Watford currently sit 12th in the Premier League, four points above the relegation zone. However, there is still lots of concern about whether they have what it takes to maintain their top-flight status. In the Expected Points table, the Hornets sit 16th, 0.72 points above the drop zone. The Hornets’ biggest offseason-recruitment overhaul came in the midfield department, an area of the pitch Watford have struggled to dominate. However, Xisco Munoz has an ace up his sleeve who should finally see his first Premier League start.
Ozan Tufan: the Solution to Many of Watford’s Problems
Versatility and Upgrade
Watford signed Ozan Tufan on loan from Fenerbahce with an obligation to buy in the region of £5 million if the Hornets avoid the drop. The 26-year-old is a fan favorite for many of the Turkish giant’s supporters. His international team contribution also leads to him having a large fanbase thanks to making 64 appearances for Turkey, scoring nine goals in the process.
Tufan has made 174 senior appearances for Fenerbahce, as well as 66 appearances for Bursaspor and 19 for Alanyaspor. He has frequently lined up as a number six, number eight, and number ten. He started his career considerably defensive-minded, though he has taken on more advanced positions and improved his attacking acumen in recent years.
Apart from Tufan, the Hornets still have a healthy handful of midfield options. Moussa Sissoko, Juraj Kucka, Tom Cleverley, and Peter Etebo have been preferred by Xisco in the midfield three, with Imran Louza – the Club’s most pricey signing of the summer – only playing 45 league minutes so far. However, none of the other midfielders are what would be widely considered “well rounded.” Most are much better off of the ball – cutting off passing angles, pressing, etc. – than they are when in possession (Louza is the biggest exception, though he has struggled to find his footing in England). Thus, when the Hornets have the ball, the midfield needs to be bypassed in order to pose an attacking threat. Against some teams, the tactics work, but against most, they will not. A midfielder who can provide true stability – someone who can dictate tempo, pull strings, still defend, and more – is needed. The highly-rated Tufan is that man.
His debut in the Carabao Cup against Stoke City showed the composure he brings when on the ball, while he also displayed his creative eye and well-roundedness. The Hornets significantly improved in the clash against Newcastle when Tufan replaced Cleverley. Simply put, an inaugural Premier League start for Tufan against Leeds United next weekend should be on the cards, as Tufan ups the level of the midfield’s play in multiple ways.
Added Attacking Threat
As important as a solid-pressing midfield unit is in a league where Watford will not dominate possession, having to bypass the midfield in all attacks has led to the midfield losing shape and control anyway. A midfield creative force is needed to restore balance.
In Tufan’s final 71 league matches for Fenerbahce, he scored 12 goals and provided 13 assists. In the 2020/21 season, he averaged 0.47 goal contributions per 90 minutes, a remarkable return for any midfielder, and especially for one who still has considerable defensive duties. Thus, Tufan’s attacking résumé in recent years is noteworthy. Despite only coming on for the second half of the match against Newcastle, Tufan’s four chances created were the most of any Watford player.
If Xisco elects to keep Tufan on the bench for the start of the next match, many questions will be asked. From the Hornets undeniably having a better balanced, more useful midfield with Tufan dictating the tempo to his eye for the wonder-goal to his creativity, the potential reasons for keeping him out of the starting eleven are nearly non-existent.