Weekend Debrief: Watford squad well capable of survival mission


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: 2nd December November 2019

Watford squad suits potential candidates

Both Arsenal and Watford pulled the trigger with managerial changes this week seeing the departures of Unai Emery and Quique Sanchez Flores, and it would be no surprise to see one of Marco Silva or Ole Gunnar-Solskjaer follow them out the door sooner than later, as sacking season commences.

With the margins so tight in the league this season, clubs are seeing an opportunity to act earlier in hope that a proactive move will see them shoot up a congested league table, much like Spurs have under Jose Mourinho.

Looking specifically at Watford, Chris Hughton is currently the favourite, and a look down the list of potential targets indicate the type of manager, and style, the Hornets are likely to opt for.

Survival is key for Watford now, and the signs were particularly worrying against Southampton on Saturday, as the lack of creativity under Sanchez Flores once again shone through in a one-dimensional approach, which often sees the Hornets bypass some of their creative strengths.

Looking to play relatively direct and on the counter, it did work for the opening goal, as Ismaila Sarr broke through the high Southampton line, however, they allowed Saints to control the midfield for large periods of the game, as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and James Ward-Prowse were able to dictate, whilst a lack of pressing on the Southampton centre backs meant Saints enjoyed possession for long periods of time.

A side struggling for confidence, and with a number of injury worries defensively, it is the attacking side that needs to see the most improvement, and with Hughton amongst the leading contenders, it would be no surprise to see a return to 4-4-2 from Watford, in search of more goals and reduce the isolation of the strikers from the midfield.

The returning Troy Deeney will be key, particularly to the style Hughton would opt for, whilst it would be no surprise to see him get the best out of the tenacious forward Andre Gray, who’s pressing game will help them defend from the front alongside Deeney, certainly suiting the play of the likes of leading contenders Hughton and Sam Allardyce.

Creativity is available in the likes of Gerard Deulofeu, who could see himself moved out wide, whilst there is still an array of talent in the underperforming central midfield, and the returning youngster Domingos Quina possesses huge talent if utilised correctly.

Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue have both struggled this season after impressing last, and there is evidently enough talent in this side to improve drastically, if the incoming manager can harness it from his players.

Solidity will be key, but the side is well suited to the leading contenders to the job, and with the league so tightly congested, it is too early to write off this Watford side for the drop, particularly with a squad potentially well-suited to their leading candidates.

As short as 2/5 in places, only Norwich are a shorter price currently for the drop, and although they risk being cut adrift if stark improvements aren’t found, games against Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Sheffield United and Aston Villa will have a huge bearing on the Hornets; a new manager bounce could make them a worthy lay.

Attacking Atletico still in the title race

For 85 minutes on Sunday night, Atletico Madrid repented the attacking threat of Barcelona with ease, much like they had done to Juventus during the week only to be undone by a world-class goal from Paulo Dybala.

Then, as he always seems to find a way, a moment of brilliant individual brilliance from Lionel Messi handed Barca the three points, in a game which has summed up Diego Simeone’s side perfectly this season

Barcelona showed they are still a side in transition, with manager Ernesto Valverde still trying to find a way to shoehorn the attacking talents of Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez and Messi into one side, whilst there’s also the dilemma of the injury prone, yet highly talented French winger Ousmane Dembele and how to get the best out of him.

Defensively, Barca showed their frailties against Atletico, with Junior Firpo displayed his inexperience as Kieran Tripper was able to give him a torrid time, not helped by a lack of tracking back from Griezmann.

It represents a side, and league, that is there for the taking, and Atletico could still see themselves in the reckoning come the end of the season, despite the six-point gap, and with Barcelona as short as 4/9 to win La Liga, there could be value elsewhere.

It was another defensively assured performance, and Atletico’s 10 goals against is only topped in La Liga by Athletic, and it is no surprise to see this from such a well-drilled defensive unit. Unsurprisingly, their Expected Goals against (xGA) lies at just 10.91.

And Simeone has built an excellent counter attacking unit around a solid backline and midfield, and the underlying numbers suggest that if they can find improvements up top, they could fly up the table.

With a goals scored tally of just 16 from 15 La Liga games, it does paint a worrying picture, however, as they demonstrated once again on Sunday, it is currently an issue of taking chances, not creating, which is hampering Los Rojiblanco’s chances.

Diego Costa’s injury has come at a bad time for Simeone’s side, whilst the form of Alvaro Morata is particularly concerning, who was scuppered on countless occasions by the impressive Marc Andre-Ter Stegen in the Barcelona net.

A dive into their underlying attacking statistics highlight just how wasteful Simone’s side have been. They are under-performing their xG by 9.19 goals, the highest of any side in the top five European leagues, and if this is then calculated into Expected Points (xP), they’d be top of La Liga, with Barcelona as far down as fifth.

The margins have been tight in many of Atletico’s games, and it is particularly concerning that their lack of striking options is letting them down. Morata is the perfect tactical fit for Simeone’s side, particularly suited to linking up with Trippier, however his wastefulness in front of goal is becoming particularly costly.

Unless Morata improves quickly, Atletico may be forced to invest in January. With a return of five goals from 12 games, he has accrued an xG of 7.71, which equates to 0.87 per-90 minutes, highlighting just how many chances the Spanish centre forward is getting, and not putting away. The next highest scorer for Atletico has just two goals, further reinforcing how reliant they are upon the Spanish striker to hit form.

Youngster Joao Felix hasn’t quite hit the ground running as of yet, needing time to settle and adjust to Simone’s system, but it would be no surprise to see him show stark improvements as the season wears on, and this would further reinforce Atletico’s attacking options.

With the league being so tight and both Barcelona and Real Madrid still in transition, Atletico could still have a huge chance to kick on and threaten up the top of La Liga. Investment in a striker in January is a must if they are to kick on, and if they are to do so, they could still be worth considering for La Liga title at 66/1 (SkyBet), whilst they are still available to be best of the rest without Real and Barca at 5/4 (Betfair)

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