Quique Sanchez Flores will be a busy man over the next two days.
First he must assess the players who’ve returned to London Colney midway through the week after representing their countries. Juan Carlos Paredes, for example, doesn’t return until tomorrow. Then he must pick a travelling squad for Saturday’s game against Arsenal before working out a way to shock the Gunners for the second time in the space of three weeks.
“It isn’t easy,” the Spaniard said this morning. “Today we will check on the players, we will find out their condition. Then tomorrow we will look over the last match and work out what we want for Arsenal.”
Sebastian Prodl and Valon Behrami, two of the heroes of the cup win over Arsenal, are doubts because of illness. Behrami captained Switzerland against Republic of Ireland but missed the 2-0 defeat to Bosnia & Herzegovina on Tuesday. Prodl was an unused substitute against Albania on Friday and came on in a 2-1 defeat to Turkey on Tuesday.
Joel Ekstrand has trained with the main group during the international break but Tommie Hoban is still out with a long-standing groin and hip problem.
“Hoban is still recovering,” Sanchez Flores said “I speak to him sometimes. He is a very good player and we have always had Hoban in our squad for the league since the beginning of the season. We believe he can play well and put in good performances in this team.”
Sanchez Flores loves a full week to prepare his players and some of the poorest results have come when he’s had precious little time on the training field.
“During the break it isn’t easy to train,” he said. “We try and manage this period and use our time well. We add players from the Under-21s and Under-18s so we have enough players to train well. After the international break it isn’t easy to prepare. I don’t like it but I’ve become used to it at Valencia and Atletico Madrid. We are not unique. It is the same for every team.”
While the majority of Watford players left the country over the international break, either representing their countries or having a brief holiday (Troy Deeney went to Dubai, as did Heurelho Gomes), Sanchez Flores remained in England. Along with his coaching staff, Sanchez Flores has spent the last ten days identifying why the Hornets have struggled since the turn of the year. They’ve lost the last three in the league and only won two of the 13 league matches since they beat Liverpool before Christmas. There have been seven blanks and only nine goals in that period.
“In the last month and a half I have analysed the team more than ever,” Sanchez Flores said. “We always watch matches back no matter if we win, lose or draw. But in the last month and a half it is complicated. It’s not about what we are doing in defence and attack. It’s the small things. It’s those which are making us weaker than before. It is important to recuperate our spirit. We are an energetic and passionate team. When we lose these elements we are a different team.”
Watford picked up 29 points from the first 19 games. The last 11 matches have yielded just eight.
“The second half of the Premier League season hasn’t been good compared to the historic first half of the season,” said Sanchez Flores. “But it hasn’t been completely bad. Sometimes we play well, sometimes we play so-so and other times we haven’t played well. But I am not worried. For us it is simple. We have to recover the four actions that are basic to football. We have to defend well, to regain the ball quickly, to use the ball and to finish off our possession.”