The Lerma Lesson

In Watford’s recent defeat at Bournemouth, Jefferson Lerma may have “cheated” (the word being thrown around) and played the match in an immature, disgraceful manner. The referee may have made some questionable decisions. But, none of that means Watford are not to primarily blame for the result. Bournemouth and Lerma knew the Hornets were the stronger team in better form, so they knew the best way to win was by ensuring the focus of the match went elsewhere. Fortunately for the Cherries, Watford took the bait.

If the two clubs are to clash in the Promotion Playoffs, there is every reason to suspect Bournemouth will play the same way. The Hornets need to learn from the recent defeat if they are to achieve promotion, especially if the Cherries are in their path once more.

Lerma’s Antics Detestable – But Exactly What Bournemouth Needed 

Lerma hit the ground easily on many occasions. The main moment of controversy prior to stoppage time involved him and Nathaniel Chalobah. Both challenged for a ball in the air, to which Lerma whined after feeling the slightest of contact with Chalobah’s hand. The former Chelsea player resultantly misses the Hornets’ two subsequent fixtures, as the yellow card brandished was his 10th of the season.

Hornets players inevitably, and rightfully, complained whenever Lerma fell for the rest of the match. Lerma and his actions became the focal point of the game – exactly what Bournemouth wanted. As poor as his actions were, he ensured the Hornets’ quality could not come to the fore. It is a dirty way of playing football, but that does not mean it is not allowed – even if it should be outlawed. The antics were detestable, but from Jonathan Woodgate’s point-of-view, it is exactly what he desired. 

Watford’s Response Gave Bournemouth The Advantage

The resulting free-kick from Chalobah’s yellow card resulted in Bournemouth scoring the only goal of the match. Even if Lerma over-exaggerated and the official made the wrong decision, the Hornets only have themselves to blame for conceding. The free-kick was taken from Bournemouth’s defensive half, meaning there was especially no excuse for such poor marking. The defense switched off and remained stagnant, giving Arnaut Danjuma a clear sight at goal – with the assist coming directly from the set-piece. Watford only have themselves to point the finger at for conceding the goal. Switching off in the manner they did has no excuse. 

The Hornets chased the match from that point forward. Still, the main focus of the match was on Lerma and his antics. It was hard for Watford to build positive momentum when the focus was not consistently on the football. In the 97th minute, Joao Pedro made a poorly-timed challenge on Lerma, resulting in his second yellow card of the match. 

Lerma’s antics slowed the match down the way he would have wanted them to. There is no claiming Lerma did the “right thing,” and there is no argument he played how he “should play.” Still, the bottom line is he did play in a condemnable manner. He was Bournemouth’s key to halting Watford’s progress. By changing the focus of the match, he got the visitors to take the bait. It is a cheap strategy, but clearly, it worked for the hosts. 

Watford Need To Focus Solely On The Football

Watford undoubtedly have one of the best, if not the best, squad in the Championship when it comes to individual-by-individual talent. Bournemouth knew their best chance at beating Watford was disrupting the flow of the football, as letting the game naturally play out would give Watford the upper hand. The Hornets’ success in the 4-3-3 likely would not be halted by the Cherries if external factors were not used.

Lerma was successful at being the “external factor.” Other teams want Watford to be distracted from the football. Anything to disrupt quality from coming to the fore is going to be sought by certain oppositions. By letting Lerma’s antics and controversy distract them from composed, methodical playing, the Hornets minimized their chances of success. 

Other clubs (such as Luton Town near the end of the season) might try similar, cheap tactics to get the better of Watford. If the Hornets come up against Bournemouth in the Promotion Playoffs, controversy and further antics are inevitable.

Watford need to let the football do the talking. The players need to take their anger and frustration out by playing with more intensity, not by coming face to face off the ball with the opposition. The last laugh will go Watford’s way if they keep their composure and let the talent, quality, and tactics conquer the disgraceful actions. Complaining and switching off is what rivals want to see. Other teams know Watford want a match where the football, not antics, does the talking, so it is the Hornets’ responsibility to ensure other factors do not change their focus. 

Lerma’s antics are not justified, but the Hornets let the focus of the match slip away from them. The Lerma lesson is about keeping composure, even when immediate retaliation is desired. The antics did not directly give Bournemouth the advantage: the Hornets’ disorderly response did. Watford need winning football, and nothing else, to be their form of revenge. 

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