Javi Gracia: the Watford boss thrives on big games
The new Hornets boss made his name with Malaga with meticulous planning and ability to frustrate the big guns.
The spotlight is on Chelsea boss Antonio Conte ahead of Monday night’s Premier League clash at Vicarage Road but attention should also be directed towards the home dugout.
Javi Gracia will oversee his first home game as Watford manager, following on from an FA Cup defeat at Southampton and midweek point at Stoke City.
Gracia’s predecessor Marco Silva won many plaudits for his side’s ambitious – and often effective – style of play yet the Spaniard, who last managed at Russian side Rubin Kazan, brings with him a reputation which is much-needed at the club.
Whilst the club are in a relatively stable mid-table position, they have suffered painful outings against the league’s big guns this season.
A pulsating opening day 3-3 draw at home to Liverpool exposed shortcomings, as did a 6-0 thumping at home to Manchester City and the 4-2 losses at Chelsea and against Manchester United respectively.
Silva demanded a lot from his players but was often exposed by the division’s lights.
Starting at Malaga
The new boss is most famed for his two-year stint at Malaga, where he impressively guided the cash-strapped club to successive top half finishes.
The Andalusians forged a reputation as being remarkably hard to break down and showing incredible resilience.
They did not concede a goal in either game against treble-winning Barcelona in the 2014/15 campaign – including a famous 1-0 win at the Camp Nou.
The following season, Malaga conceded just 35 league goals including shutting out Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and a 1-0 defeat of Atletico Madrid.
Gracia instilled a tremendous level of self-belief within the ranks of a squad whose playing ability was limited in comparison to the league’s leading clubs.
From Russia with love
Since he departed La Liga from Russia, he has twice been linked with the jobs at Real Betis and Sevilla – where he narrowly missed out in the running to Vincenzo Montella in December, despite reportedly being the player’s preferred choice.
His reputation for improving defensive discipline and exploiting opposition weaknesses is well-known in the south of Spain and there is a sense of regret he has decided to move to England.
The situation for Watford is now urgent – they have only one league victory since November and their recent slump is in danger of totally derailing their campaign.
The additions of Didier Ndong and Gerard Deulofeu theoretically bolster their squad which has suffered more than most through injuries this campaign.
Expectations for Monday night’s encounter may not be sky-high but Chelsea’s recent patchy form and low confidence suggests that this fixture represents good timing for the Hornets.
If the Blues do show weaknesses, it can be assumed Gracia will have afforded long hours of his training sessions into exploiting them.
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