Premier League 17/18 Week 28: Watford vs Everton – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Saturday’s evening kick-off is a mid-table battle between two sides that have experienced the full spectrum of emotions already this season.
17:30 GMT, Saturday 24th February, Vicarage Road (Watford, England) BT Sport
Javi Gracia has been in charge of Watford for three league matches already, achieving a draw, a win and most recently a loss. Balanced in the centre of the league table, Watford will equally have one eye on 7th place and the other trained carefully on the trapdoor below.
Everton have flipped between Jekyll and Hyde performances in recent weeks although Sam Allardyce’s side have done enough to climb away from danger and nestle themselves three points above the Hornets in 9th position. The Toffees away form is severely lacking, however, having won only one of their previous twenty-one league games on the road. In taking on the team with the third-worst home record, Both teams will feel they have a golden chance to put right some of this season’s wrongs with a victory on Saturday evening.
Last Time Out
West Ham United 2-0 Watford (Premier League)
The Hornets fell to within five points of the relegation zone with a lacklustre performance which saw them deservedly beaten in East London. Gracia’s men never seemed to find their stride in this match and there was a distinct lack of creativity in the team.
The Hornets put four of their eleven shots on target, comparable to West Ham’s totals, although Adrián had a relatively comfortable afternoon in the Hammers goal.
To compound matters, both of West Ham’s goals were helped by mistakes in the Watford defence. The first was aided by a Marvin Zeegelaar slip at an inopportune time while the second could have been cleared at several stages after a poor clearance allowed Marko Arnautovic to apply a simple finish which doubled his team’s lead.
With little more than ten minutes remaining, that goal sealed Watford’s defeat which can hopefully be put down to an off-day rather than a return of their recent problems under Marco Silva.
Everton 3-1 Crystal Palace (Premier League)
The Toffees bounced back from their 5-1 mauling at the hands of Arsenal with an assured win over the Eagles. While Palace were struggling with injuries, notably to Wilfried Zaha who didn’t start, Everton looked for more organised and determined to win than they have in recent weeks.
While the first half proved to be an evenly matched contest, the Toffees played with increased purpose after the break Having made two changes at half-time, both of which forced due to injuries to Eliaquim Mangala and Seamus Coleman, Everton took advantage of Palace’s sleepiness to grab a quick-fire double which gave them an unassailable lead within 6 minutes of the restart.
Tom Davies then added a third towards the end of the game before Ashley Williams handled the ball to give Allardyce’s old club a consolation from the penalty spot in the closing stages.
Watford still have extensive injury problems with Molla Wagué (hamstring) Younes Kaboul (fitness) Craig Cathcart (knee) Christian Kabasele (hamstring) Tom Cleverley (hamstring) and Nathaniel Chalobah (knee) all remaining sidelined for the Hornets. There is also doubts concerning Heurelho Gomes (back) Francisco Femenía (hamstring) Miguel Britos (leg) Younes Kaboul (fitness) and Will Hughes (hamstring), each of which are nearing a return but are unlikely to be risked after suffering muscular-based injuries which could be worsened if they’re brought back too early.
With a deepening injury crisis, Allardyce will be without many of their key defensive players. This includes Eliaquim Mangala (knee), Phil Jagielka (knock) and Seamus Coleman (muscular) while both Leighton Baines (calf) and Ramiro Funes Mori (knee) are believed to be close to making a return to the team. James McCarthy (leg) will also miss out which paves the way for Wayne Rooney to play in a deep-lying midfield role.
Key Battle: Troy Deeney (Watford) vs Michael Keane (Everton)
With only two main strikers in his squad, Gracia will likely have a straight choice between starting either Andre Gray or Troy Deeney. The Spanish manager has so far sided with playing his club captain over the club’s record signing and that looks a trend set to continue this weekend. Despite Deeney giving a lethargic display against James Collins and West Ham last time out, he has the power and the ability to cause big problems for Everton’s shaky defence.
Set to face up the physical threat from Deeney is a player who was recently thought to have a limited future on Merseyside. Keane has yet to impress at his new club following a £30m move from Burnley last summer. As the leading figure in last week’s back-four, Keane looked much more like the player Everton expected than the one who has recently been spotted in an Everton shirt. Therefore, this game will be a huge opportunity for him to show he can still prove a worthy addition to the Toffees dressing room by building on that display this Saturday.
Safety on a knife-edge
Watford’s chances of survival are looking much harder to predict than they should be. They have 30 points with 11 games remaining which suggests that two more wins will suffice along with two or three draws. This seems like a highly achievable target, especially for a team who comfortably beat Chelsea 4-1 in their last-but-one game.
To counter this, Watford are caught in an atrocious run of form. Having lost nine of their last 14 league matches, they’ve only taken one away win since September and have one of the worst home records in the league. Nothing should be taken for granted although one win could change the whole complexion of the season in an instant.
Since stating that Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurðsson couldn’t play together because of the problem caused by a lack of pace in the team, the pair have played together in three of the following four matches.
A large part of the reason this has been made possible lies in the fact Rooney is now being used in a deep midfield role. Playing centrally alongside Idrissa Gueye, Rooney’s guile compliments the energy provided by the Senegalese defensive midfielder. This also means that Sigurðsson is free to roam in the final third of the pitch, flitting between the left wing and the number 10 position.
The added creativity of these two players in the team has proved of huge benefit, however, it may be a partnership which is only suited to certain types of opponents.
Prediction: Watford 2-1 Everton
While there is plenty at stake in this match, there will be less pressure on both managers this weekend than in many other games around the country earlier in the day. Allardyce will be determined to show that he is capable of leading this side on beyond the end of the season, however, Gracia can expect the benefit of a reaction to the terrible performances given by his players in their previous match and the Spanish manager’s organisation is likely to help his team secure a narrow win from a hard-fought game.