Back up for the first time since 2007 and looking very different, will it be too much too soon for the Hornets?
While Bournemouth drew the praise of football romantics last season with their attacking play and first-ever promotion to the top flight, it’s easy to forgot that Watford won more Championship games than the table-topping Cherries, scored nearly as many goals and conceded nearly as few. What the casual observer will know is that they followed this by parting company with the manager who got them promoted – the Serb, Slavisa Jokanovic, being replaced by the Spaniard, Quique Sanchez Flores – as is the Pozzo family’s wont. The Watford owners may be taking a huge risk but the club will need to take a few more to survive the drop.
What the fan says
Forza Watford writer Adam Drury gives FourFourTwo his thoughts on the upcoming 2015/16 Premier League season.
- Giedruis Arlauskis (Steaua Bucharest)
- Jose Holebas (Roma)
- Etienne Capoue (Tottenham)
- Valon Behrami (Hamburg)
- Matej Vydra (Udinese)
- Allan Nyom (Granada)
- Miguel Britos (Napoli)
- Jose Manuel Jurado (Spartak Moscow)
- Sebastian Prodl (Werder Bremen)
- Steven Berghuis (AZ Alkmaar)
- Jonathan Bond (Reading)
- Lewis McGugan (Sheff Weds)
- Diego Fabbrini (Middlesbrough, loan)
- Marco Motta (Released)
- Vujadin Savic (Released)
Why they’ll do well
Flores, despite being best known for winning the 2010 Europa League with Atletico Madrid, is no stranger to a relegation scrap, guiding newly promoted Getafe to 13th in La Liga in 2005. The Spaniard is aiming similarly high with the Hornets. “We don’t want to just stay in the Premier League,” he said. “We have to look at something solid and the next year to improve a bit more.”
They also seem to have goals in them – often a problem for promoted teams – with Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo and Matej Vydra all comfortably reaching double figures last season. The signing of Switzerland midfielder Valon Behrami from Hamburg should also provide a Prem-quality supply line – the 30-year-old spent a couple of seasons at West Ham from 2008 – while Flores has already used his knowledge of Spanish players by bringing in Jose Manuel Jurado, who he worked with at Atletico. The new manager also speaks fluent English already. Bonus.
Why they’ll do badly
Odds on to go straight back down, Watford somehow need to try to take the momentum of last season into this campaign, despite a radical overhaul of the first-team squad and, of course, a new manager. And while Flores has been active in the transfer market, how long will he be given before the Pozzos pull the trigger for the sixth time in as many years? They at least seem to be backing the new gaffer to bring in his own permanent signings rather than loanees from their other clubs, Granada and Udinese, but very few have Premier League experience. One who does is record signing Etienne Capoue, who arrived at Tottenham from Toulouse with a big reputation he failed to deliver on. At least the giant midfielder will be given a fair crack of the whip at Vicarage Road.
The big questions...
1) Can they hit the ground running?
Capoue is one of 10 new signings at the time of writing, which on one hand is promising, but on the other begs the question: how long will the new players take to gel together? Flores’s best chance might be to only tinker with last year’s formula at first, introducing the new signings and his own way of playing gradually.
2) Can they make hay before Christmas?
Watford’s festive fixture list reads: Liverpool away, Chelsea away, Tottenham home, Manchester City home, Southampton away. We suggest they get plenty of points in the bank before then.
3) Will they still be the set-piece kings?
Watford scored the most goals from dead-ball situations (22) in the Championship last season. It remains to be seen whether John Terry and the like will be as generous as second-tier defences.
Key player: Heurelho Gomes
Eventually edged out at Spurs, the Brazilian was a near ever-present in the Watford goal last season, putting his long reach (his nickname’s ‘The Octopus’) to good use time and time again. The 34-year-old, who signed a new three-year deal in the summer, is one of the few players in the squad with genuine Premier League pedigree. Whether he’ll be too busy trying to keep the opposition out to lend his team-mates the benefit of that experience remains to be seen. The runner-up to Troy Deeney in the fans’ player of the season voting, at his best Gomes is a mercurial shot-stopper.
What we’ll be saying come May
Goodbye yellow brick road. Self-confessed Elton John fan Flores offered to duet with Watford’s honorary life president if the Hornets stayed up, but didn’t stick around long enough after disagreements with the club’s owners over transfer policy. Former captain Sean Dyche returned to the Vicarage Road hot seat just in time to oversee a second Premier League relegation in as many seasons. Oof.
To see where FourFourTwo think Watford will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue, which will be out soon.