Wednesday night’s cruel defeat at Nottingham Forest provided both encouragement and despondency about the ability of this team to stay up in this division. The second-half was probably our best most dominant spell of the season but, despite that, we still came up short due to the defensive issues that have dogged our campaign.
Before we can get to the oasis that is the international break, we have to navigate our way past a difficult away trip to Watford. While this is the kind of game that a lot of us would want to write-off, forget about and move-on from quickly, the possibility that we could be bottom of the table with a defeat here and unfavourable results elsewhere highlights that we no longer have a margin for error that allows us to enter these kind of difficult games with a free-hit mentality. We’re falling behind the kind of points tally we need to survive and must now develop a mentality of picking up points in every game.
With Dominic Hyam, Fankaty Dabo and Jordan Shipley unavailable on Wednesday night, Mark Robins’ options continue to dwindle. According to reports, Dominic Hyam should be available to return for this game, having been out with concussion, but Jordan Shipley – who is self-isolating – and Fankaty Dabo – who will be given the international break to recover from the injury issues he’s been having for the first weeks of the season – will be unavailable here.
To make matters worse, both Matt Godden and Tyler Walker appeared to pick up knocks in the Nottingham Forest game, rendering them doubts for this one. The team selection for this game may be less about the team Mark Robins wants to play and more about simply who is available.
Dominic Hyam’s return to the defence will be welcome, after Kyle McFadzean demonstrated in his concession of the decisive penalty on Wednesday night why he is struggling at this level of football. That said, the trio of Michael Rose, Leo Ostigard and Dominic Hyam have yet to demonstrate they can keep clean sheets in this division and will face a very tough challenge against a Watford forward line that is arguably still of Premier League quality.
Elsewhere, Maxime Biamou is likely to be an important player for us over the coming weeks, as well as this game in particular. As costly as his errant pass against Nottingham Forest was, his physical presence was essential in providing us with an edge up front that we have been sorely lacking for much of the season. If both Godden and Walker are unavailable for this game, it would be a big task for him to lead the line as a lone striker but he is possibly the best player we have for that role in this squad.
Last Time We Met
If we needed a reminder of how much of a gulf there is between these two clubs, you only have to look back to last season’s meeting in the League Cup. A second-string Watford side tore through the Sky Blues – who, admittedly, were not at full-strength either – with consummate ease, looking miles ahead both technically and physically.
A fantastic pass from Isaac Success to send Ismaila Sarr through on goal gave Watford the lead, with the Nigerian forward then combining with Daryl Janmaat, who curled in an excellent effort to make it 2-0. The win was wrapped up by a strike from the skilfull Venezuelan, Adalberto Penaranda, from the edge of the area.
The Manager – Vladimir Ivic
Having managed very successfully in Israel, Vladimir Ivic is the man who has been entrusted to get Watford back into the top-flight at the first-time of asking. Ivic has struck a sensible, no-nonsense tone in his approach at the club since arriving over the summer, able to get results with a fairly disparate set of players, a lot of whom have been angling for moves away from Hertfordshire.
The football hasn’t exactly been free-flowing, but with the attacking talent and general level of physicality in this Watford squad, they are hard to score against and capable of nicking games with moments of quality at the other end of the pitch. There have been signs of frustration from Ivic that he doesn’t have a set of players of his own choosing, but this is a side that looks like easing to, at the very least, a top six finish and could steamroller this division if everything clicks.
Who To Look Out For
There are recognisable Premier League players in just about every area of the pitch in this Watford squad. From Ben Foster in goal to Troy Deeney in attack, this is an experienced group that would be competitive in the top-flight with no new additions.
It is the attacking talent that is likely to get Watford out of the Championship quickly. Winger, Ismaila Sarr – linked to big money moves to Liverpool and Manchester United over the summer – is the stand-out player among Watford’s rank of forwards and is the kind of talent who can win games on his own at this level. However, it is fellow wide-man, Ken Sema, and Brazilian hotshot, Joao Pedro, that have been the team’s leading lights this season. Sema’s direct running, pace and skill has been effective in both attacking areas and when deployed at wing-back. Joao Pedro, meanwhile, is not only as skillful as you’d expect a Brazilian wunderkind to be but has a surprising level of physicality to his game.
Some of Watford’s other recognisable attacking players – such as Troy Deeney, Glenn Murray and Andre Gray – haven’t had much involvement this season, although it appears as if Andre Gray will soon get a run in the side to provide a level of presence up front that this team have lacked at times.
At the back, Watford are full of physicality and experience, led by club stalwart, Craig Cathcart. Christian Kabasele is another proven Premier League name in this Watford squad, which has allowed the team to bring through younger defenders, Ben Wilmot and Jeremy Ngakia, into what is a solid defensive unit. In addition, the pacey Spaniard, Kiko Femenia, provides thrust from wing-back and can play on either the right or the left, although he is naturally right-footed.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The main missing ingredient from this Watford side currently is fluency and control in central midfield. Various combinations of players have been tried, but no-one has quite yet convinced – even if names such as Etienne Capoue, Tom Cleverley and Nathaniel Chalobah, along with impressive youngsters, James Garner and Domingos Quina are among Watford’s ranks. This could provide the opportunity for us to be competitive in the middle of the park and have spells in this game where we’re on top – the crucial thing will be to convert spells of being on top into goals.
The concern heading into this game is that Watford have so many good attacking players that they can kill the game off without having to play too well – especially when considering how porous we’ve been at the back this season. However, we probably stand a better chance here with a more assertive, risk-taking approach, than if we attempt to soak up pressure.
It is important that the players demonstrate here that they understand we are a better team when we play with energy and assertiveness, rather than the fearful, passive approach that has allowed some of the stronger teams we’ve faced to cruise to victory against us. Even if it is more likely than not that we will lose here, if we can at least cause a strong team problems and make them work for the result, it should at least provide the encouragement that we can be competitive against any team in this division.