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Opposition Preview - Watford (Home)
Written by ad_wilkin on Monday, 8th Apr 2024 11:18

Watford currently sit in 14th place in the table and other than Huddersfield on the last day of the season will be the lowest-ranked team that Town will face in their run-in.

They are 14 points from the play-offs and ten off of the relegation zone, so either is a possibility although neither is probable. That means they’re very much in transition and going through the motions as they try and see out the season.

Previous Meeting (Watford 1-2 Ipswich)

Town had to battle hard for three points on a wet night at Vicarage Road with Sam Morsy the hero with an 80th minute winner that claimed the three points.

Watford started the brighter of the two sides with Mileta Rajovic heading over after good work from Ken Sema down the Watford left.

Town were quickly down the other end fashioning a headed chance of their own, Conor Chaplin with good work on the turn fed Omari Hutchinson, whose chipped cross found Marcus Harness unmarked in the box. Harness should have done better but was only able to nod a tame header straight into the hands of Ben Hamer.

The Watford opener came from a rare mistake from Vaclav Hladky, who got put under pressure following a backpass from Axel Tuanzebe. His attempted switch to the other side was seized upon by Yaser Asprilla, who fed the ball to an unmarked Rajovic. Hladky recovered well to save Rajovic’s shot, but was only able to divert it out back to Asprilla, who made no mistake on the follow up, smashing it into the roof of the net.

That didn’t cause Town heads to drop at all. A nicely-worked move found Leif Davis on the left. The left-back whipped an early cross to Chaplin, who was lurking on the edge of the box, but his volleyed effort was straight at Hamer.

Town’s next move was more good football. It started with lovely movement from Chaplin who dropped deep into the right-hand side of the pitch to receive a pass from Tuanzebe before sweeping the ball on with his left foot to an advancing Morsy, who had created a lovely triangle with his movement. Morsy laid it off to Harness, who gained some more yards before reversing the ball out to Hutchinson on the right. Hutchinson left Jamal Lewis for dead but another lofted cross was hooked away.

Watford were then back on the attack with Sema whipping in another dangerous cross that Cameron Burgess had to be alert to, flicking the ball away with a backheeled clearance.

The equaliser came as Town opted to go more direct. Tuanzebe pinged a ball up the field onto the head of George Hirst, who cushioned his header back right into the path of Harness. Harness again played that ball out to Hutchinson, who again had the beating of his man.

With Jamal Lewis expecting another chop, he instead took another touch inside to create the shooting angle and let fly. The shot deflected off a defender's legs but Hamer got a hand to it to make a good save. However, he was only able to divert into the path of Hirst, who snaffled up the rebound to put Town level.

Watford were right back at it, Edo KayembeKayembe stinging Hladky’s palms with a shot before another header went just wide of the Ipswich keeper's post.

Hutchinson tried a curler from the edge of the box but that one was also just wide and Harness forced Hamer into a save with a snap shot from the edge of the area with the game now becoming a very end-to-end affair.

Town thought they had a second late in the second half as Hirst headed in a deep Davis free-kick but the referee’s whistle had gone for a very soft foul by the Ipswich striker in the build-up.

The second half was equally even with Davis getting in a couple of times down the left whilst at the other end Burgess had to be on his toes again with some excellent defending.

Hirst had another big chance as a ball from a corner got caught in a bunch of bodies and he managed to fire a shot off as it dropped. Hamer had got his positioning spot on, however, and was able to keep the ball out of the net with the aid of his chest and the near post.

Back down the other end and Hladky spread himself excellently to deny Lewis ,who had been slipped through one on one.

Watford were very much looking like the team that would score the winner, flashing a corner right through the crowd and across the goal before Kayembe found himself in space on the edge of the area minutes later. His shot was charged down by the flying Massimo Luongo and Town got a lot of bodies back to deny the follow-up effort.

The winner came from what has been a key factor of Town’s play this season. The high press. Kayembe laid the ball back to Wesley Hoedt whose touch was way too heavy and the charging Morsy nipped in and took the ball off him. Through on goal, the skipper had Freddie Ladapo to his left to square it to but opted to go alone slotting the ball calmly under Hamer for the winner.

That proved to be the last serious action of the game as Town saw out the last ten minutes.

It was another big win as the game itself was very end-to-end and Watford created a number of chances. Asprilla and Sema down the wings caused a bunch of problems but the Hornets were just too profligate. They had 12 shots but only three were on target compared to Town’s six and that proved to be the difference between the two sides.

What’s Changed?

The last time I previewed Watford I chatted with Chris Stark who was relatively happy with how things were going and praising the fact that Watford had seemingly stuck with and backed manager Valerian Ismael.

As with many things at Vicarage Road matters can change very quickly and Ismael was sacked at the beginning of March after just one win in ten games.

That means that his interim replacement Tom Cleverly is likely to be in charge for this one. The former Manchester United midfielder has begun his tenure with the Hornets with a win and three draws, including a goalless stalemate against Preston North End last time out and has switched things up tactically.

