Weekend Debrief: Hornets handicapped by a lack of sting


Tactical football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) reviews the weekend, picking out a series of themes he believes we can exploit in future weeks. 

Weekend Debrief: 28th October 2019

A lack of sting from the Hornets

Since being reappointed Watford manager, Quique Sanchez Flores has looked to improve the Hornets’ leaky defence, and the last three games have shown that he is starting to make inroads.

One goal conceded against Sheffield United, Tottenham and Bournemouth is a marked improvement to the side which shipped eight at the Etihad in his second game, and he has done this by switching to a back five and looking to defend narrower by packing the midfield.

However, it is has come at a cost going forward, and these worrying attacking signs don’t bode well for the Spaniard’s side.

Standing out in recent games has been the struggle to take guilt-edged chances against Sheffield United and Bournemouth, as the misfiring Watford attack continue to underperform their Expected Goals (xG) output.

Under Javi Gracia, chance creation wasn’t as much of a problem, just simply being clinical enough with the chances. However, in recent weeks, the xG of Watford has begun to drop, and this, coupled with strikers struggling for form, is a particularly dangerous combination, and needs to improve quickly.

Since Flores was appointed, Watford’s xG has been 2.83 v Arsenal, 0.34 v Man City, 1.07 v Wolves, 1.44 v Sheffield United, 0.85 v Spurs and 0.67 v Bournemouth, with only three goals coming in those games.

Injuries have been harsh on the Hornets, and in particular the presence of Troy Deeney has been missed up front. His return on nine goals hasn’t been replaced, as new signings Ismaila Sarr and Danny Welbeck have also struggled to stay fit, whilst last season’s top scorer Gerard Deulofeu is yet to notch.

Deulofeu’s accumulative xG of 1.66 across 10 games is particularly worrying, as it shows he is struggling to find himself in scoring opportunities, and this in part highlights the worries for Watford. Fellow striker Andre Gray only has an xG of 1.33, and Flores will need to address his tactics as to how to utilise his attacking threat moving forward.

Roberto Pererya was paired up front with Deulofeu on Saturday, but in a side that look to play wide and rely on crosses, it was no surprise to see a lack of opportunities for either forward. Deulofeu thrived up front last season alongside Deeney as the English striker’s movement and aerial ability occupied the strikers, allowing the diminutive Spaniard to pick up positions in between the opposition’s midfield and defence, utilising the space, as well as making runs in behind for flick-ons.

Gray hasn’t been able to replicate this target man role to the same effect, and as a result Watford have become too predictable, and their lack of cutting edge in attack is beginning to show.

From a betting perspective, it is hard to see how they will improve quickly going forward, and may have to continue to rely upon resolute defending until the return of Deeney, who is expected back at the end of November.

Watford are currently priced at 11/10 (Betfred) for the drop, and after a tough game against Chelsea, a run of Norwich, Burnley and Southampton will go a long way to shaping their season, and could see them a much shorter price if these attacking issues aren’t addressed quickly.

Cardiff’s lack of Plan B

Cardiff are struggling for consistency on their return to the Championship under Neil Warnock, and defeat to Swansea on Sunday highlighted a number of worries, as their winless run stretched to four games.

Lining up in a 4-4-2 formation, Warnock’s side quickly ran out of ideas, as Swansea dealt with the aerial threat of Robert Glatzel and Danny Ward effectively, quickly becoming isolated up top.

The Bluebirds also struggled to have any impact out wide as the full backs weren’t able to press on, occupied by the excellent Swansea wingers, who’s pace in behind caused problems for both the full backs and centre backs, who have shown their vulnerability at times to this sort of tactic.

Being forced to sit deeper, Swansea were able to overrun the midfield as Matt Grimes impressed, whilst the lack of creativity for Cardiff shone through, with Lee Tomlin’s presence sorely missed.

Cardiff’s squad looks to be missing a Plan B, especially without Tomlin, and selling Bobby Reid to Fulham on deadline day is looking like a big loss. Warnock will need to go out and strengthen this particular area in January, as they were forced into relying upon set-pieces and long, direct football to try and muster any openings.

Evident in defeat at Reading earlier this season, this currently looks like a side that runs out of ideas quickly, and look unsuited to chasing a game for long periods, as Warnock’s percentage football lacks the cutting edge in the final third.

As Cardiff searched for an equaliser, a more clinical side would’ve expected to kill the game off, and it highlights another issue, as the lack of pace from Sean Morrison and Aden Flint is often exposed, and this vulnerability means they leave themselves open to any potential counters.

Reading made the Bluebirds pay in the 3-0 thrashing in August, and although there have been improvements since then, West Brom were similarly dominant in a 4-2 win at the start of the month.
Still only five points off the play offs, there’s plenty of time for Cardiff to improve, however it is evident they are in need of some January recruitment, as a lack of alternative approach currently makes the Welsh team a tough side to get behind.

There are a couple of markets that can take appeal if Cardiff are left chasing a game. Given the lack of pace at the back, when coming up against teams able to break quickly, cards are definitely expected to accumulate quickly.

The current lack of Plan B and a misfiring forward in Glatzel, with just the two goals to his name, also means that if they are to find a way through against sides, set-pieces are going to be the main threat, so aerial threats such as Callum Paterson and Flint will always be of interest on goalscoring markets.

Tricky wingers make card markets appeal

Newcastle’s draw with Wolves showcased two of the most exciting players on the ball in the Premier League in Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin. Both a constant threat, they possess an air of unpredictability on the ball, whilst electrifying pace capable of stretching any opposition’s defence in the Premier League.

Saint-Maximin completed six take-ons, whilst Adama Traore four, and it was the combination of the Wolves winger’s impressive performance, as well as tactics, particularly in the second half, which creates an appeal on the card markets in coming weeks.

Nuno Espirito Santo has set his sides up to defend deep without the ball, especially away from home, averaging 45.6% possession this season. He has shown tactical variation between a 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, and has relied upon the pace of his wingers and wing backs, depending on the formation employed, to quickly transition when on the ball and hit teams out of shape.

This was particularly evident in victory at the Etihad, where Traore starred with two goals, as well as in the second half against Newcastle. On the opposite flank, Diogo Jota completed six take-ons, whilst both wingers were fouled twice, as Newcastle had to try cynically stop them from running at the defence.

Ciaran Clark and Jamaal Lascelles both picked up yellows for halting the counter-attacks, whilst Manchester City had similar problems, accumulating five yellow cards.

Traore and Jota top the dribbles completed and fouls received statistics for Wolves, with Traore completing 3.0 dribbles on average, being fouled 2.1 times, whilst Jota is completing 2.4 dribbles and is fouled 2.0 times per-game.

These statistics, coupled with the tactical set up of Santos’ side, mean that cards in the upcoming games against open, attacking sides in Arsenal, Aston Villa and Bournemouth in the league are definitely an area to tap into.

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