don’t know whether that was down to tiredness, complacently or due to squad unrest, as there has been reports that members of the squad didn’t get on with Flores towards the end. For large parts our defence was solid, but for the final two months, that rigidness slipped away.

Heurelho Gomes had a hugely impressive 2015/16 campaign, making key saves at Sunderland and at home to Chelsea. Is he one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League?

Most definitely and he deservedly won our player-of-the-season award at the end of the season. While Deeney and Ighalo caught most of the headlines during the season, it was Gomes who had been our star man, making a number of fantastic saves and winning us some points on his own. He arrived at Vicarage Road with a reputation of being error prone and there were a number of Watford fans who were sceptical about his signing. However, he has proved them all wrong. Gomes has been so solid ever since he joined the club and is our undisputed number 1. Contrary to his reputation, he only made a handful of errors last season, like every keeper does. Otherwise he was so consistent and made a number of superb saves. If David De Gea or Joe Hart pulled off some of the saves Gomes does, they would be talked about for a long time. In my opinion he is definitely one of the best goalkeepers in the league.

New head coach Walter Mazzarri clearly has a European pedigree. Are you excited by the work he has done at other clubs such as Napoli?

Yes I am. I think some are worried because of his tenure at Inter Milan but every manager has a tough period in his career. Before he got to Milan, he was a success at every club he was at and I see no reason why he can’t do the same at Vicarage Road. His Napoli side had a reputation for fast free flowing counter attacking football and that would be a joy to watch at Vicarage Road. Unlike other supporters, I am looking forward to what we can achieve under Mazzarri.

The style of football and 4-4-2 system seemed to make Watford too one-dimensional in the second half of last season. If Mazzarri were to switch to his favoured three at the back system, would that shake things up?

I would say so. We played 3-5-2 quite a lot in the Championship to great effect, so it’s a system that a number of our players know. I can’t see why we can’t make it a success in the Premier League.

If he were to go with a three-man defence, was it important to sign another centre-back in Christian Kabasele?

I would say so. But I think we would have needed to strengthen in defence anyway. The Premier League gets tougher every year and to be competitive, you need to strengthen. Competition for places is always a good thing and we don’t ever want players becoming complacent. Kabasele arrives with a good reputation from Belgium and I have spoken to a journalist who said that Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach were interested in his services. I think he will be a good signing and I wouldn’t be surprised if another defender arrived before the end of the transfer window. Defence is always an area you need strength in, so I wouldn’t be surprised if another defender arrived.

You have said in the past that left-back Jose Holebas is good going forward, but didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Flores. Do you see him fitting into Mazzarri’s plans? On the other flank, is there still a place for Allan Nyom?

Going by our pre-season games, I would say Holebas does have a role to play. He’s more attacking for a full-back so I think the left WB role will suit him. Holebas has featured in all of our games so far, so it would seem that he is part of Mazzarri’s plans. Whenever he played last season, he always impressed me and it was a shame we didn’t get to see him more. Some of that was down to his relationship with Flores I think, as it was clear that they didn’t see eye-to-eye.
For Nyom, I certainly don’t see him being a right wing-back, as we’ve brought in Juan Camilo Zuniga from Napoli and we’ve signed Dja Djedje as well from Marseille. I wouldn’t be surprised if we sold him this summer. After such a good start, he faded in the second half of the season and became something of a liability.

You’ve got a lot of what you’d describe as ‘gritty’ central midfielders. If you were to use attacking full-backs/wing-backs, will it be important for the likes of Etienne Capoue to cover the wide areas?

It will certainly be important that they cover and help out the wing backs. It’s important that they communicate and are organised and disciplined and hopefully Mazzarri can implement that in pre-season.

Troy Deeney has signed a new contract this summer, ending speculation of a move to Leicester. Have supporters taken to him for his honesty and work rate, as well as his 96 goals for the club?

Deeney has been something of a cult figure among Watford fans for a good few seasons now and that has only become stronger this summer. He brings so much more to this side than goals. He brings leadership, desire, commitment, a good work ethic and so much more. He’s more than your average striker. People laughed that we rejected £25m for Leicester for him this summer, but he’s irreplaceable for us.

Deeney’s strike partner, Odion Ighalo, has netted just two league goals in 2016. With Jerome Sinclair signing on a five-year deal and Isaac Success joining for big money from Granada, is Ighalo’s place under threat?

His place is definitely under threat. One of our biggest downfalls in the transfer window in January was not signing an out and out striker. We signed Nordin Amrabat who filled in there, but he’s more of a winger. Our only two strikers were Deeney and Ighalo and there was no pressure on their positions, because there was no one else who could really fit in there. Ighalo is a good striker. He’s a fox in the box and can sniff out chances in the penalty area. However, he really went off the boil in the second half of the season, snatching at chances and skewing opportunities that he was scoring in the first half of the season. That affected our form as well, as Deeeny and Ighalo were the focal point of our team. If they weren’t scoring, then Watford weren’t scoring either.

With the likes of Sinclair and Success joining and Matej Vydra returning from a loan spell, Ighalo’s place is definitely under threat. There’s more competition for places up front now, so if he has a bad game or suffers a dip in form, expect one of those three to take his place.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? Do you agree that it’s now a much more even division?

Last season I think it was, but this season I’m not sure it will be the case. I think every season the Premier League gets even tougher as clubs continue to grow both on and off the pitch. This season though will be even tougher, with some big names coming to the division and I don’t think it will be as even as it was last time round, due to the players and managers that the big clubs have brought in.

Where will you finish?

12th

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Recent trends suggest wingback systems, counter-attacking and short pre-season trips all help less-established teams. Watford have kept Deeney and shrewd recruitment means they could be dark horses. 7th