The top-flight survival plan, one Quique Sanchez Flores successfully first implemented at Getafe, is on the verge of being executed to perfection at Watford who are further ahead of the curve than Getafe were more than a decade ago, according to the Spanish alchemist.
Sanchez Flores kept Getafe in La Liga at the first attempt against the longest of odds in what was his first senior coaching assignment. The smallest of the three Madrid clubs finished 13th in 2004/05, ten points clear of relegation and were able to play the last half-a-dozen matches free of pressure.
“We got the points necessary when we had eight rounds remaining,” said Sanchez Flores. “Mathematically, maybe six rounds before [we were safe]. In terms of how we are building the team, this team is stronger than Getafe. We are going to achieve the objective before [them].”
Getafe took off the handbrake, threw off the shackles and played without inhibition once Sanchez Flores knew they were spending a second season in La Liga, something he has tantalising vowed to do with this Watford team.
“Our last six matches we completely enjoyed,” he said.
The upshot was a mixed bag of results: a 4-0 defeat at Villarreal, which was their heaviest of the season; a 2-0 win against Real Sociedad; a bore draw against Sevilla and a more entertaining one, 2-2, at Atletico Madrid.
Watford’s goals have dried up of late – six blanks in the last eight matches – but Getafe were just as goal-shy in 2004/05, averaging exactly a goal a game in their 38-game season. Watford have 29 in 28 games and six of those came in two games against Aston Villa and Liverpool.
“The most important thing is the balance,” said Sanchez Flores, “not the goals scored or the goals against. Our balance has been very good. We can score and we don’t concede many.”
Watford’s goal difference is zero.
Sanchez Flores has, unashamedly, shut up shop in the wake of the team hitting the skids with four league defeats on the spin, content to briefly go backwards so they can go forwards and evolve next season. They are prepared to inch towards safety, and you can’t really blame Sanchez Flores what with the huge pot of money at stake next season and the unpredictable nature of the league where anybody can, just about, beat anybody. Look at the way Crystal Palace have dropped like a stone after failing to halt a winless run.
Sanchez Flores talked yesterday about not weighing the players down with continual talk of achieving this benchmark of 40 points. ‘When it comes, it comes’, is his message. “We have to manage the emotion of the players,” he said. “I don’t want the players in a hurry or nervous. I want them to be confident and believe.”
After we exited the building at the UCL training ground in London Colney yesterday, Sanchez Flores concluded his weekly media duties by speaking to Hornets Player. Buoyed by the team’s most progressive display in weeks on Wednesday night, the head coach was in fine form and upbeat mood. He talked to the club’s media platform about wanting the players to play with a smile and not be consumed by the idea of making the team safe.
“In the last years of football, players sometimes put a lot of pressure on themselves,” he told Hornets Player. “To play football it is necessary to enjoy it. They can be more creative [when they enjoy it]. I feel players [are sometimes] under pressure and their faces are a bit serious. You say, ‘Ok, when we get the mark I need some players to feel freer.”