Preview: Watford

A point away at Swansea City was a decent result, but following that up with a win in this upcoming game against Watford will define whether or not this has been a good Easter period for Coventry City. With such a thin squad and little sign of improvement on the injury-front, it is going to take a big effort for the Sky Blues to make that leap into the top six between now and the end of the season.

The opposition in this game is a Watford side that still harbours hope of gate-crashing the play-offs and will know that anything less than a win would render their season effectively over. While the Hornets are on an indifferent run of form, Coventry City have to be wary of facing an opponent that is in pretty much a do-or-die scenario. Fail to do so, and it could signal the beginning of the end of the campaign.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Dabo, Eccles, Sheaf, Hamer, Bidwell; Godden, Gyokeres.

The return of Jamie Allen as an important additional option in midfield looks to have been short-lived, after he limped off at half-time against Swansea City with an apparent injury. It means that Mark Robins has almost no choice but to revert to a 3-5-2 shape that has seen Coventry City struggle to link up the midfield and attack with.

It is almost certain that Matt Godden will return to the starting line-up, given just how clearly the manager wants to play the striker at just about every opportunity. The team’s record with Godden pairing Viktor Gyokeres in attack preaches a different course of decision-making, but with reliable alternatives thin on the ground, Coventry City will have to hope that the duo can finally make it work.

Elsewhere, the wing-backs remain the most notable area for change and it looks like Mark Robins will swap out Josh Wilson-Esbrand and Brooke Norton-Cuffy for Jake Bidwell and Fankaty Dabo, with Wilson-Esbrand having struggled to last past the 70-minute mark on Good Friday and Norton-Cuffy having made little impact after being handed a long-awaited start in the same game.

Finally, there is a possibility that Luke McNally might be handed a rest in this game, having looked shattered towards the closing stages of the Swansea City match. That would likely hand Michael Rose a big chance to stake a claim before his contract expires at the end of the campaign, although, he did not make the squad for the last game, possibly due to a fitness concern of his own.

Last Time We Met

Coventry City were firmly in their pre-World Cup groove as they made the trip to Vicarage Road back in November. They had to ride their luck against a Watford side looking to pick up a win to get back into the top six, with Keinan Davis seeing a first-half goal disallowed and the Hornets missing two complete sitters over the course of the 90 minutes.

However, the Sky Blues were resolute in their defensive shape and direct on the counter and were eventually rewarded for their discipline when a neat move involving Gustavo Hamer, Kasey Palmer and Jamie Allen saw Allen tee Viktor Gyokeres up for a first-time finish. Coventry City had to hold on in the closing stages, but claimed a three points that cemented the team’s turnaround after a terrible start to the campaign.

The Opposition

The Manager – Chris Wilder

Watford’s third manager of the campaign, Chris Wilder was brought in to deliver the short, sharp shock that was intended to lift a flagging Hornets side into the play-offs. However, Wilder has struggled to make sense of a squad that has been put together in a slap-dash manner over the last few seasons and has been unable to make much of an impact. Winning one of the four games he’s had in charge thus far, if Wilder fails to win this game, it seems inevitable that Watford will turn their thoughts towards another man in the dug-out for next season.

A manager who very much prefers a 3-5-2 system that sees his teams look to overwhelm opponents with overlapping runs from the back, a lack of natural, attacking wing-backs, along with centre-backs that are good on the ball has made it difficult for Chris Wilder to get Watford playing like his famed Sheffield United side of a few years ago. It looks to be a simple case of the manager being a bad fit for the players at his disposal.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Hamer; Porteous, Cathcart, Hoedt; Ferreira, Louza, Choudhury, Sema; Kone, Asprilla; Joao Pedro.

For a recently-relegated Premier League side, the number of stand-out players for Championship football among Watford’s ranks is relatively small. Joao Pedro in attack has carried a lot of the workload for both creating and scoring chances with his intelligent movement and skill in the final third, however, he has little support from the players around him, made worse by winger Ismaila Sarr having a poor campaign despite having been linked to some big clubs over the past few years.

The other stand-out talent in this Watford side is Imran Louza in midfield, who has missed a large part of the season through injury. The Moroccan playmaker is the type of midfield player who can run games with his range of passing, while also being able to get forward and contribute with goals and assists. Winger, Ken Sema, can also contribute to the creativity with his forward runs from wing-back, while youngsters, Yaser Asprilla and Ismael Kone, have the potential to be very exciting but are maybe a year or two from being able to dominate games.

At the back, Hamza Choudhury in midfield plays an important role in protecting the defence, while Ryan Porteous, Craig Cathcart and Wesley Hoedt should be a solid centre-back trio but are unsuited to playing high up the pitch and contributing to the team’s attacking play in the manner that Chris Wilder wants to see from his back three. In goal, a red card for shot-stopper, Daniel Bachmann, in Watford’s last game means that Ben Hamer will step into the breach for this match.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Watford are likely to look to take the game to Coventry City as they chase down an important win to keep their season going, especially given that is Chris Wilder’s natural instincts as a manager. That presents the Sky Blues with the opportunity to play on the counter-attack, which is where they have been at their most threatening this season, however, the lack of a number ten to link the midfield and attack, along with a tired-looking Viktor Gyokeres, is a concern for the home side.

Gustavo Hamer, Ben Sheaf and Josh Eccles in midfield are going to have to do a better job at making forward runs and occupying the space that a number ten would for Coventry City than they have over the past couple of matches. That concern could even see Ryan Howley take Josh Eccles’ place in the team in this game to help make up the gap between defence and midfield. Additionally, Viktor Gyokeres and Matt Godden forming some kind of relationship as a strike duo would be welcome here too.

The movement of Joao Pedro in Watford’s attack versus Kyle McFadzean could be something of a mismatch if the Brazilian is isolated against Coventry City’s defensive leader. Additionally, the pace of Ken Sema down the Hornets’ left side, along with the audacious skill of Yaser Asprilla floating between the Sky Blues’ midfield and attack are other key sources of threat which could serve to provide Joao Pedro with extra freedom in the final third for the Hornets.

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