With fewer than three weeks remaining until the Hornets kick off the season against Aston Villa and a bit over one month until the summer transfer window closes, the hierarchy at Vicarage Road know they need to start thinking about finalizing a 25-man roster. The criteria for a squad list is that under-21 players do not count as a part of the 25 and that there is a maximum of 17 players who are not considered “home-grown.”
After briefly discussing the players who departures seem likely for, a rundown of Watford’s predicted Premier League roster will be made.
Pontus Dahlberg: the 22-year-old shot-stopper has a bright future ahead of him following multiple successful loans since his Watford arrival in 2018. However, with Daniel Bachmann and Ben Foster battling it out for the number one spot, and Rob Elliot extending his Vicarage Road stay to be the third-choice goalkeeper, another loan move is in the cards to give Dahlberg as many first-team minutes as possible.
Marc Navarro: having only made 13 Watford appearances since arriving in 2018 from Espanyol, the time has likely come for the Hornets and Navarro to part ways permanently. With Kiko Femenia and Jeremy Ngakia both ahead of the right-back in the pecking order, it is best for all parties to find the Spaniard a permanent departure.
Tom Dele-Bashiru: the 21-year-old looked as if he was destined to play a big role in the Hornets’ promotion quest until an injury in the fourth match of the season kept him sidelined for the rest of the campaign. The ever-improving youngster will benefit from a loan, preferably to the Championship, to regain fitness and get ready to compete for first-team Watford minutes in the 2022/23 season, regardless of what tier the Hornets are in.
Will Hughes: as unfortunate as it may be for Hornets’ supporters, a Hughes departure seems more probable than not. With a new contract still not being signed, if a reasonable offer comes in, Watford will feel as if they have no choice but to sell. Even with the likes of Imran Louza and Peter Etebo arriving, a replacement for Hughes should continue to be sought.
Andre Gray, Isaac Success, and Stipe Perica: all three fall into the same category. Following the arrivals of Joshua King, Ashley Fletcher, and Emmanuel Dennis, as well as the return of Cucho Hernandez from loan, the Hornets have no shortage of choices in the attack. With a Troy Deeney departure unlikely, especially considering the role he has played in preseason thus far while his true role ahead of next season is still yet to be determined, that leaves these three forwards extremely far down the pecking order. Minutes for all three at Vicarage Road will be few and far between, if not non-existent, so departures for all three, for all parties’ sake, will continue to be searched for.
Predicted Watford Squad List (With Key Notes)
Watford’s Potential 25-Man Roster
(Asterisk [*] denotes home-grown player)
Notable Under-21 Players
Dapo Mebude (expected to be loaned out – hopefully he has a speedy recovery from the injury he sustained against Stevenage)
Mattie Pollock (might be loaned out, though only having four center-backs in the 25-man squad suggests Pollock might stay for depth purposes)
On the predicted 25-man roster above, there are only 24 names. Thus, there is likely to be room for one more over-21 signature (perhaps the Will Hughes replacement or a fifth center-back). Meeting the home-grown quota is not going to be an issue, so targets from any league, as long as work-permit requirements are met, are able to arrive. A Philip Zinckernagel departure is also not entirely out of the question, so if he departs (as is the case if anyone else on the predicted over-21 roster does), two signings could be made.
As has been the case for a couple of weeks now, the Hornets’ transfer business is far from over. The last new pair of boots are likely yet to set foot in Hertfordshire. However, a significant influx of departures will be taking place between now and August 31st.
Watford’s recent announcement of their 2021/22 home kit coincided with the revealing of their new shirt sponsor. Resting across much of the front of the kit is a logo reading “Stake.com,” a Curacao-based online cryptocurrency casino. The crypto casino and Watford have struck a multi-year partnership agreement which has the potential to explode into the Club’s most valuable sponsorship deal. This transaction, however, is unlike most other sponsorship agreements to date. In partnering with a crypto casino, Watford themselves might have wagered a huge bet, one which could (if placed) pay immense dividends.
DISCLAIMER: this article is not intending to give financial advice. The purpose of writing this is to analyze both sides to a gamble Watford might be taking. If you are thinking of putting money into cryptocurrency, do lots of research on your own and weigh up your options before making a responsible decision. Do not let this article be the reason you choose/lean one way or the other.
The Chips Potentially on the Table
According to Adam Leventhal of The Athletic, the initial payment Stake.com has given Watford is around £5 million with performance bonuses. The report further said if Watford avoid relegation this season, then Stake.com will be paying Watford in excess of £6 million, thus beating the previous club-record sponsorship deal which Sportsbet.io had with the Hornets for both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 campaign.
The official Watford website says the agreement was “paid for in cryptocurrency.” That is where there is uncertainty, as it remains to be seen whether Watford immediately transferred the money into fiat money or kept it in the form of cryptocurrency. Both scenarios are analyzed in this article. If kept in cryptocurrency, the figure could potentially crash to zero, though it could also tremendously multiply. As in, simply explained, the £5 million worth of cryptocurrency Watford were paid, if they did not transfer the money into pound sterling, is unlikely to stay at a value of exactly £5 million.
The exact cryptocurrency the Club accepted is unclear, though considering the Club website highlighted how Stake.com accounted for “over five per cent of Bitcoin transactions worldwide” and Bitcoin’s popularity, it would not be a shock if Bitcoin was the cryptocurrency of choice (or a mix of Bitcoin and other large players in the cryptocurrency world for portfolio diversity purposes).
