Watford beat Stoke City for the second time of the season thanks to goals from Troy Deeney and Ismaila Sarr. The match, however, was far from a walk in the park.
The first half of play was lackluster from both teams – especially Watford. Xisco Munoz fielded a questionable squad, which initially saw Tom Cleverley lining up on the right-side of the midfield and Sarr unorthodoxly on the left. Around half-way through the half, Sarr moved to the right, Cleverley slotted into the midfield, and Will Hughes played on the left. The Hornets’ high-press in a 4-4-2 formation enabled Stoke’s three-central-midfielder formation to dominate the run of play, mainly through John Obi Mikel.
The second half was much improved by Watford, most notably after Philip Zinckernagel entered the fray in the 61st minute. With a more natural wide-player in the left-midfield position, the squad played with a sense of identity and normality. Deeney’s penalty and Sarr’s smart finish into the bottom right-hand corner gave the Hornets firm control of the match. The Potters halved the deficit in the 83rd minute through a well-worked Steven Fletcher goal. But, in the end, the Hornets picked up a massive three points on the road, potentially signaling the end to the Club’s woeful away form.
How the Watford Opinions player-rating scale works:
Five or below: underwhelming, disappointing performance
Six: decent, average performance
Seven: solid, above-par performance
Above seven: impressive, noteworthy performance
*Highest-rated: Man of the Match
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Daniel Bachmann: the Austrian once more proved why he is capable of being the Hornets’ number-one of the future. He did not have much to do in the first half, though two fine saves in the second period of play were pivotal in Watford’s triumph. The 26-year-old is comfortable in distribution and clearly has the trust of his teammates. He cannot be blamed for his first league-goal conceded.
Kiko Femenia: the Spaniard, arguably Watford’s player of the season to this point, was unfortunate to receive a yellow card in the 34th minute. Femenia, who was subbed off in the 74th minute for Jeremy Ngakia, made a couple of threatening runs forward. This, overall, was a rather quiet night by his standards.
William Troost-Ekong: he and Sierralta have formed a formidable center-back partnership. Commanding in the air and sound in passing, Troost-Ekong was a rock in defense as per usual. However, he was in no-mans’-land when Watford conceded.
Francisco Sierralta: after starting the game in shaky fashion, which included an awry pass and an unnecessary yellow card, Sierralta did well to limit the Potters’ attacking threat. The Chilean, alongside his partner, ensured only a small portion of Stoke’s crosses found their target. He was not on the pitch when the goal was conceded. The days of Sierralta being the Hornets’ fifth-choice center-back are long gone.
Adam Masina: the left-back’s solid form post-injury continued. Besides causing a penalty shout in favor of the Hornets in the first half, Masina did well to limit Stoke’s play down the right-flank for most of the match. But, like Troost-Ekong, Masina’s positioning in the build-up to Stoke’s goal was questionable.
Tom Cleverley: the former Manchester United player started the match in the right-midfield position – an assignment he has sparsely had during his time at Vicarage Road. The Hornets’ only threat posed from the right side of the pitch during the opening phases of the match was through Femenia. Once Cleverley moved to the center of the park, he did the scrappy business as per usual and set up Deeney’s assist to Sarr. His first half was mediocre at best. His second-half performance was much improved.
Nathaniel Chalobah: the one-time capped England international has been a mixed bag this season. This match was no exception. Chalobah was sluggish in the first half and mis-weighting passes too frequently. The second half, when he and Cleverley started to gain midfield control, saw a tremendous uptick in performance. Chalobah was largely responsible for the start of the attacking movement which earned the penalty. It is his sub-par first-half performance that is responsible for his “average” rating.
Will Hughes: seeing Hughes healthy and fully recovered from his injury is a sight all Watford fans should be glad to see. This match, however, was not his most noteworthy of performances. He made a couple of strong challenges in the center of the pitch prior to being pushed out to the left-midfield position. He came off in the 61st minute. Within seven minutes of his exit, the Hornets scored twice.
Ismaila Sarr: Watford’s record-signing showed why the Pozzos splashed the cash in the summer of 2019 yet again. His smart movement helped the Hornets win a penalty. His run, first-touch, and strike to find the back of the net were of the highest quality. This was a thoroughly classy performance from the 22-year-old.
*Troy Deeney: the skipper put in a true captain’s performance. Like the rest of the squad, he did not have much, if any, notable action in the first half. His second-half performance proved why he is still Watford’s leader and first-choice striker. He took his penalty expertly, as per usual. What has to be noted, however, is the professionalism and creativity he showed. His delicate, outside-the-boot, clipped ball to Sarr was ultimately responsible for the creation of the penalty.
His assist to Sarr’s goal, however, showed shades of the 2014-16 version of himself. Before Cleverley passed the ball to Deeney, the skipper checked over his shoulder multiple times. So, by the time he received the ball, he knew precisely where Sarr would be. With a one-touch pass, Deeney expertly and instinctively weighted the ball into Sarr’s path to set-up the second goal. Further, Deeney’s consistent dropping into the midfield in the second half was what ended Stoke’s center-of-the-park dominance. This was a true Man of the Match performance.
Joao Pedro: the 19-year-old put in another decent claim for why he should be Deeney’s main strike-partner. The youngster made some intricate dribbles forward and did well to draw the penalty. Pedro now looks more accustomed to the physicality which Championship football brings. For Pedro, this performance overall was not one of his more influential ones. However, he was not pedestrian either.
Philip Zinckernagel: although he did not have any notable direct contributions, his introduction to the match coincided with the Hornets’ improvement in performance. Having Zinckernagel, a natural wide-player, play on the left of the midfield instead of a central-minded player allowed Watford to play in a more naturally-structured formation. He gave the squad a sense of normality and balance. He has not been given the ball in space enough to truly show Watford fans what he is capable of.
Craig Cathcart: the long-serving center-back is continuing to be reintegrated into the first-team following an injury. He has plenty to do to convince Xisco to reinstate him into the starting eleven given the form of Sierralta and Troost-Ekong. It is hard to slate him as he was only on the pitch, replacing Sierralta, for the closing stages of the match. He will be wondering whether he should not have rushed out of the box to try to prevent the assist on Stoke’s goal.
Jeremy Ngakia: he has been unfortunate to not play the minutes he deserves due to Femenia’s fine form. Nonetheless, in his cameos, he does not appear to have lost his instinct to attack when possible. He replaced the Spaniard in the 74th minute.
Ben Wilmot: joined the match too late to receive a rating.
Andre Gray: joined the match too late to receive a rating.