Quique Sanchez Flores says the mental strength of his Watford players will be put to the test in the next eight days. He wants everyone’s focus on West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United – and not the FA Cup semi-final. It will be a tough ask.
The FA Cup has become all-consuming since the Hornets defeated Arsenal in the quarter-final. It’s the talk of the town let alone the dressing room. The Watford head coach has faced questions on a weekly basis about playing Crystal Palace at Wembley and he found it tough a fortnight ago to shift his focus forward and do his programme notes for the official Wembley programme. The players would not be human if they did not have one eye on what, for some, will be their first ever appearance at the home of football.
Sanchez Flores was not indulging in manager speak or trotting out cliches when he said this week that “the most important match is the next one.” He feels the next two games will tell him a lot about his players.
“When you’re building a group, the hardest thing is to build a strong mentality,” he said. “It isn’t about technique, tactics or systems. It’s the mental strength. I understand why the players are thinking about the FA Cup because the objective in the league is almost complete. It is special to play at Wembley. You ask the players: ‘Would you prefer to play at Wembley or would you prefer to play against West Brom?’ I have no doubts everyone would say Wembley.”
Sanchez Flores is right, but leaving awkward looking trips to The Hawthorns and Upton Park with their tail firmly between their legs would do little for confidence and morale ahead of the match with Palace. It’s why the message to the players this week has been that today’s game, in particular, is a dress rehearsal for the semi-final, the final chance to show the head coach you should start at Wembley.
“This week will be really good because we have chance to achieve our objective in the league and then we play an historical match for Watford,” Sanchez Flores said. “We are positive and are happy with the performance of the team over the season but we don’t want to relax. We want to keep the good feeling we created in the last match and we want to add more points than we need to stay up. That’s our challenge.”
The challenge for Sanchez Flores is striking the right balance in his team selection. He said on Thursday he would look to rotate the team for the game at West Ham and with that in mind, he has taken Sean Murray and Steven Berghuis to West Bromwich.
“We want to go to every stadium with the idea of playing well and getting a good result,” he said. “That doesn’t change this week. We don’t just want two points to reach 40. That isn’t the right mentality. It is difficult in the last part of the season because every team is fighting to for their objective.”