Quique Sanchez Flores was sporting his game face at this week’s press conference.
The salute to the fans at Villa Park and the triumphant pumping of his fist as he walked down the tunnel has been put away. He wasn’t basking in the glory of a third away win of the season. Three points. Job done. Next.
On Thursday, in front of reporters from Sky Sports and the Daily Mirror, there was no back slapping or indulging his team despite what is a remarkable start. Not even the most optimistic Watford fan could have predicted their team would be 11th after 14 games, closer to the top spot than they are the bottom. These are heady times but you will not find Sanchez Flores, who has seen it all before, getting carried away, believing for a single moment he has cracked it and sizing up games against the big boys.
Any reporter turning up expecting him to start looking beyond Norwich City and the trip to Sunderland and start discussing the run of glamour fixtures with Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City were wasting their time. No chance.
The head coach said he only scanned the full December programme last week. It’s all about the next game, for him, and not in the kind of cliched way in which almost every post-match interview with a footballer is conducted. Sanchez Flores means it quite literally. His trusted analyst maybe working on a plan for Sunderland but, for Sanchez Flores, the focus is on Norwich, and Norwich only.
“I only saw the December fixtures last week and I’m not interested in what Liverpool did,” he said. “Maybe I watch them on the TV when I am home but I don’t know about City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham. The focus is to find out what match we have this week. Our target is always the next match. We are not thinking about who we are playing in one month.”
Wise words because, as he said, a win against Norwich is the worth the same as three points against, say, Spurs.
“We can underestimate this type of team,” he said. “They [have] played really well and are a very competitive team. They defend very deep, they are very organised and it is not easy to create attempts. We respect Norwich a lot. We have analysed this team and they are very similar to our team: they are compact, they fight a lot and they are physical. They are a very good opponent.”
Sanchez Flores gets his players thinking about the next opponent when they come in for a warm-down session the day after a game. His message about underestimating Norwich has clearly got through to his players.
“They are difficult to play against,” said Adlène Guedioura. “It’s going to be massive game for us. They won easy [against us] at Vicarage Road and they won [against us] at their home. We need to learn the lessons if we want to win.”
In contrast, Alex Neil, the Norwich manager, is viewing a trip to Watford as a chance to pick up a fourth win of the season.
“We are looking to win the game,” he told his club’s website. “Against the likes of Watford… the possibilities of winning the game are higher.”
Asked to pinpoint Watford’s strongest suit, Neil said: “The front two. We know the threat they pose and we will make we are sure set up to combat that.”