Already in his relatively short managerial career so far, Marco Silva has taken on several difficult jobs. His journey of taking Estoril from the Portuguese second division to fourth place in Primeira Liga was quite a task, as was his failed attempt at keeping an insipid Hull City side up in the Premier League last season. He has not had it easy during his six years in management, and it would be fair to say that he is now used to adversity.
When he was offered to take charge of Watford in the summer, it was little surprise, then, that he wanted to face the task head on. After all, he turned down a lucrative job at Porto, as well as the vacancy at Crystal Palace.
Improving a team like Watford may not have been the toughest task to have faced Silva yet, but he still had a major job on his hands. The club suffered a poor 2016/17 season under Walter Mazzarri, finishing 17th and being dragged into a late relegation battle in which they should never have been involved. The Hornets were extremely fragile at the back, conceding 68 goals, and were lacklustre in front of goal, scoring only 40 times; the second worst in each category outside the bottom three.
Mazzarri failed to make Watford an efficient and coherent unit, and never got the team to play particularly attractive football. In addition, there was the language barrier. The Italian struggled to learn English throughout his time at Vicarage Road and consequently had trouble transferring his message through to his team and, at times, the media.
Watford needed the opposite of all of this and Silva offered the solution. Not only can he speak English very well, but his style of football revolved around fast, counter-attacking play, a resolute defence and a pressing in midfield that refused to allow opposition players time on the ball. To achieve this, he could not rely solely on his own expertise for this system; he needed the right players too. In came Kiko Femenia to fill in the right-back slot, Tom Cleverley, Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah to add energy to the midfield, along with record signing André Gray and Richarlson to offer pace further up the field.
Six games into the new season and we have seen plenty of evidence as to how astute those summer additions were, as well as how Silva’s tactical nous is having a positive impact. Watford lie sixth in the Premier League after yet another away win at the weekend against Swansea; their third already this season. The Hornets are no longer the dull, fragile outfit they were in 2016-17. This is now a side with intelligence, youthful energy, power and an attacking combination which has the ability to hurt teams.
Silva’s knowledge of tactics is impressive. It is known that he spends hours studying opposition teams and how to unlock them, and he subsequently bases his team around the answers he finds from such detailed analysis. In addition, he makes plenty of time to speak to players individually, offering them advice on positioning and movement and therefore aiding his team’s development.
The 6-0 home defeat to Manchester City, embarrassing as it was, will surely be a blip and given the supreme number of attacking options at Pep Guardiola’s disposal this season, there should be little worry for the team, so long as they pick up points elsewhere against teams around them; a key to progression in the Premier League. That is exactly what they have done so far.
Such is the faith that Silva has in his system, the Portuguese has even been willing to drop club captain Troy Deeney from his side. Despite Deeney boasting 100 league goals for Watford, his game revolves around hold-up play due to his lack of pace, which can often stifle his side’s potency. Consequently, Gray and Richarlson have been preferred due to the threat they offer with their speed.
It says a lot about the manager that he was willing to drop a player who has been imperative to Watford’s rise over the years, and it underlines his determination to make his system work. It has paid dividends so far, with his side looking like a well-drilled outfit – which is ready for success in the top flight.
Silva may have had tougher challenges in his career but he should be praised for the difference he is making to a Watford side which struggled massively for consistency last season. More difficult fixtures lay in wait but the Hornets could well be the team to watch outside the top six this season, thanks to their Portuguese manager who is making quite the impression in the Premier League.
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