When Quique Sanchez Flores wants to gather his thoughts, he slips on a pair of trainers and goes for a run on Hampstead Heath.
“In this moment I feel freedom,” he says. “I run 6km, 10km 12km and it empties my mind. It is then when I have a lot of thoughts and can find solutions. I wish I could run more.”
Perhaps it would benefit Watford if he did. Sanchez Flores is having to really earn his corn, which is a £1m a season, according to Mail Online. His side are all but safe in the Premier League but their form is a cause of mounting concern. The Hornets are struggling to score (just four from open play this year) but they are also finding it difficult to keep clean sheets (just two in their last 13 league matches).
Neither were a problem earlier in the campaign. Yes, there was a reliance on Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo but they were getting the job done up front, while managers of Fantasy Football teams were hastily drafting in Watford defenders and their goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes. It’s now a different story.
The obvious upshot of a run of two wins in 14 league games has been an alarming slide down the table. Sanchez Flores, for the first time since taking charge, is under the pump.
“I don’t change because I know how football works,” he said. “This isn’t the moment to do more tactical or physical training. It is in our heads. We have to recover our good feelings. It isn’t about me telling the players to move left or right on the pitch, when to press or to defend better.
“We need more energy and more spirit and for that we must clear our heads. We have one thought at this moment and it is that we’ve been too comfortable in the Premier League. For everything you do in life, when you lose focus your work will be worse. It is the same for me, the players and for you.”
It is difficult for Sanchez Flores to radically change his side’s approach. It sounds churlish given the number of players Watford have signed since the summer but he is limited in his options, at least at the attacking end of the field. Deeney and Ighalo were automatic starters before Nordin Amrabat arrived and they still are. Amrabat has started just twice in the league since he joined from Malaga.
The team is still set up to get the best out of the front two, with Deeney used as the out ball in a counterattacking style. Creative No 10s, like Almen Abdi and Jose Manuel Jurado, are utilised out wide and asked to play as makeshift wide men. One of their main jobs is to protect their full-back.
Sanchez Flores would have liked to sign Joaquín, and hoped Victor Ibarbo and Steven Berghuis backed up the recommendation from the recruitment team. There were then January moves for Juan Manuel Iturbe and Andros Townsend, one that Watford pulled out of and the other where the player opted for a longer and bigger contract.
“This season we don’t have wingers who are able to give passes, assists and score goals,” Sanchez Flores said. “Our style has been different. We play balls to Deeney and Ighalo, we get into box of the opponent, keep high pressure and win second balls. It is like a triangle to Ighalo and Deeney. They have a great responsibility and they have done very well with this pressure. But at this moment we need other players to take responsibility, too. We have midfielders and second strikers who need to add goals to the squad. They know perfectly for me it isn’t enough.”