Where Do Watford’s Current Problems Spring From?

*Article contributed by Watfordfc2021 (Fin Onens)  edited by Watford Opinions*

Many of Watford’s results this season have been underwhelming – there is no doubt about that. Now is an opportune time to discuss where the Club’s current problems are. Many people have criticized Watford’s striking department – Andre Gray and Troy Deeney in particular. While pinning some blame on them is understandable and valid, there are also many issues elsewhere on the pitch. The first theory being contemplated here is as follows: what if Watford’s creativity is responsible for the current situation, and the strikers are not to blame? 

Many people predicted Watford to dominate the Championship and wreak havoc on defenses, largely due to 40-million-pound winger Ismaila Sarr staying at the club. Sarr thoroughly dominating and “running rings” around Championship defenses has not frequently been the case thus far. He has considerably struggled in many matches, with a mediocre five goals and six assists in 24 games. Sarr was meant to be Watford’s star man, picking assists out from every angle, but that has not come to fruition at noteworthy rates. 

Ken Sema was also meant to provide much-needed creativity, and all was going well until he got Covid-19. Since then, he has not been the same (although other absences have not helped his case). When a lack of creativity and need for depth in the department was recognized by the Watford fans and the hierarchy alike, highly-rated Danish winger Philip Zinckernagel was brought in to help solve the problem. After over one month in England, he has only featured in brief cameos off of the bench. So, out of the Club’s main three wide-attacking playmakers, none have been consistently successful/impressive/exceeding-expectations (over the long run – of course, there are individual matches which are exceptions) in their quest to provide the strikers with golden opportunities. 

Evidence is provided by examining the situation of Glenn Murray. The 37-year-old was brought to Watford on loan in the summer of 2020 to help with attacking depth, mainly in anticipation of a Deeney departure. Murray ended his time with Watford without a goal contribution. His lack of minutes and poor production resulted in a January loan-termination. He was promptly transferred permanently to Nottingham Forest. On his debut with Nottingham Forest, Murray scored twice. Watford’s “playmakers” could not provide Murray with quality service, but as soon as he left, he was able to find the back of the net easily. 

However, there is still the other side of the argument: perhaps the strikers just have not been good enough. One striker in particular highlights the issue: Gray. He has scored once all season (and has broken lockdown rules twice). João Pedro has been the only bright spark in terms of the center of the attack, with six goals in 22 matches. The most baffling part of all this is how Gray gets frequent starts over Pedro. 

Deeney has found a new role in the squad – dropping deeper and becoming a provider for other players (like Wayne Rooney closer to the end of his career). Deeney has scored seven goals this season and is the Club’s top-scorer (albeit just one goal is from open-play). After 26 matches in the 2014/15 promotion season, Deeney, Matej Vydra, Odion Ighalo, and Fernando Forestieri had scored 24 goals from open-play. This season, Watford’s strikers have combined for just eight. Deeney has had 27 shots all season. Queens Park Rangers’ Charlie Austin has shot 15 times in the Championship this season – despite playing only five matches. This just shows the extent to which Watford are missing a true, prolific goal-scorer.

The problems, however, could also stem from higher up in the club. The way the club is being run is controversial and objectional at the moment. At the start of January, fans were expecting new signings to suit the Club’s needs. Thus, the fans expected a left-back, a striker,  and an Etienne Capoue replacement. Watford were linked with a considerable number of exciting players, such as Vydra, James Lea-Siliki, and Fabian Delph. So, many times, fans had a positive feeling toward the transfer window. But ultimately, the Club only brought in (for the senior squad) Zinckernagel, Rob Elliot, and a 31-year-old Dan Gosling. The signings do not necessarily scream, “deserving promotion to the Premier League,” especially considering the transfer windows of other clubs. 

The notion that there are true problems is hard to dispute. Where the majority of the blame can go is much less evident. Who/what do you think is responsible for Watford’s current drawbacks? 

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