Watford have become notorious for their vicious managerial philosophy. They are about to be on their third manager of the season, fourth manager in the past two campaigns, and seventh manager in the past three seasons. Claudio Ranieri was the most recent victim of the cut-throat Pozzo approach, but the sacking was necessary. So, what went wrong for the Tinkerman?
Underwhelming Options Harmed Ranieri’s Prospects of Success
Despite the Hornets making over one dozen first-team signatures between the summer and January transfer windows, both Xisco Munoz and Ranieri were still tasked with keeping a team in the Premier League that does not necessarily have sufficient Premier League quality.
When Watford were relegated, their midfield contained Etienne Capoue (now a Europa League winner with Villareal), Abdoulaye Doucoure (now at Everton), and Will Hughes (now at Crystal Palace). New-signings Moussa Sissoko and Imran Louza have performed well when called upon, but simply put, the midfield has tremendously downgraded since the Hornets’ last top-flight campaign, putting their midfield unit amongst the league’s worst. Juraj Kucka has not had a positive influence on a match since his Premier League debut, frequently caught walking around the pitch and poorly weighting passes. The same story is the case with Ozan Tufan. Peter Etebo’s injury did not help anyone’s case, but even if he were fit, the midfield would still be a downgrade from a couple of seasons ago by a considerable margin. An aging Tom Cleverley needing to start is not a good sign, while having Dan Gosling still in the squad is mindboggling.
Defensively, the Hornets have been atrocious. They are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league this season. The defensive worries were there for the hierarchy to see even after the impressive Championship season (the Hornets conceded just 30 goals, a joint-Championship record, but they conceded over 17 fewer goals than expected, signaling lots of fortune on their behalf). The only defender signed in the summer transfer window was Danny Rose, whose time at Watford is already up due to his inability to find form. Hassane Kamara and Samir were brought in in January to sure up the backline, but it is too early to tell how much of an impact they will make. Nicolas Nkoulou was brought in as a free-agent, though his injury did not help Ranieri.
Between the sticks, both Ben Foster and Daniel Bachmann have not impressed. Many goals conceded this season could be considered “savable” if a more viable goalkeeper was in net.
The attacking ranks are the only department that appears to be of certain Premier League quality, with a healthy mixture of young talent, explosive stars, and experience.
Overall, Ranieri, like Xisco, simply was given an underwhelming squad to begin with. With so many losses attributed to individual errors and a lack of quality, there is only so much a manager can do. It is impossible to implement tactics when the players make mistakes too frequently in the best domestic league in the world.
Ismaila Sarr Injury
Even though Watford’s attack is top-flight quality, the injury to Ismaila Sarr in the Hornets’ memorable 4-1 victory over Manchester United threw the Club’s season into turmoil. Without their top player for a prolonged period, the scintillating attack lost its most important dimension, leading to an only moderately-threatening frontline spearheading a squad with no creative forces behind it. Thus, Ranieri, Sarr, and all of Watford Football Club, were hard-done-by the injury.
Preseason Program Prevented Proper Implementation of Tactics
Ranieri’s tactics are known: aggression, high pressing, counterattacking, and hassling the other team off of the ball. Nicely stated, too much of the Watford squad was not fit enough to play in such a system for a full ninety minutes every week. Of course, the team members are phenomenal athletes that the average person can only dream of achieving the same fitness levels of. Nonetheless, the Hornets’ preseason under Xisco required a less-demanding regimen than what Ranieri would call for. The implementation of his tactics was tricky due to not having much time to change the methodology and not having sufficient time to train the squad to the proper fitness levels/techniques needed for his tactics.
Despite picking up just seven points in 13 matches, appointing Ranieri was not a bad decision at the time. There were spells of games where the Hornets were a notably better side than they were under Xisco. Ultimately, the underwhelming options are not Ranieri’s fault. Not having sufficient time to train the team to fit his tactics is not Ranieri’s fault. The frequent individual errors are not Ranieri’s fault. Watford needed change, Ranieri provided more discipline and positive football for spans, but he was ultimately let down by the squad the hierarchy gave him. Now, sacking him was necessary, for a manager can only work with the tools they have. Even though Ranieri was not the problem, it grew clear he would not be the solution with the given pieces either.