Watford have checked on the availability this summer of Raul Albiol, the Spain international playing his football at Napoli, and you can see why.
The Hornets needed a fourth senior centre-half, to provide cover and competition for Miguel Britos, Craig Cathcart and Sebastian Prodl, even before Cathcart and Britos were pulled out of the games against Manchester United and Leicester City with varying degrees of late notice. An injury to one of the three centre-backs used this season leaves them vulnerable to an injury or suspension to the remaining two, a situation exacerbated by the ongoing hip and groin issues being experienced by Tommie Hoban and Joel Ekstrand’s lack of match fitness.
“Centre-half has been one of the most poisonous positions,” said Rene Gilmartin on commentary yesterday. “You’ve had Tommie being out, Joel did his ACL, Craig Cathcart does his calf and then you are all of a sudden down to playing a left-back at centre-half. Ake has played for his country at centre-half but not for Watford.”
Quique Sanchez Flores asked Albiol for a reference on Britos when Watford signed him in the summer yet he might now need him to help share the workload with the Uruguayan next season, although the word is it’s going to be difficult to prise him out of Serie A. Napoli went top of the league last night. You could make a strong case for Britos being the best signing this season but he’s either missed through injury or been substituted with a knock in seven of the last 17 games. The fact the matches have come thick and fast since Christmas has not agreed with the body of the 30-year-old.
“Britos actually told me he might go out [of the team] when he was out on the pitch, so I needed to switch my mind quick,” said Ake. “Seb [Prodl] and the other guys helped me.”
The position was not completely unfamiliar to Ake. He plays there for Holland Under-21s, for starters, although he was stationed at left-back in their most recent game against Slovakia.
“I still know how to play this [position] from when I was younger at Chelsea so I was OK,” he said. “I played at under-18’s this position a lot at Chelsea, but it came to the point I was a little bit small to play centre back so I got pushed up to midfield and this season obviously left-back, but I still knew how to play this even though I haven’t played it for a long time. [Vardy] always makes good runs so you always have to be 100% focused. It was good learning for me.”
Derek Payne, the summariser for BBC Three Counties radio, felt Ake made the transition looks seamless after a shaky first ten minutes.
“I thought he was excellent,” said Payne. “He had a very good game. He reads the game well for such a young man.”
Gilmartin, the No 3 goalkeeper, provided an insight into what Sanchez Flores may have said to the 21-year-old and what Heurelho Gomes will have been watching from in between the posts.
“I’m sure the manager spoke to the player and gave him key responsibilities about role,” Gilmartin said. “I thought they [Prodl and Ake] did really well. The first five or ten minutes were very cagey. Vardy did get in behind but they [Prodl and Ake] made good recovery tackles and look like they understood each other’s play. Vardy didn’t cause them too many problems in the second half and that’s a credit to them.”
Ake’s girlfriend will also be out of her comfort zone this weekend; she is running just over 13 miles today in Holland.
If she exhibits a trace of Ake’s resourcefulness, calmness and mental fortitude she’ll be fine. Sanchez Flores will prefer that Britos and/or Cathcart are fit for the FA Cup quarter-final tie next weekend. If not, Ake provides a trustworthy deputy.
“I don’t know how bad Craig’s injury is, or Britos, so I do not know how it will be for the next game,” said Ake who was left out in midweek in favour of Jose Holebas. “It is good to have the competition with Holebas we get on really well with each other and he is a top player, so we have good competition it is good to have the fight [for the place].”