Watford Have Encountered Cryptocurrency Before
Before diving further into the forecast for Watford’s potential cryptocurrency investment/gamble/risk, it is important to note the Hornets have previously tapped into the world of cryptocurrency. In the 2019/20 campaign, the Hornets’ sleeve sponsor was indeed Bitcoin. The Club have also accepted Bitcoin as a way to purchase hospitality boxes and exclusive merchandise, as well as offered billboard-shoutout opportunities activated by cryptocurrency (as per Oliver Knight). Watford even previously launched a Bitcoin education website.
So, for the past few years, the Club has kept a close eye on the decentralized finance market. But, if the Club is to keep the money in the form of cryptocurrency and make the wager, is that a wise choice? Should they keep the money in crypto form?
Simply put, if the money is kept in the form of cryptocurrency, the £5 million could theoretically be worth nothing in the future. While that scenario is virtually impossible, what is important to mention is that this theoretical gamble, like all bets, could end up costing Watford heavily (for the Club, millions of pounds). This is also the case when someone invests in stocks or puts money partially out of their control.
The hierarchy at Watford, of course, are not blindly putting their sponsorship money in the cryptocurrency market and just hoping for the best if that is the path they have chosen. Lots of analysis and research would have been done in deciding to accept the sponsorship money in the form of cryptocurrency and not transferring it to fiat money immediately.
The Club are taking a long-term view of the cryptocurrency market if they make the decision to hold the cryptocurrency. In a three-month span this year, the price of one Bitcoin crashed from over £45,000 to just over £20,000. If Watford are taking a short-term look at the cryptocurrency market (as other cryptocurrencies followed similar behavior as Bitcoin), all they will see is risky volatility. What will happen to the value of cryptocurrencies on a day-to-day basis is anyone’s guess.
If Watford are looking to make quick returns on a cryptocurrency investment, then that would be poor, risky money management. If Watford are only aiming to cash out in the distant future, then such a gamble is more reasonable to make.
On January 1st, 2010, one Bitcoin was worth seven pennies. Two years later, £3.83. Two years later, £559.64. Two years later, £315.59. Two years later, in 2018, £9,742.46. The following year, £2,810.69. On January 1st, 2020, one Bitcoin was worth £5,221.52. At the time of writing, the value of one Bitcoin is £23,523.19 (note: exchange rates are using present exchange rates from Bitcoin to US dollar, then US dollar to British pounds. Source of Bitcoin prices mentioned before is linked here). Even with the value of Bitcoin (and many other major cryptocurrencies as they tend to follow similar trends to Bitcoin) being extremely volatile, in the long run, the one clear direction it has gone in is up.
Such trends are expected to continue in the long run. Short-term volatility is impossible to predict, so Watford would be foolish to take such a near-sighted approach. The long-run value of Bitcoin is expected to increase by many experts. A recent article by Forbes maintains a super-bullish view on Bitcoin. While mentioning many sources who are extremely optimistic about the future of cryptocurrency, they also cited analyst Vetle Lunde of Arcane Crypto Research who predicts, like many other experts, that the price of one Bitcoin will exceed $300,000 (£218,000) by the end of 2025. If that 2025 price prediction comes true (this is a hypothetical scenario, not at all a fact/guarantee), the £5 million will be worth, if all in Bitcoin, nearly £50 million. Whether this scenario unfolds as predicted (or anywhere near the prediction) remains to be seen and is impossible to precisely forecast. Bitcoinprice.com also shows lots of positive price predictions by experts in the field.
Still, there are no guarantees in the cryptocurrency world. The experts can be wrong as they have sometimes been in the past. If the value of cryptocurrencies were guaranteed to go up, everyone (and every team) would have their money in it. So yes, there is a chance the £5 million, even in the long term, loses value. But, if the Club has elected to keep the money in the form of cryptocurrency, it is not impossible to understand why. There is considerable risk involved, though any bet made would have been carefully calculated. Nonetheless, this is a path the Club should continue to actively reconsider if they have already started walking down it.
Why the Potential Gamble Is Probably Not Worth It
Even if in the long run, the prices of cryptocurrencies go up, Watford cannot become a crypto hedge fund with a football team as a money-making side business. Especially considering the massive financial losses from the COVID year, having money now is better than gambling money in an infant market for later. £5 million up-front is a sum hard to turn away from.
What the COVID campaign for football also showed is that there is no way to predict when a financially-harmful event will suddenly occur. If Watford were to keep the money in Bitcoin and a COVID-esque event abruptly happened again and money needed to be withdrawn, even in the long run, there is a solid chance the value of Bitcoin in the given moment will be less than what it presently is. There is no way to predict the market cycles for the times fiat money will spontaneously be needed.
The bottom line is players need to be paid in real money. The Club needs real money. The future of cryptocurrencies is exciting and could maybe lead to lots of regret for those who did not hop on the train. Regardless, the Club, especially for now, need to be in a place where they know their funds and can rely on an exact monetary value at any given time. Who knows when the Club will need this £5 million? Who knows what the future of cryptocurrency truly holds? What we do know is necessary, now more than ever, is that financial certainty is pivotal to operating a football club.
If the hierarchy feels super confident in keeping the money in the form of cryptocurrency, then there is tremendous risk involved. But, as has been proven since 2012, Gino Pozzo and Co. are experts at managing the Club’s money, so fans can rest assured that they will choose the path which is the safest, and thus the best, for Watford Football Club.
Last summer, Watford sold Luis Javier Suarez and Pervis Estupinan for a combined sum of over £20 million. Both players came to Europe via a Pozzo-owned club, found their way to Watford, but did not play any competitive minutes for the Club. The Hornets were able to make a tremendous profit on the two South Americans by loaning them out to increase their transfer value. Cucho Hernandez once appeared to be on the same path as Suarez and Estupinan. However, he now is getting the chance to shine at Vicarage Road, a gamble that has a solid chance at hitting the jackpot.
