After another strong season which saw them finish mid-table and with the club adding to their squad in the summer, you could have understood Watford fans’ excitement for the new season that was upon them.
Despite losing three of their last four Premier League games last season, Watford were once again mixing with ‘the best of the rest’, finishing just four points behind eighth-placed Leicester City and reaching their first FA Cup final since 1984 after a stunning comeback win against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semi-final.
In addition, the signings of talented winger Ismaila Sarr from Rennes for £27 million, experienced defender Craig Dawson from West Bromwich Albion and free agent Danny Welbeck were thought to add more firepower to a side which boasted the likes of Gerard Deulofeu, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Troy Deeney, Ben Foster and Roberto Pereyra, among others who had also impressed.
However, the progress that Watford were expected to make this season has not happened. In fact, the club have gone backwards, sitting bottom of the Premier League with just five points and remaining winless from their opening ten games. Suddenly, a squad that was expected to push for European honours are now finding themselves deep in a relegation battle. Why has it gone so drastically wrong?
The Problems Quique Sanchez Flores Must Solve at Watford
The Injury List
For starters, injuries haven’t helped. Frontman Deeney, so often the focal point of their attacks, has not featured since the second game of the season due to a knee problem. In addition, Welbeck injured his hamstring over a week ago and it has left Watford with a lack of natural strikers to choose from. As a result, the club had to field a makeshift attack, with Deulofeu, so often a threat from the wing, and creative midfielder Pereyra having to fill in up front.
Another knock-on effect from the attacking absentees has been Watford’s form in front of goal. Surprisingly, they rank eleventh in the Premier League in terms of total shots this season (127) but have only scored five times – the fewest of any team. Their profligacy was particularly apparent against Arsenal in September, where they fought back from 2-0 down but could only score twice from 31 shots on goal.
The defence has also been a big issue. The Hornets conceded 18 goals in their first six league games of the season, with eight of those coming in a humiliating defeat at Manchester City. Javi Gracia’s method of playing a four-at-the-back with two attacking full-backs often left the interchanging centre-back personnel exposed, especially with holding midfielder Etienne Capoue’s form on the decline.
But there is an argument that the situation may not be as bad as it seems. New manager Quique Sanchez Flores, in his second stint at the club, has tightened up the defence, with Watford conceding just three goals in their last four league games, even if two of those games featured drab 0-0 draws at home to Sheffield United and Bournemouth. Flores has reverted to a back five, with Dawson, Christian Kabasele and Craig Cathcart at the centre of defence and Daryl Janmaat and Jose Holebas taking up the wing-back roles.
Furthermore, Watford’s upcoming fixtures offer room for comfort. After a relatively tough first ten games which saw them face Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Wolves, the club now have games against Norwich, Burnley and Southampton to look forward to. And with Deeney set to return from injury, the Hornets will look at the month of November as a chance to finally make strides up the table this season.
Despite being the only club in the top four divisions in England without a win, Quique Sanchez Flores is upbeat about his side, going forward. “I think it’s better not to create dramas,” said the Spaniard. “It’s true that the numbers say we don’t score too much but the most difficult thing in football is to create attempts and against Sheffield [United], today even we had very clear attempts, so we don’t need to be worried for that. “At the moment we are creating, it’s okay. At the moment we stop creating attempts we should be worried.”
“We are more mature defending but sometimes we are not making good decisions in the final third. That is part of the process but that is normal in this situation because the players don’t feel completely relaxed to take the decisions, but I want to think in a positive way and we are creating a good base for the future.”
It has been a seriously tough start to the season and undoubtedly a setback to their aspirations of building on previously successful campaigns. But there is still plenty of time to put things right and with Flores now seemingly having a positive influence on the club’s fortunes, their form can turn around. November is a crucial month for Watford as they aim to avoid one of the more dramatic Premier League comedowns in recent memory.