Refreshed and recharged, Watford’s first-team players will return to training this morning after two days off to refocus on the target of securing the required number of points to guarantee at least another season of Premier League football.
Those of a nervous disposition would prefer it if the third bottom team could no longer mathematically catch the Hornets sooner rather than later – the gap stands at ten points with 13 games remaining – while others will be intrigued to see Quique Sanchez Flores expand on the intriguing suggestion he made at the end of a press conference last week about taking the shackles off once safety is achieved. It was a throwaway comment, at the end of an unrelated question, that certainly made our ears prick up.
The head coach has largely been risk averse this season – with some justification and with spectacular success. Sanchez Flores’ plan most weeks largely revolves around being second best in the possession stakes – around 40 per cent to the opponent’s 60 per cent – his team getting their nose in front and then shutting the game down with at least a couple of defensive substitutions. It’s worked an absolute treat.
“We are a new team, we are building a new team, just five months working together,” he said to an inquisitor in almost justifying his style and tactics when he had no need to. “The first year is to create one style, one shape and to keep a good position in the table.”
“We have one first shape and then it’s difficult to manage another shape,” he continued. “We don’t want to do too much and mix the team. We have 33 points and have won two rounds of the FA Cup. We are winning matches with this shape.”
Next, will be to see if Sanchez Flores is able to weave a fluid attacking framework onto the rock solid defensive base he has so impressively constructed. It is yet to be seen if this Spanish alchemist can alter the course of a match with an attacking substitution and produce a tactical masterstroke to help the team come from behind to win a game. This is what he would like to try out in the final quarter of the season once the team are safe and the money men at Watford can start counting the guaranteed £100m in TV revenue.
“I am wishing when we can play with the category safe,” he said. “This is perfect. We then have the possibility to try a lot of things, play without pressure, for three or four matches and completely enjoy.”
Being the decent bloke he is, Sanchez Flores will also use the remaining matches to make sure those heading to Euro 2016 – Sebastian Prodl, Valon Behrami, Costel Pantilimon and, to a lesser extent, Craig Cathcart – link up with their national teams game ready and match hardened.
“We want to survive, as it’s necessary for the future of Watford and for it to grow,” he said.