Cucho Hernandez Has Already Proven Himself Abroad
The Colombian turned 22 in April. Despite his young age, he has still already played considerable minutes across three La Liga campaigns. His top-flight campaigns came after a 16-goal, six-assist Spanish second-tier 2017/18 campaign with SD Huesca.
As he played a pivotal role in their promotion and Watford did not have any reason to recall him at the time, SD Huesca were able to keep hold of Cucho for the second year of the two-year loan. In 34 appearances, Cucho scored four goals and provided three assists. His goals came against Barcelona, Villareal, Valencia, and Real Madrid. He underperformed his Expected Goals (Xg) statistic by 8.18 goals. The statistic may appear worrisome at face value, though he was still a teenager in his inaugural major top-flight season. He can also take some credit for his high Xg statistic by having commendable positional awareness to be in the right spots in the first place.
The following season was much better for Cucho, who earned himself another La Liga loan, this time to RCD Mallorca. He missed the first 15 matches of the season with an injury, but in 17 starts, he scored five goals, overperforming his Xg statistic by 0.61. His impressive performances earned him yet another La Liga loan for the 2020/21 campaign, this time to a more noteworthy side.
Unfortunately for Cucho, his loan to Getafe was also blemished by injuries. Nonetheless, in 18 starting appearances, he scored twice and contributed three assists. His performances when fit were good enough for Getafe to reportedly want to keep tabs on whether extending his loan for another season was an option.
Now, Cucho is a part of Watford’s first-team preseason, scoring a goal in a friendly against Colchester United. He is destined to play a role in Watford’s Premier League return as the hierarchy feels the time is right for Cucho to finally get a chance at Vicarage Road.
Ideal Option Who Will Only Continue to Improve
How well Cucho will do in his inaugural Premier League season is not the easiest of predictions. Considering the number of other attacking options on the Hornets’ books, there is no shortage of competition for the starting positions. With the likes of Emmanuel Dennis and Joshua King arriving, the Watford hierarchy are making sure that if one player is out of form, there are multiple solid players ready to fill in. Cucho will want frequent starting minutes, as he received in La Liga, though that is not a guarantee. Regardless, he is destined to play a considerable number of minutes and has what it takes to earn a starting spot in multiple positions.
Even though Cucho has played the majority of his career as a centre-forward, he has also found success on the wings. In 17 career matches as a winger, he has scored six goals and provided four assists. With the Hornets’ left-wing starting role up for grabs and Ismaila Sarr set to miss time in January due to AFCON participation, Cucho has ample chances to claim minutes on the wings. He has already proven himself as capable of playing in wide positions.
If deployed centrally, he will provide a type of forward Watford desperately need. The Hornets will likely be on the back foot more often than not in the upcoming season, meaning they will need even their attackers to help out in defense. Cucho has already had plenty of experience playing for relegation-fighting sides, meaning he knows the type of defensive play he will need to provide when on the pitch.
Even last season, the statistics show Cucho is talented when it comes to tracking back. Of all forwards in the major five leagues last season, he was above the 90th percentile for both pressures per 90 (minutes) and tackles per 90, including being in the 99th percentile for tackles in the middle third of the pitch with 0.92 tackles per 90. He was in the 89th percentile for blocks per 90.
Not only does Cucho guarantee an attacker who will bust his socks off to get back and defend, for he is also adept at spurring counterattacks. Considering the type of football Watford will need to play next season, including more counterattacks and less time on the ball in comparison to last season, such proclivities are needed throughout the starting eleven. He averaged 5.83 progressive carries per 90 last season, ranking in the 91st percentile of forwards. This shows his ability to drop in deep, defend, and carry the ball forward to shift from defensive phases to attacking phases. Cucho’s above-par pace means he will be able to provide support for Sarr when the Club’s record-signing is bursting forward.
Cucho for sure has lots to work on. His true in-game finishing abilities are still something of a question mark. With lots of competition, considerable starting minutes is not by any means a guarantee. But when played, Xisco Munoz will know he has an attacker who perfectly encourages counterattacks while still always tracking back to defend when other teams are on attacking onslaughts. Sometimes strikers can be “luxury players” who only play as if their sole purpose is to score. Cucho provides much more, in necessary ways, than just a goalscoring threat. And if King, for example, claims the starting centre-forward spot and someone else claims the starting left-wing role, Cucho will be the perfect super-substitute to steady the ship or provide a spark later on in matches. If Cucho’s finishing abilities continue to improve, he could eventually become a consistent name in the starting eleven and amongst Watford’s top scorers, either in this season or in campaigns to come.
After countless transfer rumours arose surrounding potential strikers arriving at Vicarage Road ahead of Watford’s return to the Premier League, the Hornets finally seem to have their desired central-forward force. Emmanuel Dennis was brought in as a speedy attacker able to compete for minutes both centrally and out wide. Cucho Hernandez looks likely to finally make his Vicarage Road debut after four seasons on loan in Spain. 19-year-old Joao Pedro will look to add to his bright start in English football following a nine-goal Championship campaign. Troy Deeney will still want to play a big role in the Hornets’ first season back in the top flight if fitness and form permits. However, Joshua King, Watford’s most recent signing, is the likeliest to be the Club’s most prolific central-forward.
King’s Path to Royalty
The 29-year-old started his career in his home nation of Norway with Valerenga before moving to Manchester United’s youth setup in 2008. He debuted for the Red Devils as a 17-year-old in 2009 in the EFL Cup. His other Manchester United senior-squad appearance came three seasons later in a Champions League clash against Galatasaray.
He earned loan moves to Preston, Borussia Monchengladbach, Hull City, and Blackburn before ultimately being sold permanently to the latter. His first full season with Blackburn (the 2013/14 campaign) saw King score twice and provide six assists in 31 appearances. After a lackluster following season, Bournemouth secured his signature in a free transfer upon their promotion to the Premier League.
