*Article contributed by GoldenBoys1881 – edited by Watford Opinions*
Isaac Success and Stipe Perica are back in training following successful recoveries from respective hamstring injuries. This now gives Xisco Munoz a larger selection of players for the starting striker spot(s). Andre Gray is not a player fans are enjoying watching at the moment, to state it simply. He and Troy Deeney are somewhat similar – both not possessing rapid pace (Gray with a bit more speed than Deeney), but both requiring the squad to maintain large chunks of possession to help them find the back of the net. In other words, neither are the type of striker who is known for making chances out of nothing.
Ahead of the journey to face Coventry City this weekend, Xisco has announced that a new system will be utilized. The change of tactics is a consequence of the recent underwhelming performances – a disappointing 0-0 draw with Millwall followed by a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat at the hands of Queens Park Rangers. Does this mean Watford will go to a three or five-at-the-back which did not work with Vladmir Ivic? Or, will the Hornets stick with four defenders?
If Xisco persists with a formation that requires two strikers, he will need to figure out which permutation of the five healthy options works best. Realistically, Joao Pedro deserves to start a string of a few matches to claim the role of number one striker as his own (even though Deeney’s spot may be impossible to usurp). But, now that both Success and Perica have returned to training, they should gradually see some opportunities as well.
Another aspect of the squad that needs to be improved is in regards to Will Hughes, Philip Zinckernagel, and the selection of the wide players in general. In the past three matches, for example, Hughes lined up as a left-midfielder. Hughes originally played in a wide-midfield position under Javi Gracia. Since Gracia’s departure in the second-half of 2019, Hughes reverted back to his more natural and effective role in the middle of the pitch. Tom Cleverley, who featured as a right-midfielder briefly against Stoke City, is certainly not a wide-player either. Now that Etienne Capoue, Domingos Quina, and James Garner departed the club during the January transfer window, there is more of a necessity for both Hughes and Cleverley to play in their natural, central positions. If Xisco does not want to play either of them in the center of the midfield due to form, new-signing Dan Gosling – who is experienced and reliable – can be called upon. Gosling can also be yet another mentor for the club’s younger midfielders, such as Daniel Phillips.
Especially considering Watford have been long-eliminated from both cup competitions, the supporters can now place maximum pressure/focus on the league. The only success that can come this season is in the form of promotion. There are no excuses or other targets to reach. Especially after claiming a tactical change was in the works, Xisco’s each and every decision is to come under close examination.
After the disappointing loss to Queens Park Rangers, Xisco Munoz’s “new tactics” will be especially interesting in the upcoming must-win match versus Coventry City. Will Hughes play in his natural position? Is Zinckernagel finally going to get his first league start? Only time can tell.
Whatever the changes may be, they need to be successful in the near future. With over half of the season completed, there is not much, if any, more time to lose points due to tactical experimentation. Ivic rolled the tactical dice frequently and could not conjure the optimal system. Xisco will need to come up with yet another combination to maximize upside.
The untested formations include the 4-3-3, the 4-2-3-1, and the 3-4-3. All will help Xisco emphasize attacking focus down the flanks of the pitch. However, with only four senior-central-midfielders, a 4-3-3 might be unsustainable. Perhaps Zinckernagel can play as a number 10 in the 4-2-3-1. A 3-4-3 would provide a stark contrast to Ivic’s five-at-the-back tactics if, and only if, a high press is maintained.
Fewer than 20 matches remain. Some teams at the top found their tactical identity long ago. For Watford, they are fortunate to not have needed to just yet. But, the well of goals cannot continue to run dry if the Hornets are to remain in serious contention for promotion. All eyes are on Xisco ahead of the anticipated changes.
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