How Watford Have Established Themselves In England’s Top Flight

Watford’s Premier League season can only be described as a roaring success, which is as much a credit to them as it is an indictment on the competitiveness of the division.

The top six, in the main, are a forgone conclusion every season. Perhaps Everton might trouble the elite, but outside of that there’s another table of 14 clubs all vying for the illustrious position of seventh, their best hope to trouble the Europa League spot and maybe, just maybe hang on to the coat tails of the elite.

Whilst the usual chasing pack features West Ham, Leicester and the like, this season Javi Gracia’s Watford have been there or thereabouts. Whilst they were never likely to be amongst the favourites for the title in the Premier League betting markets, they’ve proven themselves to be a solid and organised unit.

Javi Gracia – By Светлана Бекетова –, CC BY-SA 3.0

They’ve also reached the FA Cup final – only their second appearance at this stage in their history. In 1984, they were beaten by Everton after a controversial goal and this year they’ll be severely tested against the might of Manchester City.

In getting to the final they’ve had a favourable run, matches against Wolves and Crystal Palace played to their strengths in that they faced clubs of a similar level. Had a Chelsea or Liverpool presented themselves early, perhaps the Hornets wouldn’t have been bringing the curtain down on their season at Wembley.

That’s not to take away from their achievements though. They make themselves hard to beat with a flat 4-4-2 formation and perhaps thrive against teams who look to play the ball through the middle. When faced with electrifying wingers, there’s a question mark over the ability they have to cope, but as a defensive unit on their day they’re as good as anyone in the division.

Troy Deeney – By Ardfern – Own work, CC BY 4.0,

In league action they’ve sat back, soaked up pressure and waited for a chance to get the ball away. In Troy Deeney they have a big unit who they can play long to if they need, but often they want to go out quickly to his feet and then get pace around him.

It’s the same sort of approach that Sean Dyche made a success of at Burnley and it’s the route by which some of the so-called smaller clubs can plot a course into the top ten in the Premier League. In days gone by, what a team did without the ball wasn’t always noticed, but now it’s a key element in a club’s success.

The problem usually occurs when a side tries the same approach. In the second round of the FA Cup, Premier League Watford laboured to a 2-0 win against Woking of the National League South, whilst in 2017 Burnley were beaten by then-National League side Lincoln.

When asked to break sides down, the challenge changes and that is when the Hornets might struggle.

Establishing themselves in the Premier League has not been easy and as we’ve seen with Charlton and Stoke City, times change and teams fall away, but it does appear that this season is the perfect foundation for a dogged Watford side to keep themselves in the top flight for at least a couple more years.