The gamble on King proved to be a masterstroke. In the 2015/16 campaign, King scored seven times and tallied four assists across 35 matches in all competitions. The following season saw King win the 2017 Gullballen – the best Norwegian footballer award – by scoring 16 goals in the 2016/17 Premier League campaign. He tremendously outperformed his Xg statistic that season by a margin of 5.18 goals.
He outperformed his Xg statistic again the following season, scoring eight league goals as well as providing three assists. His 12 goals in the 2018/19 top-flight campaign were noteworthy despite his slight underperformance in regard to the Xg statistic. King contributed six goals and four assists in Bournemouth’s relegation season.
He did not accumulate many minutes in the 2020/21 campaign as he was actively seeking a move away and was injured for much of the first half of the season before Bournemouth offloaded him to Everton for funds/wage relief. Under Carlo Ancelotti, King was viewed as a depth player, making 11 substitute appearances.
Across 172 career Premier League appearances, King has scored 48 goals and averages one goal contribution per 194 minutes. Watford securing his services in a free transfer comes just one summer after Bournemouth rejected a £13.5 million bid from West Ham United (according to Adam Leventhal of The Athletic) for his signature. He has also made 54 appearances for Norway, scoring 17 times.
Reliable Goal-Scorer Who Provides New Dimensions to the Attack
King is a proven Premier League goal-scorer, yet he is not in the swan song of his career either. Despite his disappointing recent campaign, there were many external factors contributing to the lack of playing time. When fit and settled at Bournemouth, he was consistently reliable and a threat to opposition backlines. Two double-digit goal seasons and four Premier League seasons with double-digit goal contributions provide proof he should do at least “well enough” at Vicarage Road.
Unlike younger strikers, his ceiling for success is capped, though his floor is higher. And, for lack of better terms, Watford “know what they are going to get” with King. He is not going to be the one to shock everyone and score 20 goals, but if played with consistency, he will more than likely, at the very minimum, come close to double digits.
In a system with Ismaila Sarr to his right, King may very well find himself scoring 10+ times if played frequently. King provides a pacey attacking option. Watford will need to play counterattacking football on many occasions next season, and between Sarr and King (and even Dennis depending on the role he will play), there is more than enough pace and talent to pose a threat to any backline, especially on counterattacks. Such pace in the center of the attack will be pivotal in supporting Sarr when he makes his blistering runs forward, and King will be the man in the box to receive Sarr’s service – deliveries that cannot frequently happen with slower forwards incapable of outpacing the defense’s retreat.
King is also characterized by his ball-carrying ability, allowing for fluidity in the attack and forcing the opposition backline out of shape. Xisco Munoz’s wide-focused attacking tactics in the promotion campaign typically took the form of fullbacks making runs forward and lots of attacking movements starting along the touchline. King offers a new dimension to Watford’s wide play, as the wingers will now be able to make more diagonal runs infield when King forces backline disorganization rather than having to stick close to the byline to receive the ball. If Deeney returns to his talented form of old, King would provide a perfect complement in a strike partnership (as Deeney historically performs much better alongside a quick, talented-dribbling partner as opposed to being the lone forward).
Whether Xisco opts for center-forward rotation on a match-by-match basis or gives King consistent starts remains to be seen. If utilized correctly – which means frequent starts – King will likely prove to once more be a reliable goal-scorer capable of assisting a team to steer clear of the drop.
When Watford achieved promotion in 2015, the summer transfer window saw them bring in upwards of 15 players to bolster the Club’s prospects of safety. The clear-out-and-replace approach is often risky, with a recent example of the method backfiring being provided by 2018/19 Fulham, who spent in the region of £100 million on new players just to ultimately be relegated. For the Watford of six years ago, the strategy worked. The Hornets have been similarly busy thus far in this transfer window, though this time, the focus is perfectly balanced between both the present and the distant future. With nine new names already through the door for the first team, and a handful of others destined for time with the youth ranks, now is the opportune time to analyze each senior-squad arrival before Watford have to offload names from their books.
Kwadwo Baah: 18-year-old Baah signed for Watford following an impressive campaign with Rochdale. The versatile attacker – who primarily lined up as an inverted left-winger – scored three goals and provided two assists in 30 League One appearances, averaging one goal contribution per 270 minutes. The youngster nearly moved to Manchester City in January until complications at the final stage of the transfer made the deal fall through. Considering other top clubs were vying for his signature, such as Bayern Munich and Juventus, bringing him in was wise business. Whether he will make an instant impact remains to be seen. The most likely scenario is he is loaned to a top-half League One or Championship side to further his development. Regardless of what league Watford find themselves in in the future, Baah is a player who will provide a significant talent boost when he is first-team ready.
Mattie Pollock: like Baah, Pollock’s arrival occurs with an eye on the distant future. Watford do not want to be left without a firm foundation if relegation occurs again. Pollock, a consistent starter for League Two Grimsby Town (when fit) last season and one of the fourth-tier’s best aerial defenders, may also only have a minimal impact at Vicarage Road this upcoming season. The 19-year-old will likely go on loan to a similar calibre side as Baah. With Ben Wilmot going to Stoke City, Pollock may be viewed as his long-term replacement. There is a chance Pollock stays for the next campaign despite limited minutes, however, as the Hornets currently only have four other senior center-backs.
