It was back in pre-season that Quique Sanchez Flores opted to set his Watford side up in a 4-2-3-1 system. It offered that all-important defensive stability and meant Watford were a threat on the break.
On the opening day of the Premier League campaign at Everton, Sanchez Flores started Troy Deeney as the lone striker, Jose Manuel Jurado as a No 10 and Ikechi Anya and Miguel Layun out wide. Square pegs in square holes. It worked a treat.
Playing expertly on the counterattack, Watford earned a 2-2 draw at Goodison Park with Layun opening the scoring and Odion Ighalo grabbing the second. The Nigerian started the following week’s game against West Bromwich Albion behind Deeney. The Hornets wouldn’t play with natural wide players again.
For the majority of the first half of the season Jurado was used out on the left and Almen Abdi, following Layun’s departure to Porto, played on the right as Watford’s formation morphed into 4-4-2, or a slight variation of it.
Jurado and Abdi are playmakers by trade but both did a job on the flanks. They worked hard, used the ball efficiently and provided a conduit between defence and attack. They were functional rather than flamboyant. While Watford continued to steadily pick up points, that wasn’t an issue.
Now things are a little different. The landscape has changed. With Deeney and Ighalo being snuffed out, Sanchez Flores has experimented with different players out wide, especially now he has Mario Suarez to accomodate and a suspension-free and fit-again Valon Behrami.
Etienne Capoue has been the one to make way, starting the last four league games on the left of a midfield four and, apart from against Manchester United at Old Trafford, has struggled. Watford need more from the players in these two positions.
“On the sides of the midfield we have tried everything,” said Sanchez Flores this week. “In the first half of the season we played with Jurado and Abdi and they were two of our most consistent players. The characteristics of those two players means they are not wingers but they did really well. They came inside, mixed play with Watson, Capoue, Ighalo and Deeney perfectly. We have many options for these positions. We can play Anya who has more velocity or we can use Capoue, but it is true that we need more goals from these players.”
Tomorrow Watford take on Everton in a game where you can benchmark just how far the Hornets have come, or not, since the first day of the season. Deeney and Ighalo are certain starters and unless Sanchez Flores returns to the 4-3-2-1 system he used at the start of the year, two players will need to start out wide.
Watford’s head coach has a fully-fit squad to choose from so, mindful of the fact he is renowned for throwing the odd curveball, we weigh up who could fill the wide berths.
Jose Manuel Jurado
The Spaniard hasn’t scored yet this season and has only one assist to his name but he is a player Sanchez Flores has complete faith in and he does keep the ball well. Deeney pointed out how he can speed the ball up or slow it down, as required. He is a player who polarises opinion and even his biggest fan (the head coach) relegated him to the bench against Arsenal. It’s hard to imagine Sanchez Flores leaving him out again. He will, however, have to track back with both Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines keen to push forward.
Was one of the trusted wide players during the first half of the campaign but Abdi has largely been restricted to substitute appearances in recent weeks. He told us recently that he needs to work harder to get his place back. He did play 60 minutes against Arsenal last weekend but didn’t make an impact in what was an awful team performance. Sanchez Flores seems to prefer starting him away from home at the big grounds lately. He hasn’t started a home league game since January 2.
Amrabat has started three Premier League games since arriving from Malaga in January. He hasn’t yet scored or laid on a goal but he certainly brings unpredictability to the Watford side and is capable of getting past an opposition defender. Given his impact off the bench in defeats to Stoke City and Arsenal, don’t be surprised to see him start tomorrow. We’d put him where he wants to play which is out on the left so he can cut in.
The Scottish international, who scored for his country against the Czech Republic last month, is a genuine wide player. He has plenty of pace and teed up Deeney’s consolation goal in the defeat against Stoke after coming off the bench. We reckon he’s pushing hard for a start after getting increasing game time off the bench.
The French midfielder sparkled during the first half of the season when played in a central role but his form has dipped since Christmas and it hasn’t been helped by being played out of position. He was hauled off after 40 minutes against Arsenal last weekend but Sanchez Flores has described him as one of the best players in the squad. If he plays tomorrow, and he’s started every league game this season, then it has to be in a central position.
The Swiss enforcer has been used out on the right and on the left of a midfield three but he is at his best when played centrally, as he showed against Arsenal in the FA Cup where he was quite brilliant. He returned to training this week following an illness which ruled him out against Arsenal last weekend. We’d sling him straight back in and let him go toe-to-toe with James McCarthy again.
The Algerian’s FA Cup heroics weren’t enough for him to be included in the starting XI for Watford’s next two league matches. In fact, he hasn’t started a league game all season. He did come on as a substitute and, especially against Stoke City, brought much needed energy to a lifeless performance. However, he isn’t one of Sanchez Flores’ go-to players and is likely to again be watching on from the bench.
The Dutch winger was expected to have more of an impact following his switch from AZ Alkmaar in the summer, but he has played just 181 minutes of first-team football for the Hornets. He’s been linked this morning with a move to Feyenoord. Despite being 24 years old, Sanchez Flores describes him as a project. He was, somewhat surprisingly, brought back into the squad for last weekend’s defeat at Arsenal but Watford’s head coach said after that game that Berghuis would only be given minutes when the Hornets have guaranteed their Premier League status for next season. A spot in the matchday 18 is the best he can hope for.
The 31-year-old left-back has demonstrated he is more than capable going forward and could offer a real threat out wide. However, he’s fallen completely out of favour and hasn’t made the last three matchday squads. The Greek international will leave in the summer.
The team we’d like to see tomorrow: