The last time Watford lined up against Sunderland, more than ten years ago in a Championship match, the Hornets found themselves four goals down after 73 minutes. The match ended 4-2. Sam Allardyce, a centre-half in his time as a player, and Quique Sanchez Flores, a right back of some distinction, will be going potty on the sideline if their teams defend with such abandon this afternoon.
With Watford having conceded a fraction over a goal a game and Sunderland having shipped just one in their last three home games, today’s match at the Stadium of Light promises to be one for connoisseurs of the art of defending.
“We have the plan,” said Quique Sanchez Flores. “I don’t like to talk too much about the plan but we have to think very well until the last moment. This is a very, very tough game as they have a lot of positive feelings in the last matches.”
Sunderland took plenty of heart from their 3-1 defeat at Arsenal but the Black Cats were too open for the liking of Allardyce.
“We’ve got to get back to playing how we did against Stoke, and use the players the best we can to break down a very stubborn Watford unit,” he said in an interview with The Chronicle.
As always, the two positions up for debate in the Watford side are the two spots either side of Troy Deeney. Ikechi Anya, Adlène Guedioura, Almen Abdi, Juan Carlos Paredes and Jose Manuel Jurado are all in contention and who gets the nod often boils down to what Sanchez Flores has picked up in his analysis of the opposition.
“The shape and system is one thing,” he explained this week. “How players move in the system is completely different. It is the attitude of the system that is important.”
The 4-2-3-1 formation often morphs into 4-4-2 and, if he had the right personnel, the head coach quite likes the idea of 4-3-3. The way you see Ben Watson drop into the defensive line when the opposition have the ball out wide and the positioning of Nathan Ake and Allan Nyom so high up the pitch against Norwich City shows how much flexibility the system has. It’s worked a treat, harvesting 22 points from 15 games.
“At the moment, Watford are in no relegation trouble whatsoever,” said Allardyce. “But they may find it tougher later on in the season. They may hit a spell when you can’t pick up the wins that you had done previously. But they’ve done brilliantly so far, particularly away from home where they’ve picked up lots of points and scored goals.”
Few know more about scoring goals than Jermaine Defoe. He has 132 Premier League goals to his name and will return for the Black Cats this afternoon after missing the game against Arsenal last week. His ability to instinctively shoot on sight, with very little back lift, is a familiar site to one of his former teammates.
“He is top class, one of the best finishers I’ve trained with,” said Heurelho Gomes. “We can’t give him any space. It will be great to meet him again but I hope I can come out on top. If you give him too many space, it doesn’t matter what I do.”