Imran Louza: currently Watford’s most expensive signing of the summer by a considerable margin (costing around £8.5 million), the expectations for one of FC Nantes’ many phenomenal midfield products are high. The left-footed midfielder will likely occupy the advanced-left-midfield position if Xisco Munoz is to utilize the 4-1-4-1 variation of the 4-3-3 as he did with success in the final stretch of the recent promotion campaign. Louza has a good eye for goal while more notably being excellent at playing between the lines and transitioning defensive phases of play into attacking phases. The already-talented 22-year-old will only continue to improve and could very well be sold on for tremendous profit by Watford sometime in the future; that is the potential and ability Louza possesses.
Ashley Fletcher: the former Manchester United youth player joined Watford in a free transfer after his time with Middlesbrough concluded. His career has been stop-start, thanks to both injuries and poor patches of form. He was once amongst some of England’s most highly-rated attacking youngsters, earning an England U20 appearance. The high expectations were not met for the most part, though 20 goal contributions across all competitions in the 2019/20 season for Middlesbrough suggest Fletcher still has lots to offer if form is found. Averaging one goal contribution per 167 minutes over the past two campaigns, Fletcher will freshen up the Hornets’ attacking depth, albeit considerable starting minutes do not seem in the cards barring any significant, unexpected turn of events.
Danny Rose: When Jose Mourinho iced out Luke Shaw at Manchester United, many people thought Shaw was to blame for poor form and his frequent expulsion from the squad. When Mourinho and Shaw went different paths, Shaw proved to be one of the best left-backs in the world. Watford fans will be hoping Rose’s detachment from Mourinho will bring about a similar change in fortunes. Before Mourinho’s arrival at Tottenham, Rose was widely accepted as one of the league’s best left-backs, earning spots in both the 2015/16 and 2016/17 PFA Premier League Team of the Seasons. Rose’s absence from first-team football for over 12 months mixed with competition from Adam Masina means starting minutes are not guaranteed. However, signing Rose in a free transfer is a low-risk, high-reward deal, guaranteeing both left-back depth and starting competition. If Rose gets back to anywhere near his best, Xisco will have a player who perfectly embodies the overlap-looking, inch-perfect cross-delivering fullback his attacking tactics call for.
Emmanuel Dennis: most transfers occur after at least a few rumours have swirled about the player joining. Dennis is a rare anomaly in the sense that few, and perhaps zero, Watford fans had any idea he was under consideration by the Club until the moment he was announced. The 23-year-old, who scored a brace for Club Brugge at the Santiago Bernabeu, will provide firm starting competition for both the left-wing and center-forward spots. Following a nine-goal, two-assist campaign in 2019/20, the Belgian side rejected a £15 million bid from Arsenal for his signature. His 12-goal, five-assist 2017/18 season suggests Dennis has what it takes to be a threatening goal-scorer at the top level with the right attitude. Considering his age and cut-rate transfer fee (between £3-4 million), the Hornets were wise to bring in the attacking talent whose rapid pace can perfectly compliment Ismaila Sarr’s in scintillating counterattacks.
Dapo Mebude: the 19-year-old Scottish attacker’s signature falls under the same category as Pollock’s and Baah’s. The Hornets truly are forming a talented youth core to step in soon if relegation occurs or later on down the line if this return to the Premier League is prolonged. Mebude made his Rangers’ debut in the May of 2019. He spent a portion of last season on loan with Queen of the South FC in the Scottish second tier, scoring two goals in 11 appearances. A loan move for Mebude would be optimal for the upcoming campaign, though it would not be a shock if the coaching staff decided to have him play matches with the Watford youth ranks and train with the first team before making a better-informed decision in January.
Peter Etebo: the Super Eagles player joins Watford on loan from Stoke City. However, just because he is coming from a Championship side, that does not mean he is not top-flight quality. In fact, the energetic midfielder, who is highly rated by many Stoke supporters, will likely be in the starting conversation for the Hornets next season. The versatile 25-year-old performed admirably well for Galatasaray last campaign, showing similar form to what he showed in the 2018 World Cup which put him on many clubs’ radars. Besides, as he is only on loan, the transfer was perfect for not spending unnecessary funds but still bringing in a wanted – and perhaps needed depending on the progress of Chalobah and Hughes’ respective contract negotiations – midfielder capable of filling multiple roles.
Joshua King: Sarr was the only Hornet with double-digit goals last season. Joao Pedro’s nine goals were impressive for a 19-year-old, though his so-so run of form at the end of the campaign provided a reminder the Hornets need to add more central-attacking threat to maximize chances at survival. Even with Cucho Hernandez returning from loan and set to finally get a chance at Vicarage Road, the hierarchy knows a guarantee of goals is needed, rather than just riskier gambles. King, a proven Premier League goal-scorer who is still 29-years-old, arrives as a free agent. He scored double-digit goals in the 2016/17 and 2018/19 seasons for Bournemouth, and he still contributed an impressive number in the Cherries’ three other Premier League seasons pre-relegation. Despite spending the second half of last season on Everton’s bench, King’s goal-scoring talents are widely known. The low-risk nature of the free transfer for the proven goal-scorer who will provide immediate starting competition makes King’s arrival another piece of shrewd business. King will not be the player to surprisingly score 20, though if played with consistency, he will certainly flirt with double digits.
Many more pieces need to be moved in the summer transfer window for Watford. Even though the wave of arrivals means departures are inevitable, the Hornets will still be looking for players who will improve the squad for the right price. Two things are for certain regardless of what occurs between now and deadline day: 1) Watford’s squad has more depth, especially in the attack, than they did in their last Premier League campaign where a false sense of security in squad depth led to catastrophe when any first-choice player was injured and 2) the Hornets are preparing for a bright, sustainable future, one which can be achieved regardless of future tier.
Upon Watford’s relegation from the Premier League, the Club knew they would need to fill the holes left by departing stars. Abdoulaye Doucoure transferred to Everton before the season kicked off. The Hornets even announced on the official club website that Etienne Capoue handed in a transfer request. Will Hughes’ future at Vicarage Road was uncertain. And so, to alleviate the potential midfield crisis, the Hornets loaned in James Garner.
