It is a glib claim often levelled at the free-flowing teams from Spain. ‘Yeah, but could they do it on a cold Tuesday night at Stoke City?’
Well, Watford’s Spanish head coach did it on a blustery, autumnal Saturday afternoon at the Britannia stadium in October, masterminding a stunning win that will be viewed as a turning point when the season is reviewed in May.
Coming seven days after Arsenal had ripped them apart three times in 12 second-half minutes at Vicarage Road, the 2-0 triumph showed the away win at Newcastle United was no fluke and that this team had no need to fear any awkward assignments away from home. The celebrations by the head coach, at the goals from Troy Deeney and Almen Abdi and at the full-time whistle, showed how significant he viewed the three points.
“We felt when we won in Stoke that we did it against an amazing team,” reflected the head coach this week. “We need to play really well. I remember perfectly the performance against Stoke City. We wanted to win. We need to reduce Arnautovic, mark well Bojan and try to stop Shaqiri. It’s a very good team, a very consistent team. When we won in Stoke, we were like, ‘Wow’ as the second half was really, really hard.”
Almost as hard as it was for Sanchez Flores when he played against Mark Hughes for Valencia against Barcelona in 1986.
“To meet with Mark Hughes is amazing and he’s an amazing person and a very good manager,” said Sanchez Flores. “I played against Hughes in 1986, I think. We talked after [the game at the Britannia] about that. Now, he’s a good manager and he improved Stoke a lot. He tried to play football and he signed good players in attack. He’s a good manager and had a very good plan to beat Watford. They have a very good team.”
Bojan, the former Barcelona and Roma forward is their stand-out player, although he hasn’t scored since Boxing Day.
“I knew him from Barcelona,” said Sanchez Flores. “He’s a very good player. It was difficult for him to play at Barcelona but he’s strong, has good strong legs and is good technically.”