There was a period when talk of ‘the great job Eddie Howe is doing at Bournemouth’ would prompt a meltdown in south-west Hertfordshire and accusations of a media bias. Now the work of Howe, in ensuring the Cherries will be involved in the opening day Premier League 2016/17 fixtures on Saturday August 13, can be used as a useful tool for those supporters of Quique Sanchez Flores and even his sympathisers.
Would you find anybody in the vicinity of the Vitality Stadium questioning whether Howe was the right man for the hotseat? Unlikely, we’d say. Yet some natives of Watford, or those who shout loudest on social media anyway, have started to become restless, even though Watford would go two points ahead of Bournemouth if they won their game in hand.
Our position? We think Watford could lose every game between now and the end of the season, get beaten by Crystal Palace in the FA Cup semi-final and Sanchez Flores would still have exceeded the modest expectations we had when we drove home from south Wales in August following a 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City. We didn’t really give them a prayer of getting 37 points with seven games to go.
The trouble is – that’s if you can call sitting 14th in the Premier League and in the semi-final of the FA Cup ‘trouble’ – the line of the season’s form graph has gone in the opposite way you would have expected it to: solid, unbeaten start, pre-Christmas hot streak followed by an alarming nosedive. With 15 new players in the summer to be organised by a new coach in his first season in a new league, Watford should really have started the season all over the shop, gradually becoming more cohesive before finishing the season with a flourish. The poor start would have been forgotten (do you hear much talk now about the nine-match winless run Bournemouth went on?) and you wouldn’t have wanted the season to end.
Instead, Watford are limping, crawling over the finishing line and the successive wins over Aston Villa, Norwich, Sunderland and Liverpool are now a fading memory. The end of the season can’t come quick enough.
While Sanchez Flores will comfortably achieve what Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury asked him to when he was shown round the training ground in London Colney, the decision-makers recalibrated their expectations around Christmas time, both in terms of finishing position and their transfer targets. The building blocks were being put firmly into place for a second successive crack at the Premier League, evidenced by the four-and-a-half year deal handed to Mario Suarez and the £10m plus spent on him and Nordin Amrabat. Abdoulaye Doucoure and Adalberto Penaranda were not signed with the Championship in mind and the club were so confident in their squad that these two, coveted by top clubs in Europe, were allowed to graze on loan at Granada.
The wider concern, both inside the confines of the back office at the training round and among the more rational in the stands at Vicarage Road, is that the team will end the season with a whimper and this negativity will spill over into pre-season and, worse still, into the start of the next one. Leicester City have shown, in the most thrilling and unlikely manner, the effect finishing a season like a runaway train can have on the following campaign. What will be causing concern is the way Watford lifted themselves for the big occasion, at the Emirates in the quarter-final of the FA Cup and at Old Trafford against Manchester United, but it’s difficult to remember when they last played well before that, probably against the big fish of Liverpool at home and for about an hour at home to Chelsea.
A win, any win, in the league will do right now and it won’t matter one iota if that win is an ugly one. It could be grotesque, as far as some are concerned. Anyway, here are five things we’d like to see as Watford bid to improve a run of two league wins in 14.
– Play players in their best positions
Etienne Capoue has to be restored to the centre of midfield and if (and we know it’s a big if) Jose Manuel Jurado is going to play, it cannot be as part of a midfield four and ideally should be as a number 10.
– Show ambition
If the opposition score first, don’t let that be game over and the end of Watford’s chances of winning the game. It might be nice, just for once, to see Watford involved in the kind of thrilling, heart-stopping game Norwich and Newcastle United were on Saturday, even if it meant they ended up on the losing side.
– Select a squad that doesn’t leave you scratching your head
Adlene Guedioura started against Arsenal in the FA Cup when you least expected him to and then didn’t start, against Stoke City and Arsenal, again, when you did. Furthermore, Obbi Oulare was on the bench for the FA Cup game in north London yet sat at home with his feet up for the Premier League match at the same venue. And vice versa with Steven Berghuis.
– Forget about the 40-point mark
Thirty seven points have been enough to stay up in seven of the last eight seasons. The 40-point theory is largely codswallop, a nice round number trotted out each year as an apparent yardstick. Watford are safe, particularly as you’d expect them to get something, anything, at home to Aston Villa and Sunderland, and away at Norwich. Release the handbrake, throw off the shackles and throw caution to the wind. Play a fully-fit Jurado at number 10, stick Guedioura on one wing, Berghuis on the other in a 4-2-3-1 and and provide some ammunition for one of Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo or Obbi Oulare. What have you got to lose? You are losing, anyway.
– Cut out the old pals act
Sanchez Flores walked onto the Emirates pitch at full-time on Saturday and, among other things, embraced and hugged Nacho Monreal. Their paths must have crossed in Spain. It’s great Sanchez Flores is so widely admired and made such an impression on David De Gea, Diego Costa, Sergio Aguero and Monreal, but these public displays of affection with the opposition should take place in the confines of the tunnel, especially if Watford have lost.