Watford: 2018/19 Premier League Preview
There have been fewer changes at Vicarage Road this summer than usual, but can the Hornets capitalise on some rare consistency in personnel?
Action Images via REUTERS/Paul Childs
Another year for the England’s greatest shapeshifter. Watford’s staff might be in a constant state of flux, but their results have largely stayed the same. This year, they embark on a fourth season in the Premier League with their fourth manager.
Javi Gracia lacks the sleekness of Marco Silva, but there was a quiet authority in the way he guided a club that had been thrown into chaos by the Portuguese.
2017/18 Season Review
If Everton overpaid for Richarlison, it’s only because the Brazilian made such a blistering start to life at Vicarage Road. His goals and assists sent Watford rocketing up the table, before Silva’s acrimonious departure robbed the club of its momentum.
Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah and Marvin Zeegelaar all proved themselves to be astute buys, whilst Andre Carrillo and Gerard Deulofeu were pacy shots in the arm.
A 14th place finish was just reward for a team that gathered itself well after a half-season dogged by controversy, even if they were anonymous in the cup competitions.
Fee: £12 million
A surprise return to Barcelona might have disappointed, but Deulofeu showed all of his ability with glistening spells at AC Milan and then Watford last year. A decent buy, but he’d do well to add consistency to his game.
An imposing figure at left back, Masina should have no problem adapting to life in the Premier League. Tall and strong, the Moroccan-Italian is a robust tackler who isn’t too bad with the ball at his feet. He will attract less yellow cards than Jose Holebas, too.
Alongside Saman Ghoddos, Ken Sema was arguably the star of Graham Potter’s Ostersunds side. Direct and a keen dribbler, the Sweden international boasts an accurate left foot and an impressive engine.
A graduate of the famed La Masia school in Barcelona, Navarro is an accomplished player who is capable across the right and central defensive positions. His age belies a wealth of experience for Espanyol in La Liga.
A leader of men with decent technical calibre, Navarro will make an immediate impression at Vicarage Road.
With his West Brom deal expiring, Foster returns to the club where he made his name. Will fill in as deputy to Heurelho Gomes.
Fee: £1.5 million
A low-key acquisition from Stevenage Town, Wilmont is very much one for the future.
Richarlison’s exit might have been finalised last month, but in truth he departed the club mentally in January. His is the biggest loss on paper, but Watford will feel the losses of Nordin Amrabat – who had an impressive World Cup with Morocco – and Mauro Zarate just as keenly.
Andre Carrillo and Orestis Karnezis return to their parent clubs, in a team that is well used to annual turnovers of staff.
Unbeaten in pre-season, Gracia has admitted that most of his starting XI has been picked for the season opener against Brighton.
The intense Spaniard is known for his obsessive attention to tactical detail, and is likely to deploy a 4-2-3-1 that can transition into 4-5-1 when required.
Abdoulaye Doucoure is the beating heart of this team, but he is supported ably by a spine that also contains Gomes, Christian Kabasele and stalwart captain Troy Deeney.
The Key Question: Will Javi Gracia last the season?
Quique Sanchez Flores, Walter Mazzarri, Marco Silva and Javi Gracia. These are the four managers Watford have employed in their three seasons in the Premier League so far, with none lasting more than a year in charge of the club.
Flores and Mazzarri were sacked at the end of 2015/16 and 2016/17 respectively, whilst Silva survived only until January of the previous campaign.
It seems to be the Pozzo family’s method of choice when it comes to sustained success – constant shocks to the system – but this leaves doubts over whether Gracia will last until the end of the season.
He finished the season with one win in his final nine Premier League games and, therefore, starts the season already under scrutiny. A slow start will likely spell the end for Gracia and normal serive will resume at Vicarage Road.
Europa League Qualification – Watford certainly have the players to mount an unlikely challenge on the European spots, but will they have the consistency?
Relegation. For all their riches, the Hornets cannot afford to get too comfortable in the Premier League. Wolves have the backing and contacts of Jorge Mendes, whilst Cardiff have the bovril and brimstone of Neil Warnock. Fail to get a good start, and Gracia’s side could find themselves adrift.
Top ten. Gracia did an impressive job in difficult circumstances last year. A full pre-season and a raft of new additions could prompt Watford into an even higher finish than last year.
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