Gone is Ismael’s compact 4-3-3. In its place comes a 3-4-1-2 which aims to solve Watford’s lack of goals by playing two strikers. It seems to be working so far and they have taken points off Town’s promotion rivals Leeds and West Bromwich Albion with back-to-back 2-2 draws.

Both games they were leading going into the final minutes and both games they conceded late equalisers, showing that the new attacking threat has come with defensive vulnerabilities.

The January transfer window wasn’t overly eventful for the Hornets. Giorgi Chakvetadze made his loan move permanent, but the biggest news was the return of Emmanuel Dennis on loan.

The striker scored 10 goals in 33 Premier League appearances in his first spell at the club before the Hornets cashed on him following their relegation as he became one of Nottingham Forest's many signings on their return to the Premier League. His Forest career never really got off the ground with only two goals in 19 appearances and he was loaned out to Turkish side Basaksehir.

He clearly enjoys playing at Vicarage Road and a return to the club he had such success with proved too good to turn down in January and he’s back on form with four goals in 12 appearances since his return (two of which were in his last four starts).

Key Players

Wesley Hoedt

Hoedt is incredibly important for the Hornets, not just for his defensive work but also for his balls out from the back that help progress his team up the pitch.

He’s still top of the league for accurate long balls per game on 8.4, which is over two more than the next highest player on that list, Ben Wilmot.

He has two assists to his name so far this season and despite a switch to a back five, using him as an out ball seems to still be the tactic with 11 long balls attempted against West Brom.

Yaser Asprilla

Arguably Watford’s most talented and inventive forward. He’s scored six goals and provided five assists so far this season but has been limited to bench appearances in the last couple of games with Ismael Kone being preferred.

He was in action for Colombia in the last international break, coming off the bench to score their third in a 3-2 win over Romania and at the age of 20 still has a big career ahead of him.

Most of his appearances so far this season have come off of the wing but Cleverly could opt to give him the free number ten role in this one as he featured from the start in the Hornets' last match.

The Teams

Following a poor performance and a derby day defeat there will surely be changes for this one. Harry Clarke is the most likely to come in. Axel Tuanzebe is a great one-on-one defender but has looked defensively shaky in an unfamiliar right-sided hybrid role in the last couple of games, often getting pulled too wide and leaving a big gap to Luke Woolfenden.

Clarke adds that extra attacking thrust which should give Omari Hutchinson, who has yet to recapture his March form, a bit of extra space.

The other two I'd be looking at to come in are the two that I picked to start the Norwich game. Both Massimo Luongo and Kieffer Moore have been immense and have both had match winning moments but it’s a hectic spell and the schedule looks to be catching up with them.

Jack Taylor and Ali Al Hamadi made a huge difference when they came on against Southampton but didn’t really have much time to make an impact against Norwich. I think including them from the start would freshen the team up which is needed.

The other curveball could be Marcus Harness who Kieran McKenna has started occasionally in Tuesday night games and also started in the reverse fixture. His close ball control was useful there but against a back five I think Chaplin and Nathan Broadhead will have a bit more space to exert their influence.

For Watford, Cleverly has kept a fairly consistent team for his games in charge so there’s not likely to be many changes, if any. Daniel Bachmann has reclaimed his place in goal and will be behind a back three of Ryan Porteous, Sierralta and Hoedt with Ryan Andrews and Lewis providing the width as wing-backs.

Kayembe and Tom Dele-Bashiru have formed a fairly attacking midfield but with the pair having played the last three in a row, former Town loanee Jake Livermore is the most likely to return if that needs freshening up.

In the ten role in front of them has been Kone but the lively Asprilla came in to a more attacking front three against Preston and I can see him starting just in behind Dennis and Vakoun Bayo in this one.

Again in that area, should Cleverly want to freshen it up, then Rajovic is the most likely option. The number nine is on ten goals for the season and recently scored the second of the game against West Brom, sliding in to poke in a cross from close range.

Action Areas

It’s hard to tell what Cleverly’s Watford will be like, but from the small sample size it does look like they will try and play. With the switch to a back three the push their wing-backs high and make it a four in the middle with two athletic runners in Kayembe and Dele-Bashiru.

The front three then have the freedom to drift around and find spaces. Keeping an eye on the movement of Asprilla and Dennis, who both have the ability to create chances out of nothing, will be crucial.

Going the other way, Town’s best opportunities will be trying to get in behind. Watford looked vulnerable to Brandon Thomas-Asante's runs in behind against West Bromwich Albion and if Sierralta does play, he looks to be their weak link.

Much like in the Vicarage Road game, if Town can press high when the Watford defenders have the ball, they are likely to make mistakes with none of the back three that comfortable in possession when they’re pressed.

It was a tough Saturday afternoon and players and fans will still be hurting from that. A good start in this one would definitely brighten the mood. The fact that this Town side is excellent at bouncing back from defeats and loves a mid-week game under the lights is pointing to a 3-0 victory for me.

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