There were plenty of points last season when it looked as though Watford could be on for having a memorable campaign. After ten games, they looked like they could make a Europa League challenge and held a five-point lead over Manchester United. There was also the remarkable FA Cup run which saw them reach the final, but they completely crashed at the final hurdle, losing 6-1 to Manchester City at Wembley.
Ultimately, had Javi Gracia’s side maintained a bit more consistency, they could have pipped Wolverhampton Wanderers to that coveted seventh spot. Instead, though, the Hornets finished bottom of the so-called ‘mini-league’ involving themselves, Wolves, Leicester City, West Ham United and Everton, sealing an 11th place finish. If Watford want to kick on again and not fall back into the bottom half trap, consistency must be key.
Watford Must Maintain Consistency to Make Europa League Challenge
Limited Signings are a Positive
Watford’s usual remedy each summer is to turn to the transfer market. They made an incredible 17 additions for the 2017/18 campaign, which saw them finish 14th. Then last summer, they added a further nine. However, this summer has seen them sign just four players, with one, Sam Dalby, unlikely to make any impact on the first team at just 18-years-old. The Hornets have also added former Manchester City youngster Tom Dele-Bashiru, but they insist that he will be part of the first-team plans, along with Craig Dawson from West Bromwich Albion and Joao Pedro from Fluminese.
That alone is a positive step for Watford – the fact that they are instead allowing the squad to settle rather than making signing after signing and unstabling the side. While none of the signings particularly catch the eye, that’s not something the Hornets are well-known for. Dawson is a solid addition at centre-back to aid the ageing pair of Adrian Mariappa and Craig Cathcart, Dele-Bashiru is highly thought of while not experienced, and Pedro has impressed while in Brazil.
With a settled squad, Watford could make a good challenge for the Europa League places, but there is plenty of competition standing in their way.
While Watford make required signings and plan for the future, their main competition from last year have been flexing their muscles in the transfer market. Leicester re-signed former loanee Youri Tielemans for a club-record fee, West Ham have brought in Pablo Fornals and club-record signing Sebastien Haller, while Wolves made two of their loans permanent and continue to be linked with some of the world’s top emerging talents.
Everton have probably been the least inspiring of the sides from the ‘mini-league’ in the market, but have made Andre Gomes’ loan permanent, brought in Fabian Delph as adequate cover either in midfield or at left-back and signed Huddersfield Town keeper Jonas Lossl. As well, if the Toffees can acquire their remaining targets before the window closes, namely Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace (Matt Law, The Telegraph) and Moise Kean from Juventus (Fabrizio Romano, The Guardian), they too will be in good stead to make the same challenge.
Watford’s business may have been good, but unfortunately for them those at a similar level have just had better summers. It’s never been the case that the Hornets could compete financially with those clubs, though. Fortunately, they have Javi Gracia at the helm.
Javi’s at the Wheel
Since the turn of the decade, Watford have had 11 different managers in the hot seat. None of them, though, have lasted more than two years, and Gracia has the third-best win percentage of those. Additionally, should he make it to January of this season, he will have been in charge for two years, signifying another step towards the required stability needed at Watford.
While this season may see them fall slightly behind the pack they kept up with last season due to the difference in signings, Watford have at least set themselves up to be able to compete in that manner in the future. The long-term future of the club at least looks bright, even if in the short-term things are a bit foggier.
In terms of finishing position, it probably won’t be too dissimilar to last season considering the limited action in the transfer market. A comfortable mid-table slot, though, will be just fine.