It was a throw away comment from Ben Watson, made in the aftermath of Saturday’s win over Saturday, but it told you all you need to know about the foundations the relative success of this team is built on.
He was asked about the imminent return of Valon Behrami and his determination to hang onto his place at the base of Watford’s midfield.
“I just need to keep performing well and keep my shirt,” said, “Not just in the matches but in training.”
Note the emphasis on training. There is no culture of rocking up bleary-eyed to the sessions at UCL, London Colney, going through the motions for a couple of hours and then heading off for the afternoon. Sanchez Flores wants his players to train like they play and has made many selections calls this season on the basis of what he sees in training.
It’s a policy that has created competition for places and led to players arriving early, leaving late and some full-blooded sessions. We’ve seen, first hand, Essaid Belkalem clean out Dennon Lewis, Obbi Oulare crash into Belkalem and Steven Berghuis, of all people, so desperate to find the back of the net that he risked injury by not pulling out of a challenge with the oncoming Nathan Gartside, the young keeper. Things, we are told, boiled over for Adlène Guedioura at one point in the week before the game at Stoke City but that’s the spirit Sanchez Flores wants to see when the players return to training tomorrow.
The players had Sunday and today off, a two-day break they will have been wise to make the most of as things are about to heat up. They face four games in 13 days – and not just any four games. Three of the most storied clubs in world football are about to run out at Vicarage Road between Sunday and January 2 while Boxing Day heralds a visit to the home of the champions. These fixtures, which looked so daunting and make or break when they were released, can now be viewed with a sense of excitement and approached with a genuine sense of optimism.
“We’ll approach them how we’ve approach the last three games,” said Ben Watson. “We are seeing it as a great chance to continue the run.”
And what a run it is. No team is on a better winning run in the Premier League right now than Watford and victory on Sunday could take them four points clear of Liverpool. Imagine that.
“If we don’t think we can get a result there is no point, is there?” said Troy Deeney. “We have got to work hard. We know what we are good at and we’ll look to try and stop them, too. Their squads have hudnreds of millions of pounds spent on them. Ours is nowhere near £100m. We know there is a gulf but anyone can beat anyone on their day. We’ll look at Liverpool properly from Tuesday and treat them the same as everyone else.”
This is not just a normal game for Almen Abdi.
“I’m a big Dortmund fan and now I get to play against [Jurgen] Klopp,” said Abdi. “The next four games will be tough. It’s the most competitive league in the world. Liverpool is going to be very hard but you never know.”