With his countryman Xherdan Shaqiri ruled out through injury, the stage is set for Almen Abdi to prove the most influential Switzerland international on the field for the second time this season against Stoke City.
Abdi screamed in Watford’s second, and his first and only goal of the season, past Jack Butland at the Britannia Stadium to clinch a confidence-enhancing win over Mark Hughes’ side in October.
“It was my only goal so far,” Abdi told us this morning. “It was a great team performance that day and to win at Stoke isn’t easy. It’s a hard place to go. Many teams struggle there, many big teams. It was very windy, like it often is in Stoke. It was a solid performance against Stoke. It will be a very hard game [on Saturday]. They are a good side and are very physical. I would take 2-0 again, and a goal. I was thinking about it [my goal] yesterday actually. It was my first and only goal until now. Football is a lot about mental strength and if you go into the game and you did a great result and you scored [last time] it gives you extra energy. I’m not satisfied [with my goal return]. I’ve always been an attacking player. I’d love to score more goals but I feel different now and I’m playing in a different position. I have to work so much in defence.”
The challenge on Saturday will be made easier by the absence of Ryan Shawcross (back) and Shaqiri (hamstring) through injury. Abdi and Shaqiri are both of Albanian descent and both have won the Swiss Golden Player Award.
“I wouldn’t say he is a friend of mine but I know him,” said Abdi. “He has great qualities and it will be an advantage for us if he doesn’t play. But hopefully he doesn’t have a bad injury.”
Abdi has not been called up by his country since April 2009 and isn’t holding out much hope of Vladimir Petkovic picking up the phone and reviving his international career ahead of a Euro 2016 campaign where Switzerland are pitched against Albania, the country of his birth. Switzerland play Republic of Ireland next Friday and Bosnia-Herzegovina the week after.
“Over the first 25 games [this season] I was hoping for a call but I didn’t get it,” Abdi said. “Now I am not starting as much [for Watford]. I would be the happiest man if I got the call, but I am not sure it will come.”