Does Daniel Bachmann Deserve To Be Watford’s Number One?

In Watford’s recent FA Cup third-round defeat to Manchester United, Daniel Bachmann was given the nod to start. Despite conceding early to an impressive Scott McTominay header, the Austrian shot-stopper had a remarkable match. Bachmann’s six-save performance, a match in which the Red Devils’ expected goals statistic was 2.16, gives Xisco Muñoz food for thought.

Should Daniel Bachmann Be Watford’s First-Choice Goalkeeper?

Bachmann Stakes His Claim

Following Watford’s narrow defeat against Manchester United, Bachmann told the club website, “I feel good, like I’ve got a good bit of form. Hopefully the tables will turn soon and I’ll be the one playing every three days and not every three months in the cup. That’s what I’m here for.”

The 26-year-old received plenty of advice from Heurelho Gomes and Ben Foster throughout his time with the Hornets. Even though one of his mentors is still Watford’s starter, he feels he is worthy of being the first choice. Although goalkeepers typically hit their prime years later than outfield players, Bachmann is far past his years of being a “youngster.” 

“Everybody wants to play and you always think you should be playing,” explained Bachmann. ”You know what you are getting into when you become a goalkeeper: you know there will be tough times along the way and you know it won’t be plain sailing. The tables can turn quickly and you have to be ready at a moment’s notice. I always train and prepare all week like I’m expecting to play.”

The Signs Have Been Showing For Years

Bachmann started his career in his home nation of Austria. In 2011, Bachmann moved to England from FK Austria Vienna’s U18 team to join Stoke City’s academy. After spending three seasons with their youth ranks, the Potters started loaning him out to gain first-team experience. Following loans to Wrexham, Ross County, and Bury, Bachmann joined Watford in 2017 in a free transfer. Despite only playing five matches for the Hornets since arriving, his ability to be a successful starter was proven two seasons ago. 

During the Hornets’ impressive 2018/19 campaign, Foster, Gomes, and now 21-year-old Pontus Dahlberg were the Club’s top three choices between the sticks. Having both Bachmann and Dahlberg in the books was nonsensical, so Watford struck a season-long loan deal with Kilmarnock. Bachmann did not feature in his first 11 matches in Scotland. However, once he made his breakthrough, he never looked back.

Bachmann started 25 matches in the SPFL, keeping 13 clean sheets in the process. After not letting in any goals in his first four matches, he only conceded 18 times. His efforts were pivotal in guiding Kilmarnock to a 3rd-place finish in the league (behind Celtic and Rangers) – the Club’s highest ever league finish on their largest ever points total. 

A jump from the SPFL to the Championship is not a straight side-step, as that is never the case when transferring from one league to another. The styles of play are not identical and the quality of the competition changes. Nevertheless, Bachmann’s success with Kilmarnock, where he became a fan favorite, shows he has what it takes to be the Hornets’ number one.

Admittedly, he is yet to keep a clean sheet for the Hornets. But, in the matches Bachmann has played, Watford’s best defensive line-up has not featured. For that reason, his shaky performance against Newport County, where he still made some impressive saves, can be excused. His performances against Oxford City and Manchester United prove that with a firm back-line, Bachmann is near unbeatable. 

The Form of Ben Foster

Bachmann is worthy and deserving of starting in the Championship. However, for Xisco, the question arises as to whether he has done more than enough good, or if Foster has done enough wrong, to warrant a change in starters. 

Since Foster arrived from West Bromwich Albion in the summer of 2018, he has started in every league match. In June, the 37-year-old signed a two-year contract which sees him with the Hornets until the summer of 2022. 

This season, Foster has made a handful of uncharacteristic mistakes. Giving the ball right to the opposition against Huddersfield ultimately was the final straw that cost Vladimir Ivic his job. Coventry City lobbed him with a header from 25 yards away. Jamal Lowe capitalized on Foster flapping at a cross to cost Watford three points against Swansea. So, from time to time, chatter about whether Bachmann should get the starting nod understandably picks up.

However, there are many occasions where Foster’s performances gifted Watford three points. From penalty-saving heroics against Blackburn to his countless point-blank finger-tip saves, Foster continues to age like a fine wine. The Cycling GK is yet to concede more than twice in any match this season – keeping nine clean sheets in the process. The Hornets have the second-best defensive record in the league. 

Foster For Now, But Bachmann Deserving And Not Far Off

Bachmann has certainly proved himself as a worthy candidate to start, but Foster has not done enough wrong to warrant a long-lasting change at this point. If Foster starts making more frequent errors and loses focus, then Xisco knows Bachmann is a talented option to be the new number one.

By next season, Bachmann needs to see consistent first-team minutes. At this pivotal junction in his career, he must get on the pitch as much as possible. If not at Watford, it is reasonable to suspect he would want to ply his trade elsewhere.

Watford know Bachmann’s value and talent. They would have let him leave long ago if they did not see a future for him at the club. However, Dahlberg, who spent the past season guiding BK Häcken to a 3rd-place finish (with the best defensive record) in the Allsvenskan, will also be eyeing up the starting spot at Vicarage Road next season. The hierarchy has created an impending selection headache when it comes to declaring Foster’s long-term successor. It is up to Xisco to decide whether Bachmann will get the head-start he deserves. 

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