A Different Kind of Three Points: Player Ratings After Watford’s Victory Over Blackburn

Up to this point in the season, Watford had found success through tremendous defensive displays. The main worry surrounding the squad was whether goals could be scored at a much higher rate. This match, Watford’s attack was free-flowing, with the defense a bit more concerning. Then again, Blackburn are the league’s top scorers up to this point of the season.

The first 15 minutes of the match epitomized the flow of the fixture: Blackburn with the lion’s share of possession, but Watford taking control of the match through quick counter attacks and glimmers of top-tier quality. 

In the 13th minute, Watford’s young superstar João Pedro met the end of a Femenía low-cross and tucked the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to open the scoring. Four minutes later, Cleverley doubled Watford’s lead following a save off of an Ismaïla Sarr shot. 

The rest of the first half was firmly controlled by Blackburn, and they quickly cut their deficit in half through a Ben Brereton wonder-volley in the 28th minute. 

Watford started the second half strongly, and were rewarded with a gift from Blackburn when Ken Sema’s cross into the box found the tangled feet of Darragh Lenihan, who smashed the ball into the back of his own net. Near the 70th minute, Craig Cathcart took down Lewis Holtby in the box, but Adam Armstrong, the league’s top scorer, could only see his penalty smartly saved by Ben Foster.

The Watford of this match felt different from the Watford of the opening five matches, but the three points all count the same.


Ben Foster: he might be a bit disappointed about the goal he conceded, considering he got his hands to it and it went in on the near post. But besides the goal, which was sweetly struck nevertheless, Foster was the main reason why Watford walked away with all three points. He did well to parry away Armstrong’s early curling effort, and soon after made a pair of smart saves on some set-piece headers. He did fantastic work in making another save on Armstrong despite being in no-man’s-land on a one-versus-one, and most notably, he emphatically saved Armstrong’s well-taken penalty. He will have more than enough quality footage to put on his new YouTube channel.


Kiko Femenía: this was the Spaniard’s second impressive performance in a row. He lined up in his more-natural right-wing-back position, as Ngakia was dropped to the bench to get some rest. Femenía did even better on the right than he did on the left against Derby, as Femenía timed his run and weighted his pass perfectly to set up Pedro’s opener. He was sound defensively and made some other noteworthy attacking contributions as well.


Craig Cathcart: no defender was at fault for the goal, though Cathcart was not at his strongest. He played solidly in defense for most of the match, but was too slow to react to Holtby’s intricate movement, which led him to giving Blackburn a silly penalty and a potential lifeline.


Christian Kabasele: to state it simply, he was lucky to be on the pitch for the full match. If there were VAR, he would have likely been sent off for his challenge on Armstrong in the 22nd minute. Besides that hiccup, he was decent throughout. With William Troost-Ekong hungry for minutes, such lapses in concentration could lead to less playing time for any of this match’s starters. 


Ben Wilmot: the 20-year-old looked strong yet again for Watford. He seems to have the defensive experience of a true veteran, and did well to silence Liverpool-loanee Harvey Elliott in his debut. He, alongside the other center-backs, will look to be more commanding while defending set-pieces.


Ken Sema: Watford’s revelation of the season so far, Sema put in a good shift despite being in a more defensive role than the role he was in against Derby. He made some intricate overlapping runs, and deserves the credit for an assist in the creation of the own-goal.


James Garner: so far, the Manchester United U23 Player of the Season has been everything people said he was, and then some. He played the key through-ball to Femenía for the first goal, and hit a pinpoint ball forward to Sarr to create the second. He was unfortunate not to get an assist in the dying stages of the game when he shimmied through some defenders to find Watford’s record signing, though he might be pondering whether he should have struck it himself. His first goal for Watford does not seem far away.


Tom Cleverley: Watford’s captain did well to find himself in the right spot to nod home the second goal. He seems to be flourishing in his advanced position up the pitch. When Watford were last promoted, a key part of the success was having a goal-scoring attacking midfielder in Almen Abdi. Cleverley seems like he could fill that role this season (so too could Garner, and potentially even Quina).


Nathaniel Chalobah: he has been an anomaly for Watford this season. Whenever he was on the pitch in the past, he seemed to really belong and raise the level of the players around him. Now, likely due to his lack of playing time last season, he is one of the players that seems to have not taken kindly to the readjustment to the Championship. He frequently conceded pointless fouls, and gave the ball away a couple of times. He does, however, seem to be improving slightly week-by-week.


Ismaïla Sarr: the pacey winger showed why some of the best clubs in the country wanted him. His speed consistently tore through the Blackburn defense, and he did phenomenally to control Garner’s ball over the top despite being sandwiched between two defenders. He was a pivotal part to both goals, and will be disappointed to not have tucked away the chance Garner opened up for him near the end of the match. He also nearly assisted Pedro on multiple occasions. Plenty of goals and assists will start to show up sooner than later for him if he continues to perform in this manner.


João Pedro: the 19-year-old continued his strong start to the season, scoring in his second successive match, and thus grabbing his third goal of the season. He did well to get into open space on multiple occasions, but perhaps should have tucked away at least one of the few additional chances that came his way. He is undroppable right now.


Étienne Capoue: subbed on in the 61st minute and taking the captain’s armband, it would be harsh to slate the Frenchman on his first game in over three months. However, the only real criticism which could be thrown his way is that he did not appear to be at his very best, but that is simply due to a lack of action in the past few weeks. Otherwise, he did what was asked of him.


Jeremy Ngakia: the youngster came on in the 71st minute for Femenía, and is likely to start the upcoming match against Bournemouth. He did most of what was asked of him, though he was shown a yellow card, and had a potential heart-in-throat moment after his challenge upon the final whistle was not the prettiest, and could have potentially warranted a second yellow if time had still been left. 


Domingos Quina: he joined the game very late on, so he did not have the opportunity to contribute notably. His recent work rate on the pitch seems to be elevated. He will seek more playing time in this intensive fixture schedule. 


Vladimir Ivic: the Watford manager clearly had a plan to play low-possession football, and it paid off. Blackburn has enjoyed possession in most of their matches this season, so he allowed them to try and break down Watford’s astute defense, and then when they committed numbers forward, Ivic knew the counter attacks would be on. Blackburn’s main chances, besides the goal, came from set-pieces, but apart from the man-marking on those, which is mostly out of Ivic’s control, the match was a tactical masterclass.


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