Preview: Watford

A win, a draw and a defeat from three games against direct relegation rivals leaves us no better or worse off than we were three games ago. With a tough run of fixtures ahead this month, starting with this game against Watford, it is imperative that the team develops the ability and belief to be able to take points from the better teams in the division. If not, we could be in a really sticky situation by the time ‘easier’ fixtures come along.

Having played well in the second-half of the defeat last time out against Nottingham Forest, there is some encouragement to take from knowing that we can control games at this level in a way we haven’t done for much of the season. Against a strong Watford side, it will be much harder to replicate that level of control but if we can, it could stand us in good stead to get results from the difficult games ahead – provided we do a better job of converting possession into chances and goals.

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Marosi; Rose, Ostigard, Hyam; Dacosta, James, Hamer, McCallum; O'Hare; Biamou, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

Expected Line-Up

The manner of the performance across the 90 minutes against Nottingham Forest is likely to have taught Mark Robins some key lessons about the relative strengths of the set of players that are currently available.

Most notably, the extent to which the full-backs looked exposed in a back four is likely to lead the manager to revert to a back three. Just who makes up that trio of centre-backs, alongside Leo Ostigard and Dominic Hyam, is a tough call now that both Kyle McFadzean and Michael Rose are available. Rose probably has the stronger claim after playing well from the bench against Nottingham Forest – own goal aside – but may be short on fitness, which could allow Kyle McFadzean to return after a shorter spell out following a positive Coronavirus test.

In midfield, as impressive as Gustavo Hamer and Matty James were in possession in the second-half against Nottingham Forest, the concern is whether James offers enough of a presence without the ball to function in a two against one of the Championship’s better teams. While Gustavo Hamer is perfectly capable of acting as a midfield enforcer, it takes one of our biggest goal threats at the moment away from an area he can win the game for the team.

Up front, the injury to Amadou Bakayoko means that Maxime Biamou will have to soldier on through his current fitness issues. Alongside him, Viktor Gyokeres has looked a peripheral figure when played as a striker, rather than out wide, thus far in his Coventry City career. The Swede has a strong tendency to drift into wide or deep areas, which can leave the team without an extra body in the box when we’re looking to play a final pass.

Last Time We Met

Off the back of a strong performance in the second-half against Nottingham Forest, the Sky Blues travelled to Vicarage Road and delivered a fairly commendable showing against a Watford side that ultimately just had a little too much attacking prowess for our defence to cope with.

The Hornets took the lead early in the second-half when Andre Gray pounced on some hesitant defending in the penalty area. However, a seemingly impossible 25-yard header from Gustavo Hamer levelled the scores to rally a young Sky Blues side, who soon moved ahead when Tyler Walker finished confidently after linking up with Maxime Biamou.

It was a delirious position to be in against a recent Premier League side, which perhaps led to the lapse in concentration from a set-piece that allowed Watford to quickly level. Watford then secured a late winner thanks to a mystifying decision from Callum O’Hare to block a shot with his hand in the penalty area.

The Opposition

The Manager – Xisco Munoz

In typical Watford fashion, the manager who started the season, Vladimir Ivic, was sacked a few months ago at the first sign of a loss in form. The Serb was quickly replaced by Xisco Munoz, who had just 11 games of managerial experience, with Dinamo Tbilisi, before arriving in Hertfordshire. Munoz has won four of his eight games in charge, but has yet to convince that he is the man to make the most out of what is a very talented, experienced, and large, Watford squad.

Munoz arrived at Vicarage Road with the vision of playing an attacking 4-4-2 formation, however, it has done little to solve Watford’s creative issues. They are the joint-second-lowest scorers in the top-half, with eight of their 31 goals this season having come from penalties. The new Watford manager has indicated that he is looking to change up his preferred starting formation in order to get his team going, suggesting that he is already wavering in his beliefs as a young manager.

Possible Line-Up: (3-4-3) Bachmann; Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Sierralta; Femenia, Cleverley, Chalobah, Sema; Zinckernagel, Sarr, Deeney.
Possible Line-Up

Who To Look Out For

If the Championship was played on paper, Watford (along with Bournemouth) would be comfortably clear at the top of the table. The Hornets have an almost embarrassingly large collection of players of proven quality at Premier League level, which has often meant that they have been able to win games without needing to play particularly well.

In attack, the pairing of Troy Deeney and Andre Gray is an archetypal combination of a big man with a quick man. Although Deeney has lost mobility as his age starts to catch up with him, he possesses the physicality to absolutely bulldoze defenders aside. Gray’s pace remains devastating, even if he has appeared to have lost his scoring touch from a few years ago. With those two not at their best form this season, Brazilian wunderkind, Joao Pedro, has provided a welcome element of skill and a surprising element of physicality to Watford’s frontline.

Out wide, Ismaila Sarr is a player of the quality of a side vying for European football. Like a lot of Watford’s squad, Sarr is both fast and physically strong and can be devastating when on top form. That wide threat has been supplemented by the direct running of Ken Sema – who has been Watford’s most creative player – along with the recent signing of Philip Zinckernagel, who excelled at Norwegian champions Bodo/Glimt.

At the back, any combination of Christian Kabasele, Craig Cathcart, Francisco Sierralta, and Will Troost-Ekong has the ability to be dominant at this level. Full-back, Kiko Femenia adds to Watford’s wide threat with his aggressive overlapping runs. In goal, youngster, Daniel Bachmann, has impressed since coming into the side after an injury to Ben Foster.

Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost

With Watford struggling on the road this season and having looked a little out of sorts in their past few games, this is as good an opportunity as any to beat one of the better teams in this division. More than anything, it will require confidence and belief that we can impose ourselves on Watford in order to disrupt any kind of rhythm they’ll look to get into, while making sure we convert our better spells in the game into chances and goals.

Given Watford’s strength in wide areas, this will once again be a test of the defensive quality of our full-backs – even if they are operating at wing-back. In particular, with Sam McCallum going through a rough patch of form we many need to provide him support to avoid leaving him in one-against-one, or two-against-one situations. On the other flank, this is going to be a much bigger test of Julien Dacosta defensively than he faced on Tuesday night.

Watford’s main weak point is a lack of dynamism in the middle of the pitch. This should be good news for Matty James, as his mobility without the ball is less likely to be exposed, and is an opportunity for Gustavo Hamer to hopefully impose himself on the game and get the team ticking over in possession.

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