Tannadice Park, located on the east coast of Scotland and casting a shadow over a sprawling vegetable allotment, was the setting for Quique Sanchez Flores’s latest instalment in his ongoing cultivation of a new footballing philosophy at Watford.
The Spaniard, an early disciple of Rafa Benitez’s defence-minded strategics, has spoken of his desire to keep things balanced and compact while making the most of possession and maintaining an exciting, attacking threat. Against Dundee United, a team that reached a domestic cup final and finished one point off a Europa League place last season, such a set-up was clear to see.
Sanchez Flores said he is still uncertain about his best XI ahead of the season-opening match at Everton on August 8, but it will be very close to the team that started against Jackie McNamara’s Tangerines.
Allan Nyom and Jose Holebas needed no urging forward from their full-back positions, while Etienne Capoue and Valon Behrami again hurried and harried and pressed in midfield, while happily tucking in to play the role of quarterback when necessary. It ensured defensive solidity while also allowing positive attacks down the flanks courtesy of fast and fluid passing. Ikechi Anya, in particular, proved dangerous with his vertical runs.
And it was further forward where most Hornets eyes were trained. A debut was handed to new Spanish signing Jose Manuel Jurado, whose newly unveiled Watford away shirt carried the No7 on its back. Having played for Sanchez Flores while at Atletico Madrid, the coach suggested he intends to build his team around the diminutive midfielder. He shone on the left of an attack-minded triumvirate that included Anya and Odion Ighalo, displaying glimpses of quality vision to feed Anya on numerous occasions.
It is getting Troy Deeney to continually fire, however, that appears the conundrum Quique most needs to solve.
Goals have rarely been hard to come by for Watford of late and against a team yet to win during pre-season, the visitors will be disappointed they did not win by a greater margin. A Capoue volley at one point went so far off target it bounced out of the stadium, while Ighalo and Jurado both missed good chances. It is getting Troy Deeney to continually fire, however, that appears the conundrum Quique most needs to solve.
The club captain, before his second-half header, had managed just one goal this pre-season and in the first half appeared isolated and forced to drop deep to collect the ball. Jurado, Anya and Ighalo were all happy to benefit from his strong hold-up play, but when a player who scored 21 times last season doesn’t manage a shot at goal in the first half something has got to give. The head coach acknowledged the issue at the interval and, following six changes, deployed the incoming Matej Vydra slightly further up the field.
That is not to say Watford’s defence went largely untested. There were scares and, perhaps worryingly, they were usually the result of individual errors: First, Heurelho Gomes with a sloppy first touch, then Sebastian Prödl failing to cut out a through ball. Only an excellent, stretching, second-half save from Arlauskis ensured the Hornets’ team bus wheeled past the nearby vegetable allotment with a second successive clean sheet safely in the bag.
Sanchez Flores believes every moment in life is an opportunity for improvement. There is no denying this side remains a work in progress, but the balance is there and the players are clearly listening to their new head coach: When the full-time whistle went, the Spaniard demanded his team acknowledge the 200-odd travelling fans — a gesture welcomed after their rushed exit at the end of their German tour.
Dundee United: Zwick; Dillon, Donaldson, Durnan, Dixon; Paton, Fraser, Connolly, Muirhead; Bodul, Murray
Watford FC: Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, Prödl, Holebas; Behrami, Capoue, Jurado, Anya; Deeney, Ighalo