Walter Mazzarri says he will find out plenty about his players this afternoon when Watford launch their Premier League campaign at Southampton.
Mazzarri has spent the six weeks since he took charge drilling his players tactically on the training field, working on shape in intensive double sessions. The word from the training ground is that the players maybe undercooked fitness-wise, a suggestion backed up by Lorient’s comeback at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
“We can’t expect to be at 100 per cent with our fitness levels for the first game,” Mazzarri said. “If I have to give a percentage, it’s probably 70 or 80 per cent.”
Mazzarri familiarised himself with his players during a near three-week stay in hotels in St Albans and Austria during pre-season in a bid to restore and then build team spirit, and also monitor their refuelling and recovery habits.
“The first part of the season, it is normal [to stay in a hotel],” said the Italian. “When we do two trainings a day we wanted the players to be in an environment where they relax and get to know each other. This was done for us to work better – it was not done as a punishment. All the players were very happy with this. As soon as I knew the players were responsible, I told them it was not mandatory anymore. They could go home when they wanted.
“I know them quite well now. There is still a lot to get to know. If I have to give a percentage, it’s probably 70 or 80 per cent. [Southampton] will be the first test of what level we are at.”
Southampton were unbeaten in pre-season, winning against DC United, PEC Zwolle, FC Twente, FC Groningen, drawing with Quique Sanchez Flores’ Espanyol and beating Athletic Bilbao.
“They [Southampton] are a very good team,” said Mazzarri. “They finished sixth last season in one of the most difficult leagues in Europe. They are at home so it will be hard for us. It’s a new experience and I can’t wait to start. I’m also very curious and there is also a bit of tension. But there has been a lot of attention in preparing the team. The first objective is to stay in the Premier League but anyone who knows me knows I will work hard to see how far we can get.”
Southampton are also in transition after losing Ronald Koeman in the summer and replacing him with Claude Puel.
“He’s an expert coach but football is universal,” said Mazzarri. “It’s the same everywhere. They are a very good team and finished sixth last season. We look forward to a good game.”
Our predicted line-up: