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How Quique is outfoxing the best the Premier League has to offer

He will not say it publicly, as he’s too modest, but, apart from the league table, one of the most reliable indicators of just what a tactical masterclass Quique Sanchez Flores has given this season is evidenced by how the opposition have lined up and shaped up.

West Bromwich Albion saw what Watford did at Everton and parked the bus at Vicarage Road; Southampton were content to leave Watford’s refurbished home with a point; Arsenal fielded their strongest team despite a crucial Champions League clash days later against Bayern Munich; West Ham United paid Watford the same respect they did at Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City by fielding just one up front and Leicester City deployed Jeffrey Schlupp in a different role and, we are told, spent half time discussing how to get to grips with Etienne Capoue and Ben Watson. Yet Sunderland paid the Hornets the biggest compliment on Saturday by shelving their formation after just 18 minutes at the Stadium of Light.

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“They have had a couple of good results [against Stoke City and Newcastle United] and within 15-20 minutes they are changing formation because we are so dominant,” said Ben Watson.

DeAndre Yedlin was hooked and Jack Rodwell was summoned in an attempt to stop Watford monopolising possession and slicing the Black Cats open at will. Managers usually exchange a glass of red wine at full time. Sanchez Flores is instead giving his opposite number food for thought during the game.

“We started off really well and could have been out of sight in the first 20 minutes,” said Deeney. “That’s always going to be quite hard to maintain. And you know, at some point, they are going to pick up.”

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Sunderland did improve, although it was impossible for them to get much worse, but Watford never really looked in too much trouble. When they did, Heurelho Gomes did what he is paid to do, most notably when he shifted his momentum so impressively for a big guy to go back the other way and get down low to save Jermain Defoe’s water-skimmer.

Deeney spoke to us straight after Watson had given his post match thoughts on the game and both, without conferring, spoke of how Watford should have killed Sunderland off long before Gomes was called into action. However, the team’s wastefulness on the break late on for the second successive away game was never ever going to detract from the fact Watford have an astonishing 25 points after 16 games and are sitting pretty in seventh, above Liverpool and Chelsea.

“It’s an unbelievable achievement for a team that has just been promoted,” said Watson. “We are proving everyone wrong.”

Aren’t they just. In fact, so much so that Deeney is going to have to stop referring to this mini league he feels Watford are in and recalibrate his expectations.

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“We speak about this mini league we are in,” said Deeney. “We’ve beaten three of teams in that, but we have jumped up a league and perhaps we need to look where we are at. It’s hard to keep your feet on the ground but you know in this league that if you lose two or three games, you’ve lost for a month so you have to keep on top of it. No-one has ever gone down with 11 wins so we need four more wins and to get to 40 points, so we’ve got 15 more points to find.”

On the evidence so far, they should not be too hard to find but Almen Abdi is certainly got getting carried away.

“To have 25 points after 16 games is amazing,” he said. “But we are not finished yet and we need to continue like that until the end.”

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Three wins on the bounce certainly give them a great springboard to launch a hectic festive programme that, when the fixture list was first released, seemed to contain very little reason to cheer. Yet the plan, Watson said, was always to harvest points against Aston Villa, Norwich City and Sunderland so that anything against Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City is a bonus.

“We did target those games,” Watson said. “I thought if we can get six or seven points that would be amazing. To get nine and win three on the bounce is a great achievement. It’s such a tough thing to do in the Premier League.”

He should know as he has more Premier League experience than anyone in the squad. But surely the campaigns at Crystal Palace and Wigan Athletic cannot have been as thrilling or unexpected as this one.

*Additional reporting by David Anderson