What's Happening At Watford?

Undeniably, Watford’s fortunes following their descent from the heights of the Premier League have been mixed, finding it hard to maintain an impressive run of form dating back to the commencement of the Championship season, whilst others have thrived on their descent to the second tier of English football.

An outsider looking in may deduce that Watford’s season has not been as bad as some may say, coming away with 8 wins, 4 draws and 4 losses on their home turf, and 5 wins, 7 draws and 6 losses when travelling away from home; but it only takes a glance at fellow relegation sufferers Burnley to contemplate what could have been for the Hornets. Despite being an already nailed-on contender for automatic promotion come the end of the season, Vincent Kompany’s Clarets have surpassed any and all expectations at this point in the competition, being bested only twice this campaign and pulling away from closest rivals Sheffield United, who have lost 2 of their last 5 games. This begs the question, why is Watford, with an arguably stronger team on paper, not able to mimic this unstoppable form? 

Watford’s comparable frailty this season comes down to the absence of two indispensable factors; the lack of a strong and consistent defence and the inability to create a steady flow of chances from the midfield. This has been in no small part due to the injury of not only key players but also squad players, which has left the roster agonisingly thin on the ground. Kicking off the season under Rob Edwards, the now Luton manager employed a three-at-the-back formation, rotating between the likes of Christian Kabasele, club veteran Craig Cathcart, William Troost-Ekong and Francisco Sierralta, who had been a shining light in Watford’s previous Championship campaign. The summer loan signing of Kourtney Hause from Aston Villa was encouraging, however, he has since failed to break into the squad following a string of injuries that have left him out of contention, neglecting Watford of much-needed defensive reinforcements. After conceding 11 goals in their first 10 games, Edwards was hastily relieved of his managerial duties, and thus a new system came into play under former West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion Manager Slaven Bilic. The situation began to partially resolve itself under the new manager, with an uptake in results putting the Hornets back into playoff contention; but the team’s woes did not end there.

Watford’s issue went from conceding too many, to not being able to score enough to compete with those languishing at the top of the table. Talents such as Ismaila Sarr and Joao Pedro have undeniably proven to be one of the deadliest double acts in the league, both scoring 9 goals respectively this campaign, and providing the team with the attacking threat they so desperately need. A special mention is also deserved for Ken Sema, providing 4 goals and 7 assists predominantly from the left side. Despite this, Watford’s progression and creativity from the midfield were and still are, lacking. With only a handful of assists coming from players outside of the three previously mentioned standout performers, and a severe lack of progressive passers and general flair when it came to creating chances for those up front, the squad heavily rely on their most talented assets to pull them through matches that they should win comfortably. This game plan is becoming not only predictable but also gradually less productive, evidenced in Watford’s most recent run of games, narrowly winning only one of their last five, against West Bromwich Albion on 20th February. These star players can only do so much to pull their team through tough matches, and with a vacuum of creativity in the engine room, the squad often comes up short when trying to gain the edge on their opponents. 

The return of Imran Louza to the starting lineup against Sheffield United in Watford’s most recent fixture after a lengthy period on the sidelines with an ankle injury is sure to encourage fans going into a decisive run of fixtures regarding the team’s playoff standings. His return can not only bolster the team’s attacking output from a previously lacking midfield, but his composure on the ball and precise passing can create more chances for those who are proven finishers at the helm of Watford’s attack; factors that have set Watford apart from the league leaders for the duration of the season.

Ranging from defensive frailty to a lack of drive in the midfield, Watford’s talented squad who many would have foreseen being securely within the playoff spots by this point in the season, have in simple terms just not been able to impose themselves on a league in which they should be dominant. It remains to be seen whether the addition of promising defender Ryan Porteous, and experienced Premier League centre back Wesley Hoedt can steady Watford at the back, whilst Imran Louza attempts to add some much-needed inventiveness to proceedings going forward, however, it is safe to say that in their current form, a playoff spot is far from a certainty; a disappointing position for a team with so much promise to be in.