Watford are working painstakingly on their shape during double training sessions as Walter Mazzarri seeks to implement his preferred formation.
Mazzarri wants to play either 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 but the one constant is fielding three out and out centre-halves at the back. Miguel Britos is certain to play on the left of the three, leaving Craig Cathcart, Sebastian Prodl, Christian Kabalese, Allan Nyom and the other centre-half they are chasing to fight for the two remaining spots.
It is a system Cathcart knows well, having played in it for Northern Ireland at the Euros and for Watford under Slavisa Jokanovic.
“If you play on the outside of the three you can find yourself in the right-back or left-back position, so you have a little bit more running [to do]. It can be a difficult system to break down if you get it right.”
Beppe Sannino was renowned for his training ground work on the shape of the team and Mazzarri, his fellow countryman, is clearly cut from the same cloth.
“He’s been good,” said Cathcart. “We’ve worked on shape most days to make sure everyone knows their jobs. He likes to have a structure, but most [managers] want their team to have a structure and an identity. He has his ideas on what the team should be doing.”
Watford looked like they had very little idea defensively at QPR on Saturday as the Championship side tore them to ribbons in the first half. While the players were thought to be heavy-legged after a week of double sessions, QPR exposed some chinks in the 3-5-2 system by exploiting the space behind the advanced wing-backs and exposing Nyom and Britos.
“It can be a very good system if you do it right,” said QPR’s Nedum Onuoha when we asked him afterwards on Saturday about the merits of Watford’s defensive set up. “Watford did it before when they were in the Championship. It’s good because you can always be secure at the back as you have three main defenders there but have two up top as well. Sometimes in formations it’s about finding a way to be attacking without leaving yourself too open. It’s a good system. It can be hard for the people out wide but you have seen a lot of teams have success with it. Other teams have to readjust as you are giving them something different.”
Central to the system are the wing-backs. They are expected to do plenty of running, joining in going forward by providing the width but also be mindful of their defensive duties in helping out the centre-half on the outside.
“They are [important],” said Onuoha of the roles being contested by Jose Holebas, Juan Camilo Zuniga, Brice Dja Djédjé and Ikechi Anya. “By leaving one out wide you accept that isn’t going to be your strong point but then you are strong down the middle and won’t concede too many goals.”