Watford’s Realistic Season Outlook: Relegation-Bound or Surprise Package?

With the Premier League season about to kick off, Watford supporters have a lot to be excited about. Unfortunately, that excitement comes at the expense of a reality that this season has the potential to be a catastrophe. The Hornets are currently relegation favorites alongside the two other recently promoted teams, and understandably so. Nonetheless, even with Watford backed for the drop, the Club’s ceiling for success is considerably high. 

Decent Possibility of Relegation Cannot Be Overlooked

As exhilarating as the 2020/21 promotion campaign was for the Hornets, fans must go into the season understanding that expectations should not be sky-high. Success this campaign is finishing 17th. That is the primary target.

The truth is, after spending last season in the Championship and the financial impact of COVID, Watford are unable to spend as much money as some other clubs in a similar position. Crystal Palace, for example, who are also in the relegation race, have spent nearly £40 million on their defense alone. Thus, in terms of recruitment, Watford have to rely on players who are not necessarily destined to hit the ground running.

As much of a revelation as Xisco Munoz proved to be last season, he is still a very inexperienced head coach who has never had to face such difficult opposition week in and week out. Even with the unavoidable handcuffs of financial limitations, it is still fair to question recruitment and prospects for tactical success.

Most Watford fans are not ignoring they need to brace for possible relegation. People can raise questions about defensive depth, where goals will come from, and whether the midfield is strong enough. However, such questions and uncertainties surrounding the squad and head coach are the exact reasons why the Watford faithful can still hold onto hope for a surprisingly impressive campaign.

Safety and Beyond Can Be Achieved Through the Question Marks

The relegation race is wide open. Cases can be made for why the three promoted teams, as well as Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Wolves, Burnley, and Brighton, should all be worried about relegation. So, the Hornets can reasonably hope to be propelled forward by the shortcomings of other clubs (to an extent). 

Within the Watford squad, the questions about whether there is enough depth and sufficient talent may very well turn out to be answered with a resounding “yes” instead of the feared “no.”

At the back, Francisco Sierralta and William Troost-Ekong will be key to the Hornet’s success yet again after playing a key role in equaling the Championship’s best-ever defensive record. Neither have played Premier League minutes, which may be seen as worrisome. However, especially considering Sierralta’s trajectory, there is a decent chance the gamble of starting them together next season can yield tremendous dividends. If Danny Rose gets anywhere near his form of old, which preseason suggests is possible, he will be a player who performs at a level far above that of a relegation-worried left-back. Admittedly, the lack of Premier League experience at the heart of the defense can backfire. But, simply put, it is impossible to know precisely how Troost-Ekong and Sierralta will perform in the top-flight, and that not knowing is exactly why the fear can be balanced out with the excitement of potential success.

In the midfield, new arrivals Peter Etebo, Juraj Kucka, and Imran Louza could very well prove to be a formidable force to be reckoned with, especially the latter. Preseason showed Etebo can be more than effective as a number six or a ball-carrying number eight, whereas Louza has simply looked of a special class whenever on the ball. Domingos Quina may also prove to have a breakout season in the top flight following his La Liga loan. Again, as is the case with the defense, these possibilities for tremendous success may very well crash and burn. While it is impossible to determine exactly what will occur, there is still valid reason to hope that what will eventually pan out is the best positive outcome.

The attack is where the most surprise may come from. Ismaila Sarr will of course play a huge role in the Hornets’ push for survival – that is one of the few guarantees of the campaign barring any extreme surprises. However, the likes of Joao Pedro, Cucho Hernandez, and Emmanuel Dennis could prove to explode into fine goalscoring form. All are young players (Dennis the oldest at 23-years-old) who have already shown glimpses of prolific excellence in the early stages of their careers. Will they hit the ground running in the leap to the best domestic league in the world? Maybe. What cannot be denied is they all have the tools to be tremendously successful, so, yet again, there is reason to hold onto hope that the risk of relying on these younger players will pay off. If Joshua King finds his form of old after a lackluster 2020/21 campaign, Watford’s attack could prove to be one of the league’s more formidable forces.

And tactically, Xisco’s relative inexperience can have its positives. Firstly, last season, despite his apparently odd tactics, he got the promotion job done. His newness to coaching also makes him naturally less likely to feel married to a given system, unlike Nigel Pearson who refused to shift away from the 4-2-3-1 when form started to drift in the relegation campaign. So, Xisco will be willing to experiment to find the right formulas when necessary. Again, like most things Watford this season, that could backfire and he may not last the entire season. Nonetheless, the possibility Watford are able to find success trusting him once more is very real. 

The Likely Season Forecast

The two keywords throughout this article have been “can” and “may.” Predicting exactly what will happen is impossible, though speculating about the reasons to hope for the best while bracing for the worst is much easier. 

The likeliest scenario is a couple of the questions surrounding the squad are answered positively while the others have an alarming conclusion. Watford supporters, who have every reason to hope for the best, should expect to be in a tight relegation battle for the majority of the season. Between having players who have the capability to explode into stardom and other teams also being in positions to struggle, the hopes of finishing 17th are real and reasonable. It may be risker to cling to aspirations that the Club will climb up the table. Yet, all things considered, such a mindset is understandable. 

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