Promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking: the reality still feels like a dream. The taste of triumph in these otherwise hard times has an extra sweetness. Soon, if not already happening, basking in the glory will shift to focusing on the ever-pivotal post-promotion summer transfer window. So, it is the perfect time to wade through which players of the current Watford squad should be kept, loaned out, or sold permanently.
Disclaimer: potential transfer arrivals are not taken into consideration unless specified.
Daniel Bachmann: the Austrian shot-stopper has proven himself as a capable number one. Unless a new starter is purchased (which is not necessary), there is no reason to part ways with him.
Ben Foster: the goalkeeper – and YouTube star – is reliable whenever called upon. He will still be nice to have to provide Bachmann starting competition if poor form (or injury) hits.
Rob Elliot: although his contract expires at the end of the season*, he is included on this list as an extension is advisable. Having a reliable third-string keeper who seems to always be boosting morale in training is never a bad thing.
Christian Kabasele: despite injury limiting him to 19 Championship appearances, keeping the top-flight-proven center-back will give the Hornets reliable defensive depth.
William Troost-Ekong: one of the two Udinese center-back signings from the 2020 summer transfer window, Troost-Ekong was one-half of one of the Championship’s best-ever defensive pairings. He was widely considered Premier League quality upon arrival one year ago.
Francisco Sierralta: the other Udinese center-back signing and the other half of the nearly-impenetrable defense, Sierralta was Watford’s surprise player of the year. The 24-year-old had Premier League suitors, but now Watford know they can, and must, provide him the top-flight competition.
Craig Cathcart: with Watford during the last promotion, there is no reason to offload the proven defender. The 32-year-old brings experience and consistency.
Adam Masina: as he is currently Watford’s only true left-back under contract for next season, keeping him is imperative, even if Ashley Young arrives.
Jeremy Ngakia: although a loan might appear a smart move for the 20-year-old, keeping him at Vicarage Road for next season is important. Despite being Kiko Femenia’s understudy, he is a more-than-reliable back-up and has already proved himself in the Premier League with West Ham United during Project Restart. Hopefully Xisco takes more note of Ngakia’s talent than he seemed to this season. If, however, another right-back arrives and Femenia stays, then a loan move for Ngakia would be appropriate.
Kiko Femenia: one of Watford’s players of the season, keeping the Spanish right-back is crucial. His ability to play on the left if necessary makes him a coach’s dream.
Nathaniel Chalobah: ever since being named captain, Chalobah has been a star in Watford’s promotion push. He continues to improve and grow in confidence and has already proven his value in the top-flight. His continuously-building head of steam makes him a pivotal player in Watford’s fight for Premier League survival.
Will Hughes: no explanation is needed.
Tom Cleverley: the 31-year-old was a phenomenal captain when called upon. Robust in defense and very good at pressing, having him for depth and rotation in the Premier League will only be a positive.
Dan Gosling: his transfer to Vicarage Road was underwhelming when announced, but the former Bournemouth player proved to be a shrewd signing. He will bring more experience to the midfield if necessary, though his minutes are set to be limited.
Domingos Quina: a player who there might be some debate about, Quina has spent the second half of the season on loan with Granada CF in La Liga. Featuring somewhat regularly under Vladimir Ivic, Quina seemed to still need to adjust to the physicality of the second tier. In the 21-year-old’s 6 La Liga appearances, he has performed well (and scored 2 screamers). The style of play of the top-flight better suits Quina’s playing style. Previously on the fringe of being ready for Premier League football, now is the time to give him a chance to truly shine.
Ken Sema: even if reinforcements are brought in for the left-wing, Sema is an important player to keep hold of. He is versatile, and it still would not be the end of the world if he were the Club’s starting left-winger in the first match-week. If an addition is made, his competition and rotation would still be pivotal to keeping a balanced attack.
Ismaila Sarr: If an offer of over 50 million pounds arrives, then selling Sarr would be unavoidable. However, as that is not (for now) inevitable, Watford should for sure not sell Sarr for any discounts. Keeping hold of him guarantees Watford a threatening attack force. And of course, he is Sarr. Not many clubs in the world would reject the opportunity of having his services. He will only prove to be more prolific, creative, and hard to defend than he was in his inaugural Premier League campaign.
Philip Zinckernagel: despite only truly breaking into the first team due to an injury crisis, Zinckernagel showed why Watford brought him in. Despite only making 19 league appearances – only 8 of which were starts – he is the Club’s joint-leading assister with 5. He is yet to even be seen in his most-preferred right-wing position. Even the left-wing position is more natural for him than the midfield role he has been asked to play. The Premier League style of play will suit him better as well, and he has now had enough time to adjust to English football. Keeping hold of him is a low-risk, high-reward bet to make. In the worst case scenario, he moves elsewhere in January.
Cucho Hernandez: following a handful of loan moves to Spain, the 22-year-old’s time to make his Vicarage Road bow has arrived. He has already proved himself in the Spanish second tier as prolific, and his goal record in the top flight is not astounding, though it is not disappointing either. Considering he only has room to grow and, more importantly, how Getafe wanted to extend his loan, the risk of letting Cucho play considerable minutes at Vicarage Road is one worth taking.
Joao Pedro: the 19-year-old (yes, it is important to realize how young he is) finished the season in underwhelming fashion in regards to the scoresheets. However, he was still pivotal to the promotion push, and of course, his nine goals in his first true season in England are impressive. The term “style of play” has been thrown about a lot. But, Pedro will indeed likely get to have the ball at his feet in the buildup to attacks with more consistency than the Championship offers. Besides, even if he does not hit the ground running, offloading him would still be a rash decision.
