The analytical and tactical brain of Quique Sanchez Flores was working overtime this week.
The sanguine Spaniard normally likes to forget about a match as soon as the final whistle has blown, win, lose or draw. His focus immediately switches to the next match and the process of briefing the players on what he and his trusted analyst have spotted in the armoury of the next opponents begins almost immediately. But he couldn’t let the Southampton defeat go. He had to get to the bottom of it, to satisfy his curiosity and make sure it never happens again. It was such an un Watford-like performance under this head coach.
“I was analysing the match [on Friday],” he said.
It didn’t take long before he started tugging at his considerable head of hair and reaching for the red pen.
“I promise you after one minute and 45 seconds I was taking notes,” he said. “I have a lot of notes, one whole notebook.”
What he saw confirmed what he had said to Dean Austin, his assistant, after just ten minutes of the game.
“I said to him the pitch is so big, I know their pitch is the same as our pitch but my feeling was the pitch was big. This means we are not keeping the space well.”
Sanchez Flores either deploys a high block or a low block, depending on the speed of the opposition attackers. Watford played with the type of incoherence you expected from them early in the season when this group of hastily-assembled players were just getting to know each other. The fact such a disjointed performance came 21 games into the season caught everybody by surprise, including the head coach.
“Everything was wrong,” he said. “It’s not a problem of tactics, it’s a mentality problem. It was not normal.”
Almost every time Watford have won a game this season a lot has been made of how poor the opposition were perceived to have been. There was, at the time, little appreciation of how the Watford game plan, executed to the letter, had made the losers look so distinctly average. Roles were reversed on Wednesday and as badly as Watford played (and boy were they bad), there had to be an acknowledgement of just how progressive and aggressive Southampton were. The opposition are allowed to play well. The Saints were particularly good in the areas that have underpinned Watford’s fine form in the first half of the campaign – the defensive unit and the screening and pressing job the deep-lying midfield two do.
“Teams know how they need to play against these kind of players [Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo],” said Sanchez Flores. “A lot of teams play with four [defenders] and one [in front] proctecting the zone. This is normal. They don’t want to leave two v two. We now need to confirm our expectations when we play against three [central] defenders, [like Tottenham and Southampton did].”
Hence the imminent arrival of Nordin Amrabat, the muscular and all-action forward.
“We need players in attack to mix different qualities,” said the head coach. “We have wingers [like Jose Manuel Jurado and Almen Abdi] but they have skill to go inside. We need to get a balance, players who can open the sides.”