It seems like it would be difficult to surprise the wise and well-coiffed head of Quique Sanchez Flores, but Watford’s first season back in the Premier League has done just that.
And, despite the Hornets’ recent dip in form, Sanchez Flores confirmed that, if in pre-season he was offered being on the brink of Premier League survival at this stage of the campaign, plus a place in the FA Cup semi-final, the Spanish head coach would’ve simply replied: “Where do I sign?”
“It was our idea from the beginning to try and reach this point because we worked very hard in pre-season and we tried to play strong,” Sanchez Flores said on the From The Rookery End podcast. “But if someone told me at the start of the season that we would have 38 points and be in the semi-final of the FA Cup, I’d say: “OK perfect, I’d like to sign for that.”
Watford’s unexpected start to the season and form pre-Christmas raised expectation. And understandably so. By the turn of the year fans were talking about pushing for Europe with survival seemingly a foregone conclusion. However, since then Watford’s surprise factor has faded. The Hornets have only won two Premier League games since their 3-0 demolition of the great Liverpool in December. After Watford’s dreamy first half of the season, Premier League teams are now looking at the Hornets a lot more closely and Sanchez Flores thinks that extra attention has made things “very hard” for his team in the second half of the season.
“I can feel that now we are known by the other managers in the league,” Sanchez Flores said. “In the Premier League everyone is really prepared for this work and we are competing against amazing teams, players and coaches, and they are now thinking about us also. In the first half everyone thought Watford were a bit of a surprise but in the second half they know us and they prepare for matches knowing where we are dangerous, which has made it very hard for us in the second half of the season. I think we are working the same way every time because the competition is very tough and very long, so after December generally the programme was very hard for us. We changed a bit and lost a bit of energy and it was difficult for us.”
But with West Brom and West Ham to come in the league followed by the small matter of an FA Cup semi-final next weekend, Watford could secure survival and book their place in the FA Cup final all within eight days. However, the head coach believes that the possibility of reaching the club’s first FA Cup final in 32 years has been a big distraction from the Premier League.
“We changed a little bit maybe after getting to 37 points very quickly,” Sanchez Flores said. “And the idea of playing in the semi-final of the FA Cup in two weeks, maybe it was a bit of a distraction because we lost the focus in the Premier League. Not completely but I think we have lost some of the focus playing in the Premier League. Now I feel we need to recuperate the good feelings that we had earlier in the season.”
To listen to the podcast, which also features a debate about the player of the season, click HERE