Premier League 17/18 Week 32: Watford vs Bournemouth – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
A battle at the epicentre of the Premier League pits two teams with ambitions of a top-half finish against each other
15:00 BST, Saturday 31st March, Vicarage Road (Watford, England)
With both teams tied on 36 points, they’re both close to achieving their primary aim of this season. The Hornets may have conceded 8 goals without reply from their previous 2 games, however, Javi Gracia has largely steadied the Watford ship since his arrival in Herefordshire 2 months ago. With wins in each of his 3 home games so far, this fixture could provide respite from the results he’s seen during their travels.
For the visitors, Eddie Howe has again exceeded many people’s expectations for the Cherries season. On course to finish in the top half of the league for a second successive season, Bournemouth have proven they belong in the top-flight. While they’ve failed to beat Watford in any of their last 5 league meetings (D4, L1), a win over Watford would signal they’re thoroughly deserving of a top-half finish once more.
Last Time Out
Watford 5-0 Liverpool (Premier League)
It was a game to forget for Watford who were put to the sword by Mohamed Salah as the Egyptian took four goals and an assist to sink the Hornets without a trace. Despite conceding 5 goals, Orestis Karnezis performed relatively well in the Watford goal. Making good saves from Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings, the Greek keeper was often left exposed by the defenders in front of him and could do little about most of the goals.
While most Watford players looked out of the depth against the rampant Reds, Roberto Pereyra offered one small ray of light for his manager. A shot which cannoned back off the crossbar and a cross which Richarlison should have converted were Watford’s best chances by far as the wide-forward was full of adventurous running and even nutmegged Sadio Mané with a dazzling piece of skill. Unfortunately for Gracia, no other players came close to matching the Argentine’s contribution and the humbling scoreline was not something which could be argued to being unjust.
Bournemouth 2-1 West Bromwich Albion (Premier League)
Bournemouth came from behind to claim victory over the league’s bottom side after a nervy opening hour. Without a win in four matches before kick-off, the Cherries played like a club fearful of making a mistake.
After an uneventful opening 45 minutes in which Joshua King’s penalty claim was as close as Bournemouth came to moving the scoreboard, West Brom took the lead within minutes of the restart. A decision by Alan Pardew to replace Jonny Evans, who was suffering an illness, in the 77th minute saw Bournemouth immediately take advantage of the situation as they pounced to score during the Baggies reorganisation.
With a change in the mood of Bournemouth’s play, they pushed for a winning goal which eventually came with only a minute remaining of normal time. A 25-yard free-kick from Junior Stanislas was a spectacular effort but Ben Foster should have done better than be beaten at his near post from such range. With Howe acknowledging after the match that his side hadn’t played well, the result could prove huge as they raised themselves up onto 36 points with 7 games remaining.
Molla Wagué (hamstring) Younes Kaboul (fitness) Gerard Deulofeu (foot) Christian Kabasele (hamstring) Tom Cleverley (hamstring) and Nathaniel Chalobah (knee) all remain unavailable for Watford although Craig Cathcart has recovered from a knee injury and will be available for selection.
Tyrone Mings (back) and Adam Smith (knee) will both miss out in defence while Harry Arter (calf) and Lys Mousset (illness) are both unlikely to start for Bournemouth higher up the pitch. This will see Charlie Daniels return to fill in at left-back but could otherwise see the same eleven start who began against West Brom.
Key Battle: Troy Deeney (Watford) vs Nathan Aké (Bournemouth)
Watford’s captain is approaching the end of his 8th full season with the club and while he has not been as prolific as he would have wished this season, 3 of his 5 league goals have arrived in the previous 6 games to show he’s finally making a mark for his team this year. While the 29-year-old striker looks unlikely to claim 10 or more goals for the first time since his debut season with the club, he has been shown plenty of faith by his new manager and could prove a menace for Bournemouth in this clash.
Tasked with keeping the striker under control will be a fellow teammate who spent a full season on loan with Watford during his development through Chelsea’s ranks. Aké kept Cristiano Ronaldo quiet last week when the Netherlands beat Portugal 3-0 in a Geneva-based friendly, however, this match could prove much less cordial for the £20m defender.
It’s no coincidence that Abdoulaye Doucouré has seen his name linked with several high-profile clubs in recent weeks following an impressive season in the Hornets midfield. Having admitted in a recent interview he is eager to play in the Champions League soon, Gracia has challenged his star player to push Watford into the Europa League where he can prove himself on a bigger stage first.
While his performance against Liverpool in his last outing will have done little to impress any watching admirers, a return to form this weekend could help him and his club in the long-term. It could prove to be a busy summer for Gracia this summer, however, having to replace Doucouré would prove a real challenge considering the quality and consistency he’s brought to the team this season, even when others around him have been below-par.
Dark-horse for Russia?
The grandfather of Lewis Cook made the news this week when he collected £17,000 for a bet that Cook would play for his national team before reaching 26 years of age. After captaining the under-20’s side to a World Cup win last summer, the midfielder earned his first senior call-up in November before finally collecting his first cap in England’s 1-1 draw against Italy.
While he’s considered as part of Gareth Southgate’s long-term plans rather than being rushed as a short-term solution, he offers a creativity in central midfield which the current England squad are presently lacking. The 21-year-old has firmly established himself in the Cherries first team during the past few months and could well force his way into Southgate’s reckoning earlier than imagined going on the form and consistency he’s shown at club-level.
Prediction: Watford 1-0 Bournemouth
In what is set to be a relatively low-key game with both teams having little to play for beyond jostling space in mid-table, this could well prove to be a game each club prefers not to lose rather than tries to win. Watford have had plenty of time to reflect on their poor showing against Liverpool and the motivation to bounce back and prove themselves after that shellacking could provide them with the edge to take victory at home on Saturday.