Garner’s Rise in Manchester
The England U20 international team player made his Premier League debut for Manchester United on February 27th, 2019, playing in the final minute of a 3-1 victory against Crystal Palace. However, Garner seriously started to turn heads in the following campaign.
The now 20-year-old appeared in 10 Premier League 2 matches in the 2019/20 season. Despite playing in his preferred defensive-midfield position (a Michael Carrick-esque role), Garner scored eight times. This effectively proved that Garner was too talented to only be plying his trade at the Premier League 2 level, as any defensive midfielder scoring eight times in 10 matches is unheard-of. Thus, he frequently trained with the first team and even appeared in six matches with the senior squad.
His most notable performances, putting him on the radar of many clubs hoping to secure a signature such as his on a temporary basis in the future, came in the Europa League. He started three group stage matches and came off the bench in another. On the pitch, he showed tremendous discipline, intelligence, and technicality. This is when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s claim he could be the “next Michael Carrick” came back into the spotlight.
The Truth About Garner’s Time at Watford
The Hornets loaned in Garner without an option to buy on September 18th. Watford viewed Garner as a player capable of filling a starting role vacated by a departure, the Red Devils determined a loan to a promotion-competing side offering starting minutes would be perfect for Garner’s development, and the player himself knew the value the loan could have. The season-long loan only lasted until January, but that is not to say Garner’s time at Watford did not show any signs of promise.
There were for sure parts to his game that required considerable improvement. The physical Championship style of play seemed to trouble Garner to start with. He did not always brim with confidence as he did in his senior appearances at Old Trafford. He occasionally tried holding onto the ball for too long or was indecisive.
Still, positive signs were present. In the matches where he was full of confidence, such as in Watford’s 3-2 victory over Coventry City, he played smart passes between the lines and made encouraging dribbles forward. Consistency at Watford was not his best friend, though saying his time at Vicarage was solely characterized by struggling to adapt to the second-tier style of play would be more than just harsh.
What must also be taken into consideration is how Vladimir Ivic’s tactics saw Garner (as well as other players) not playing in their strongest positions. In the 5-3-2 formation Ivic started the season with, the Carrick-esque role was not available for Garner. In Ivic’s experimented 4-4-2, there were no defensive-midfield roles. When Ivic called for a 4-1-4-1 against Birmingham City, Chalobah was given the defensive-midfield role while Garner played in a more creative-midfield position.
When Xisco Munoz was announced as head coach, Garner’s job as a frequent name in the starting eleven was taken away. Between Xisco opting for more experienced players (which also saw him drop Jeremy Ngakia and Ben Wilmot from the starting conversation) and Will Hughes’ return to full fitness, the prospects of Garner seeing considerable game time were dim. After the loan was terminated – a loan where Garner was not frequently played to his strengths, still showed need to improve, but portrayed signs of tremendous potential – he was sent to a club further down the Championship table.
Impressed at Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest wasted no time securing Garner’s services for the second half of the season. With the reputable Chris Hughton at the helm offering him consistent starter’s minutes in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Red Devils were happy to let Garner continue to develop in the Championship.
Even though his time at Watford was decent but not jaw-dropping, his spell at Nottingham Forest saw an undeniable uptick in performances. This is likely a mixture of simply having more experience thanks to his time at Vicarage Road and finally playing in a system calling for him to start in his preferred, deeper-lying midfield role.
His performances were improved (except for a quiet match against, ironically, Watford), leading Garner to start 19 of his 20 games at Nottingham Forest, helping the team steer far clear of relegation despite their rough start to the season.
Is He Really the Next Michael Carrick?
Garner is a talented youngster with tremendous knowledge of the sport and now a season of experience as a starter in the world’s best second tier. Whether or not he is destined to be the next Carrick, however, remains to be seen. He for sure has a long way to go to reach that mark, though the tools, such as technicality and intelligence, are present. Even when played out of position at Watford, he showed an eagerness to adapt regardless, a mindset not present in all young talents.
He is almost certainly going to be a consistent top-flight player in the future as he already proved himself in the Championship at the age of 20. Is he Big Six worthy? Well, he still needs to improve which, admittedly, is an achievable task well within his abilities. Give Garner time and he has the potential to shine. Whether or not he will at the highest level remains to be seen.
Watford signed Philip Zinckernagel at the start of the recent January transfer window in a free transfer. His English move followed a season where he starred in a record-shattering FK Bodo/Glimt side, scoring 19 goals and contributing 24 assists in just 28 appearances in the Norwegian top flight. The right winger by trade was primarily deployed in a creative central midfield role for the Hornets, tallying one goal and five assists in 21 appearances across all competitions (averaging one goal contribution per 165 minutes).
With Zinckernagel being a versatile player and talented chance creator but Watford’s record-signing Ismaila Sarr occupying his preferred position, what roles could the 26-year-old play for the Golden Boys next season?
If Zinckernagel is mainly viewed as a right winger, the reality is that unless an unexpected Sarr departure occurs, the Dane would be his understudy. However, with AFCON running from January 9th to February 6th, Zinckernagel should get starting opportunities in his favorite role. He also is the one who will come into the starting eleven if Sarr has to miss more time for other reasons, such as knocks or rest purposes.
Zinckernagel will likely not be content with a backup role. The Club also knows a player with his creative eye should not be relegated to consistent bench minutes. Thus, they may look to play him elsewhere on the pitch as they did successfully last season.
Zinckernagel lined up as a left winger in his Watford debut against Manchester United in the FA Cup, showing glimpses of how dangerous his intricate dribbling can be to a defender in wide positions. His cross-delivered assist to Francisco Sierralta against Rotherham came at the end of a move where Zinckernagel found himself drifting into a wide-left position.
