We weren’t quite sure who Quique Sanchez Flores was trying to kid when he claimed after Watford’s defeat against Crystal Palace that his side were “completely competitive” at Wembley.
They weren’t. We know it. You know it. Deep, deep down Sanchez Flores knows it. The Hornets were a distant second best during the 2-1 defeat. They can have no complaints about missing out on an FA Cup final appearance.
When Watford’s head coach faced the media after the defeat the Spaniard was as relaxed as he has been all season. You couldn’t have told his side had just missed out on a chance of making Watford history.
He carefully batted away any questions that his side had struggled at Wembley. He insisted Watford had performed well. Any talk of the Hornets folding under the pressure was dismissed.
“The players feel disappointed but we need to be realists,” Sanchez Flores said. “At the start of the season nobody expected us to be in the semi-final. Our main target was to keep in the Premier League because that was the most important thing for Watford. We started this match with the team safe in the league, so we have reasons to be positive. I don’t understand why we should be negative. I think we were completely competitive. It was difficult to recover after their first goal, we took some time, maybe 15 minutes, because it was very unexpected. We prepared for the match all week and didn’t expect to concede from the first action of the game. But sometimes players take decision you can’t understand. One player forgot to mark. That is football.
“But we got into the game. We used our tools and created attempts. In the second half we played with more spirit and it was difficult to know who’d go to the final. In the end it was Crystal Palace and congratulations to them.”
Question marks hang over Sanchez Flores. Will Watford keep him on for a second season? Is he the right man to keep the club up again? Is his style of football good enough with the players he’s got? Is he able to nurture young players, something so vital to the Pozzo model? Is he able to change a game using his substitutes? And does he get his team selection right?
At Wembley he didn’t. Almen Abdi and Jose Manuel Jurado were named on the flanks of a midfield four. They are fine players, perhaps Watford’s best with the ball at their feet, but today’s game called for discipline, first and foremost, from those two. They had to help Allan Nyom and Nathan Ake stop the threat of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha, and they struggled to do so.
“Every time Bolasie or Zaha took the ball we needed two or three players to stop them because they have quality,” Watford’s head coach said. “They have a lot of power. Palace have a lot of players who take the ball and every time they go one on one it’s done. Collectively, we reduced them a little but they played well. They didn’t make the difference. They didn’t make it so that Crystal Palace could score four goals.”
Perhaps not, but Palace were much more threatening than throughout. Had they taken their chances it could’ve been four. Watford, meanwhile, struggled once again going forward. Odion Ighalo was again isolated up front. Troy Deeney put in a shift, as he always does, and grabbed Watford’s equaliser but it was his only chance in the game.
Any side would expect to rely on their two strikers for goals. But it’s the over-reliance on the Hornets’ front two which has created the problem Watford find themselves in.
If Deeney and Ighalo are unable to get the better of their opposing centre-backs, nine out of ten times Watford will lose. “The match summed up well our season,” said the head coach. “A good spirit and a good defensive pack who reduced the opponent. We tried to play football in their box but we have had problems to score goals. That is our life this year. We had the chance to reach the final. The game was really even and in the end it was Crystal Palace. The worst thing would’ve been to represent Watford and play badly.”