Troy Deeney: this may be the most controversial decision on the list. Only one goal from open play in 19 Championship appearances is beyond underperforming. Nonetheless, he is the club captain. If he is going to demand to start every match, then okay, a departure would be advisable. Nonetheless, the best-case scenario would be he stays and is content as a rotational player. And who knows? Perhaps shades of his prolific past will show.
Andre Gray: if the Deeney choice was not the most controversial decision, this one is. Gray underperformed this season; that is a fact. He scored five fewer goals than his Xg statistic predicts. During the relegation season, he only scored twice. In the 2018/19 Premier League season, he scored seven times, two more goals than his Xg statistic predicts. During the 2016/17 season with Burnley, he outscored his Xg statistic by over one goal. In his 25-goal 2015/16 Championship season with Brentford, the now 29-year-old’s Xg statistic was 20.90. Despite his shortcomings this season, recent history shows he is an overperformer. He also ended this season strong – from the 2-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers onward, he averaged one goal scored per 114 minutes. Four goals in such a span – in which he only started four matches – is noteworthy. The other key point in the case for keeping him is he is heading into the last year of his contract. Thus, a transfer would not be very profitable anyway. Making the bet he returns to his overperforming trends is one worth taking. He is on the outside competing for a look-in regardless (as in, Watford are not reliant on him), so if he is unable to continue how he ended this season, then he simply does not need to play and can be moved on in January.
Marc Navarro: he has never really settled in since arriving from Espanyol three years ago. It is best for both parties to part ways.
Stipe Perica: the summer signing showed bright glimpses at the beginning of the season, though he has hardly found any minutes under Xisco Munoz. With Pedro, Cucho, Gray, and Deeney all already above him in the pecking order, a permanent transfer is best for the Croatian.
Ignacio Pussetto: the 25-year-old, currently on loan at Udinese after arriving at Watford, from Udinese, in the January of 2020, did not fit the Premier League’s style of play. His production with Udinese is much better than it was with Watford, so he should be used as a weight in permanent transfers between the related clubs.
Adalberto Penaranda: despite showing tremendous promise when initially signed, the 23-year-old has never hit the ground running at Vicarage Road or on any of his loan moves. Between injuries, off-field antics, and most importantly, poor performances, it is time to cash in on the striker who had five goals and four assists for Granada as an 18-year-old many seasons ago.
Jerome Sinclair: the 24-year-old is out on loan with Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia, which is where Penaranda is currently too. Like Penaranda, there were high expectations for Sinclair when he signed. The former Liverpool youngster has not impressed on any of his many loans since joining in 2016. The transfer simply has not worked out, and it is time for both sides to move on.
Ben Wilmot: is he Premier League ready? Most likely yes. Unfortunately for the 21-year-old, minutes under Xisco are near non-existent. His most recent start was Xisco’s second match in charge. With Troost-Ekong, Sierralta, Kabasele, and Cathcart preferred by Xisco over him, letting Wilmot ride the bench for the entire season is bad for all parties involved. He is probably good enough for the Premier League, but as it is clear Xisco trusts many other players over him, letting Wilmot’s development halt to be Xisco’s fifth-choice (which he is for sure much better than a fifth-choice) will result in unnecessary discontent. The risk of losing Wilmot permanently thus increases. To keep all parties happy and not risk losing the talented center-back for the long-term, a loan to, at minimum, a promotion-chasing Championship side is necessary. Of course, if Xisco has a change in heart about Wilmot, keeping him would make sense. Indications over the past few months, however, signal that that is unlikely. As phenomenal as an appointment as Xisco has been for Watford, like all things in football, there will be a couple of people who are left less content than others: it is just unfortunate for Wilmot that he is one of the few people who has not benefitted from the necessary coaching switch at the end of 2020.
Joseph Hungbo: the Watford youth product showed tremendous signs of promise in his cameos from the bench. The talented 21-year-old winger deserves to go on loan for increased minutes and to further his experience at the senior level. He had a successful short-term loan with National League side Aldershot Town, so a move to a League Two or League One side should be in the cards.
Daniel Phillips: the Trinidad and Tobago international player showed glimpses of professional tenacity during preseason and in the Carabao Cup. The powerful midfielder would benefit tremendously from a loan.
Tom Dele-Bashiru: the former Manchester City youngster seemed as if he would play a considerable part in the push for promotion. Unfortunately, his injury in the fourth match of the season against Reading abruptly paused his impressive rise. A loan will do a world of good for rebuilding confidence and form, in addition to gaining experience, as an immediate jump to consistent Premier League minutes for him is likely not yet in the cards.
Pontus Dahlberg: between Bachmann, Foster, and likely Elliot, Dahlberg will still be surplus to requirements at Vicarage Road. He has a phenomenal future as his successful loans in Sweden prove. Keeping him on the sidelines in England is bad for all parties, so another loan, and then letting him properly compete for the number one role in the 2022/23 season, seems best.
Isaac Success: another placement sure to spark debate, Success’s future at Vicarage Road hangs in the balance. He is in a similar boat as Penaranda and Sinclair, in the sense his high expectations upon arrival a few seasons ago have not been met. Success’s time at Watford has been hindered by off-field antics and injury. Following a year-long injury absence, Success featured in 10 of the Club’s last 12 matches of the season. Watford’s final goal of the season was his wonder-volley against Swansea City. The 25-year-old showed glimpses of talent in the promotion run-in, so one last loan move to see if he can shake off the rust and prove to be the player he was expected to be is deserved. But, if the Hornets cash in on him, that would not be the biggest of shocks either. Still, his performances this season have earned him one final chance at a loan to prove himself of being top-flight quality for the Hornets in the future.
*Another disclaimer: Carlos Sanchez and Achraf Lazaar are not included as their contracts expire in the summer and extensions for both are not necessary (though if one had to extend, Sanchez would be the preferred choice).