The Hornets’ left-winger scenario is still uncertain with transfers rumoured for reinforcements, Ken Sema not necessarily being a 38-match starter, and Joao Pedro and Cucho Hernandez both potentially challenging for minutes in the position. Zinckernagel could be viewed as yet another name able to provide starting competition to alleviate the necessity of bringing in a new left winger.
Right Center Midfielder
If Zinckernagel’s role for the Hornets involves playing in the heart of the pitch again, Xisco Munoz’s tactics will have a huge say in his positional assignment. If Xisco once more elects to opt for the 4-1-4-1 variation of the 4-3-3 he conjured to spearhead the Hornets’ push for promotion, then Zinckernagel’s role will still require a considerable amount of defensive responsibility. He would more likely play as the right center midfielder in the 4-1-4-1 because of his right-wing abilities when overlapping runs are made and the arrival of left-footed Imran Louza signaling the Frenchman will likely be the left center midfielder.
Starting minutes in this position, unfortunately for Zinckernagel, are also far from a guarantee. The fact of the matter is even though the former teammate of Jens Peter Hauge appears to have sufficient qualities to perform well in the Premier League, Gino Pozzo, Scott Duxbury, and Co. know they need to have much more than just eleven starting-quality players. Zinckernagel, if viewed as a central midfielder, will still, as of now, have to compete with Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah, Imran Louza, Tom Cleverley, Dan Gosling, Domingos Quina, and Tom Dele-Bashiru. Even if the transfer window shuffles some of those players elsewhere, such as Hughes and/or Chalobah whose respective contracts expire next season, other midfield arrivals are expected to fill in the departing boots.
Center Attacking Midfielder
Like the other roles, Zinckernagel will have plenty of competition regardless of the position he is asked to play, such as potentially the number 10 role if Xisco elects to play the 4-3-3 with one true attacking midfielder (shaping up more like a 4-2-3-1 formation). This is the role Zinckernagel is best suited to centrally, as the defensive duty is more limited, and he has more creative freedom. His assist to Andre Gray against Wycombe Wanderers shows the intricate creativity he can provide from the center of the pitch. But again, there will be plenty of competition for the number 10 role if Xisco elects for a formation requiring one.
Most starting positions at Vicarage Road for next season are up in the air for players (or future arrivals) to stake their claim as a starter. The exact side fielded to play Aston Villa on August 14th is still impossible for even Xisco himself to predict.
Zinckernagel, if only viewed as useful in his most natural position, will be seen as Sarr’s backup. However, if the Club continues to utilize Zinckernagel in more innovative ways, he will most likely fall into the category of a useful rotational player able to fill multiple positions. And, as previously mentioned, when Sarr is on international duty with Senegal at AFCON, Zinckernagel will get his spotlight matches in the position where he has found the majority of his career’s success.
Watford players not currently on international duty have begun preseason training. This includes players returning from loans. Domingos Quina will now get the chance to impress Xisco Munoz after the 21-year-old’s loan to Granada meant the Spanish head coach never got to see him deployed in his system.
Ready For Premier League Action
Quina made his West Ham United senior debut in a Europa League qualifying match as a 16-year-old. Through the course of that 2016/17 campaign, he sat on the first-team bench for 12 Premier League matches. The following season, the 2017/18 campaign, Quina started an EFL Cup quarterfinal match against Arsenal and continued to find himself frequently in the top-flight match-day squad.
When Watford signed Quina for £1 million on deadline day in the summer of 2018, there was plenty of buzz surrounding his signature. He announced himself to the Hornets’ faithful in style with a wondergoal against Reading in the EFL Cup. Another sublime strike against Cardiff City in one of his eight Premier League appearances that season further stirred excitement about the youngster.
His 2019/20 season saw him play just 18 Premier League minutes as the Hornets were fighting relegation the entire season, leading to the men in charge opting to play the more experienced players. When Watford could not fend off the drop, people expected Quina to play a pivotal role in the Hornets’ push for promotion, as the move to the Championship and departure of Abdoulaye Doucoure spelled the perfect moment for the Portuguese youth international to break into the starting eleven consistently.
He indeed played a significantly increased number of minutes under Vladimir Ivic. However, he was frequently deployed as a left-midfielder. When he was placed in a more natural central position, his attacking influence was hindered by Ivic’s unpopularly unexpansive style of play. When a hamstring injury coincided with Xisco’s appointment as head coach, the new gaffer did not see Quina play as he was conjuring his preferred starting eleven. So, when the transfer window neared a close, Quina was not part of Xisco’s plans at no fault of either of the two’s own.
A loan move to Granada was questionable because Quina still seemed to be a player who could be of tremendous importance to Watford, especially when lots of injuries hit (this was the first Quina conundrum). He wound up making eight appearances with Granada, scoring two phenomenal goals in the process.
At just 21 years old, Quina has played first-team football at a high level across five seasons. His finesse, fancy footwork, ability to produce a goal out of nothing (as he also did in a preseason friendly against Tottenham in the summer of 2020), and experience suggests he is ready to make the leap to increased top-flight first-team minutes. However, there is not a clear path for consistent starting minutes, posing the newest Quina conundrum.
-*NEW WATFORD OPINIONS PODCAST EPISODE: The New Quina Conundrum. Head over to Spotify or Google Podcasts to listen to the latest episode of the Watford Opinions Podcast which goes into even further detail about the latest dilemma about Quina, including how the transfer window has already impacted his potential Premier League minutes.*-
Watford Must Tread Carefully
In the very early stages of Quina’s career, he played in the six, eight, and ten roles in the midfield, as well as making a few Premier League 2 appearances as a left-midfielder (which explains his deployment there under Ivic). Quina, however, undoubtedly performs the best in creative, advanced central-midfield roles. Quina himself even echoed this notion in a recent interview with the Watford Observer.
