Watford Season Preview: strong midfield

With the 2018-19 Premier League season coming up, The Football Lab spoke to Watford fan Dom Baker (@dombakerdb).

Watford fans appear very grateful to Gino Pozzo for the progress the club has made over the last six years. Is the next step to find a head coach who endears himself to fans just as much – and can Javi Gracia become that figure?

Gino and the Pozzo family have transformed our club. We’ve been blessed with great players, games and memories and we’ll be forever grateful. Above all else he, and the board, just get it. They understand fans and a lot of what they do cannot be questioned. They’re not perfect, but they represent one of the best boardrooms in the country.

It’s clear that they understand they need a coach to be a figure. Someone to represent the club, Quique Sanchez Flores did this well, but I think Javi Gracia can step into that role brilliantly this season. He has the attributes to take us forward after a fire fighting task last season.

Externally, there’s a lot of scepticism towards Watford’s foreign-based recruitment model, especially given that not many players you bring in have big reputations. Are you taking risks in gambling on the unknown, or are you getting better value for the same calibre of player?

Our transfer ‘model’ is unusual, but it’s more common now then just a few seasons ago. Many clubs are realising the expense attached to home grown players and so look abroad for value. We do, however, go through a lot of players, either loans or permanent deals. We’ve wasted a lot of money but that may be changing now with the incomings this season and last summer. We have more than 8 home grown players now with a strong English core.

Richarlison has gone to Everton based, essentially, on a good run of early-season form in 2017-18. Does the fee give you a chance to re-build the squad?

The fee for Richarlison is fairly ridiculous, but Everton have got their man. I’m not going to pretend he isn’t a fantastic player, we’re sure to miss him but we now have the resources to get a replacement and more. We need to spend it wisely, especially up top.

Heurelho Gomes is clearly a legend at Vicarage Road but appears to be declining slightly. Would you have liked to bring in a more convincing heir to the throne than Ben Foster?

Gomes is certainly a modern day Watford legend, no doubt about it. He’s another character at Vicarage Road that just gets it. He’s long spoken about returning to Brazil and I think that’ll happen soon, hence Foster’s arrival. We bought wonderkid Pontus Dahlberg in January and are paving the way for him to take the number 1 spot soon, Foster is just keeping it warm.

Some seemed keen on Christian Kabasele last season. Do you think he was your best centre-back?

Centre back is one of our weakest areas, despite having so many individuals there! Kabasele is certainly our most talented defender, he’s athletic but has much more than that to his game. He’s comfortable on the ball and rarely gets caught steaming into tackles. He, like many, has been unlucky with injuries.

There appears to be a conundrum regarding who will partner Kabasele; Younes Kaboul, Adrian Marriapa and Craig Cathcart are getting on, Miguel Britos looks error-prone while Sebastian Prodl seems to be struggling to recapture his 2016-17 form. Could Ben Wilmot start off closer to the first team than anticipated?

Prodl, Kaboul, Britos and Mariappa are all ageing and have all looked uncomfortable at times. Cathcart is the only other centre back I have full trust in, unfortunately. Ben Wilmot has the potential to go very far and I hope he can be involved in the squad this season. He’s been thrown into midfield in pre-season and he’s adapted so well.

Left-back seemed to be a problem position last term. Are you intrigued to see if new boy Adam Masina can be the solution?

Left-back is an area we could have strengthened a couple of seasons ago. Jose Holebas is either unbelievable or appalling and his attitude is often questionable.

Adam Masina looks a shrewd signing and I’ve heard good things from followers of Italian football. I think it’s obvious he’ll come in as a starter and I hope he makes that spot his own. If he puts in a consistent season he’ll certainly have some suitors next summer.

From the outside, you looked much better last season when Kiko Femenia was fit, rather than when Daryl Janmaat started at right-back. Would you agree?

On the opposite side we have some good options. Kiko Femenia came in and became one of our most important players immediately, he worked really well in Silva’s overloading attack. His injury hurt us because Janmaat looked short on confidence from the start, he improved as his game time increased but he is still prone to switching off easily. New recruit Marc Navarro may slot in as our starting right back this season with Kiko taking a step back into a utility role. On paper, we have 3 right backs with a lot of experience.

You’ve got an impressive selection of midfielders; the muscular Abdoulaye Doucoure, controller Will Hughes, the energetic Nathaniel Chalobah and the selfless Tom Cleverley. Are you happy with those options?

Our midfield is pretty ridiculous and is one of the best midfields outside of the top 6, no doubt about it. They all work tirelessly in the press while having the natural ability to get us forward. I’m stunned we haven’t lost Doucoure but I’m glad we’ll have him for at least one more season. He’s the best Watford player I’ve ever seen. Chalobah and Hughes will have impressive seasons too. We could perhaps do with one more back up, someone similar to Ben Watson, looks like Jack Rodwell may be the man.

A few of those players have struggled with injuries. Does the club need to re-evaluate it’s medical work?

Our medical record is fascinating. 2015/16 it was the best in the league, since then it’s turned upside down. We changed the medical structure in 2016 and whatever they’re doing hasn’t worked. Apparently they’re evaluating that so we’ll see.

Gerard Deulefeu looks an excellent signing while Roberto Pereyra has shown glimpses of quality abroad; while Ken Sema signs from Ostersund. Do your wide options excite you?

Deulofeu is a top signing, he showed glimpses in his loan of just how special he can be. Pereyra gained consistency towards the end of last season too which is reassuring.

The little I’ve seen of Ken Sema has impressed me greatly, he’ll certainly be putting pressure on those two at either flank. Rumours are we’re in the market for one more winger with the Richarlison money so we’ll have an even greater depth. Our midfield in general is so exciting.

Andre Gray looked a tad disappointing last year and Troy Deeney perhaps cannot be relied upon to the extent he used to be. Do you need a new striker, or can Isaac Success or Adalberto Penaranda fill the void?

Our strikers just aren’t good enough, sadly. Neither Deeney nor Gray can play alone up top and Stefano Okaka doesn’t have the fitness nor attitude it seems.

At least one will be moved on and it’s hard to see us progress without a large amount of money being spent in that department. I so want Gray to do well but he just doesn’t suit the way we want to play. It’s a great shame.

I’d like to see Penaranda hit the ground running but I’m not sure he’ll get the chance. He has had loan spells which haven’t worked, he simply hasn’t played enough football. He and Success could be potential and nothing more, sadly.

Hornets aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? How do you rate your competitors?

Like always teams up and down the l argue are spending big, it’ll make for another competitive season where the bottom half are separated by a few points. I think Burnley could struggle amongst their Europa league journeys and Bournemouth and Cardiff haven’t strengthened enough either.

Where will you finish?

I hope we can steer clear of the mess at the bottom but it’ll be hard. If we don’t get a striker in we’ll struggle once more at the tail end of the season I think. I have faith in our squad though and our gaffer, top 10 should be the goal but it’s so hard to call. I just can’t wait for it all to kick off again.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

In Will Hughes, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Nathaniel Chalobah, Watford have a central midfield ready-made for the top half; Gerard Deulefeu and Roberto Pereyra offer attractive wide options, too. There are, however, major question marks in other areas; potential centre-back partners for Christian Kabasele aren’t at their peak and forwards Troy Deeney and Andre Gray have been wasteful. Scope for business is restricted due to an already bloated squad, so the Hornets might enter May looking over their shoulders. 15th