Opposition View – Watford

As domestic football returns Hornets season ticket holder Kieran Callanan gives us the lowdown on last term’s runners up in the Championship…

How has your season been so far?

We’ve had a solid start to the season, even if we’ve been a little bit disappointing in the final third. We’re still looking for our first win, but draws in all but our game away at Man City represents a decent start to our campaign. Now the squad is settled, we need to turn some of those draws into wins.

Unusually, we have gone from a team that could score goals for fun, but had problems keeping them out at the other end, to a side that’s a bit shot-shy, but with a stable base at the back to build from. It’s not been all that glamorous, but it’s certainly satisfactory so far.

You’ve been very active in the transfer market over the summer, are you happy with the signings you’ve made? 

Since Gino Pozzo bought the club back in 2012, we’ve got used to a high turnover of players over the summer. We’ve been in a state of building and rebuilding pretty much consistently, and thankfully our best players usually stay on, with those that didn’t make the grade in the previous season being moved on. This has been largely the case this summer, but there have been some higher profile losses that some supporters will continue to question for a little while yet.

Fans favourites like Fernando Forestieri, Matej Vydra, Gabriele Angella and Daniel Tozser have all made way for new signings. In the main, these new signings look to be an altogether higher calibre, but sentimentality is a big thing in football, and a lot of the players we’ve had to say goodbye to were instrumental in us reaching the Premier League.

As for who has actually come in, defensively we are looking so much better with Etienne Capoue and Valon Behrami sitting in front of the back four, which itself is often made up of three new players, with right back Allan Nyom, centre half Sebastian Prödl, and left back Jose Holebas filling in for last year’s first choices.

Deadline day saw us resign Adlene Guedioura, who was on loan last year but has now signed a permanent deal. This has pleased a lot of supporters, as his contribution last year was a big part of the reason we were promoted. Two other signings were made on the final day, with young Man U and Dortmund target Obbi Oulare expected to play a small role up front this season as he develops (supposedly into ‘the next Romelu Lukaku’, owing to his tall frame and Belgian nationality), and Colombian winger Victor Ibarbo expected to add to our pace going forward (but not on Saturday, as he’s not sorted out his visa just yet…).

The hot seat at Vicarage Road is one of the most unstable in English football at the moment, does that concern you and what do you make of your new boss Quique Flores? 

We have indeed had a few head coaches over the past year. This has been ever so slightly oversimplified in the mainstream press however, as several of these changes had good reasons behind them. I won’t go into it so much, but a resignation and a dodgy heart had their roles to play. Nonetheless, our owner is pragmatic, and unafraid to be bold.

So far, it looks like a lot of trust has been put in Quique Sanchez Flores, with our new head coach appearing to take a more central role in player recruitment. The hierarchy at Watford means that the head coach often has little say in who comes in and who goes, but so far this summer we’ve waved goodbye to the immensely talented Matej Vydra, as he doesn’t seem to fit the philosophy of the new head coach, and brought in, for example, Jose Manuel Jurado, who worked with Sanchez Flores at Atletico Madrid.

So, it seems pretty clear that Sanchez Flores is being backed, but, owing to our management structure, a head coach can be moved on without as much disruption to the playing and coaching staff as a whole as would be the case when removing a manager, so if things get really bad I fully expect a change.

So far though, I see no signs of that. We have a very disciplined squad, and though it’s been a little bit of a change of pace with us more impressive in defence than attack, I like the new guy and think he’ll do well here.

Tell us about last season, was promotion expected and were the highs and lows? 

Last season was incredible. It was a truly bizarre year, with four different head coaches and a lot of ups and downs – mainly ups though of course.

Slavisa Jovanovic took charge for the majority of the season, and he was a wonderful head coach. He was unafraid to make big tactical gambles, and his straight talking was what the club needed.

As for whether promotion was expected, I dare say Hornets fans were expecting a very good season considering the players we had at our disposal. But the Championship is a tough league to get out of, and when we started cycling through head coaches, I think we all started to wonder whether this would be a wasted season.

The memories of promotion some hours after Brighton away last season are special, and will stay with those who made the trip for a long time. It was gutting not to secure the title on the final day, when it all seemed to be there for us, but it wouldn’t be Watford if it all went to plan.

Who are your stand out performers and who are the weak links? 

So far this season, as I’ve said before, we’re far more impressive at the back than in attack. So far, Allan Nyom has been excellent at right back, and the midfield double pivot of Behrami and Capoue is the key to our team’s cohesion. These would be my picks for standout layers so far this season.

However, Troy Deeney, who’s had a non-stop run of form for pretty much the last three seasons, will be aching to score his first Premier League goal, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his bloody-minded determination get him on the score sheet. He’s the kind of player who can make something for himself, and after the international break he’ll be fresh and full of purpose.

Our weak links are the three that sit behind the striker. It seems a little bit much to call them weak links, mind, as individually they are all very good players – and in fact who plays in that three isn’t nailed-on in any respect, especially after the late transfer window dealings. However, we’ve not yet learned how to effectively transform defence into attack. This is the only part of the team that doesn’t seem to know exactly what it’s doing.

What’s your opinion on Swansea and which players if any do you fear? 

A lot of Watford fans will look to Swansea as some kind of blueprint for what they hope their club is doing. You can be an absolute joy to watch, and your growth into a Premier League force is something that plenty of sides from the Championship would love to emulate. Haven’t got a bad word to say about Swansea.

I think this game will be our toughest at home yet. There are plenty of players that we need to watch out for. In particular, Andre Ayew and Bafetimbi Gomis. These two are on form right now and our defence will need to be on top of there game if they’re to continue our home clean sheet streak.

Predict the score and where both teams will finish…

I hate predicting score lines, so I’ll give you two. Heart says 2-1 to Watford, head says 1-1 draw.

As for here we’ll finish, I expect you to push for a top 6 spot, but not quite make it. Something like 7th or 8th I reckon. As for us, I think we’ll make it this year and finish about 16th