Other central midfielders under contract by Watford for next season are Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah, Tom Cleverley, Dan Gosling, Philip Zinckernagel (a winger by trade who can play as a creative midfielder), Tom Dele-Bashiru, and talented new-signing Imran Louza. Rumours have been swirling about Watford eyeing even more midfielders such as Lewis Ferguson, Seko Fofana, and Glen Kamara. Some central midfielders will likely be sent elsewhere due to there not being a need to have that many players in that position under contract. Perhaps Quina will eventually be viewed as one of the surplus players.
When looking at the list of players under contract, Quina is the only natural number 10 (with Zinckernagel capable of playing there slightly unorthodoxly as well). If Xisco elects to utilize a 4-2-3-1 variation of the 4-3-3, a need for a number 10 like Quina is present. Quina could be viewed as the first or second choice player for the advanced midfield role if he impresses during preseason. However, if Xisco chooses to more frequently deploy his preferred 4-1-4-1 variation of the 4-3-3, a true number 10 is not necessary. The left advanced midfield role is destined to be occupied by Louza. The defensive midfield role is likely to be Hughes’s or Chalobah’s. The right advanced midfield position could belong to the other Englishman not placed in the six role, while there are still many other top-flight quality options available to fulfill that role too.
So, depending on the tactics Xisco tries to drill in, Quina’s minutes can vary greatly. If he does not get the minutes he desires or breaking into the first team becomes near impossible due to the sheer magnitude of other talented midfielders present, the Hornets should then try to loan him out again. But Quina might not want to be sent out temporarily once more. He could very well only want starting top-flight minutes at his permanent location.
The Watford hierarchy have a tough decision to make when it comes to Quina, for as nice as keeping him regardless of minutes would be, one more season with few starting minutes could lead to another Ben Wilmot scenario. The Hornets can financially afford such a loss at face value, though not learning the lesson of keeping the talented youngsters happy could dissuade players like Kwadwo Baah and Mattie Pollock from signing in the future.
Watford have secured the signature of exciting forward Emmanuel Dennis from Club Brugge. The deal came out of thin air – or so it seems – considering no rumours emerged linking the parties until the Hornets’ official announcement of the transfer. Nonetheless, Watford have completed yet another shrewd transfer for a player who will offer the Club another talented, versatile attacking option who could see himself earning plenty of starting minutes.
Emmanuel Dennis Has Had a Noteworthy Career Thus Far
The 23-year-old attacker started his European career with Zorya Luhansk in the Ukrainian Premier League. In the 2016/17 season, he scored six goals and provided one assist in 26 appearances as a 19-year-old (disclaimer: this article is using Transfermarkt.co.uk statistics – the database counts “penalties won” as assists).
His impressive performances in Ukraine earned him a transfer in excess of one million pounds to Belgian giants Club Brugge. His first season with the 17-time Belgian top-flight champions was his most prolific campaign to date. Across all competitions in the 2017/18 campaign, Dennis scored 12 goals and contributed five assists in 38 appearances.
The following season, Dennis still impressed despite slightly regressing on the goalscoring front. He scored seven goals and pitched in three assists in 32 appearances. A 12-million-pound offer reportedly came in from Arsenal following that campaign.
Despite already turning heads in his first two seasons with Club Brugge, his name became projected to the rest of the footballing world in the 2019/20 campaign. Across 33 matches in all competitions, Dennis scored nine goals and provided two assists. Two of those goals are likely to be remembered by lots of avid football supporters.
In the second match of the 2019/20 Champions League group stage, Dennis started against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. The Super Eagles player scored a bizarre brace, tripping over his own feet while scoring both of the goals.
Arsenal supposedly came back with a new-and-improved 15-million-pound offer for Dennis. Club Brugge rejected that offer too, which consequently started a domino effect. Dennis wanted to leave, but Club Brugge did not let him. Discontent between the player and manager took the Club by storm. The culmination of the falling-out between the two parties was when Dennis stormed off the team bus ahead of a Champions League clash in November.
The attacker, who averaged one goal contribution per 159 minutes in his Club Brugge career, was subsequently loaned to FC Cologne in the Bundesliga. Simply stated, the attitude issues did not go away with the relegation battlers, ultimately leading to him only making 10 appearances – scoring once – for the German side. A move to Arsenal being rejected in the summer to being subsequently loaned to relegation strugglers did not help Dennis improve his attitude as it was not the challenge he had in mind the previous summer. The pressure of being a Champions League player heading into the thick of an already-started relegation dogfight also reached the player.
Nonetheless, an underwhelming 10 matches in Germany following multiple managerial fall-outs should not be used as an indication of his talents. Odion Ighalo only scored 2 goals in 16 La Liga appearances the season before he came to Watford. Obbi Oulare averaged one goal contribution per 99 minutes the campaign before he arrived at Vicarage Road. So, people must proceed with tremendous caution if they are to formulate their opinions on Dennis based on a poor run of form with many outside factors contributing to those few performances.
– *NEW WATFORD OPINIONS PODCAST EPISODE: Watford Sign Champions League Star: In-Depth Emmanuel Dennis Transfer Examination. Head over to Spotify or Google Podcasts to listen to the latest episode of the Watford Opinions Podcast, going into even further detail about the arrival of Emmanuel Dennis* –
Capable of Contributing to Xisco Munoz’s System in Many Ways
Dennisis different from the other strikers currently on Watford’s squad. Characterized by his rapid pace and slick runs behind the defense, if deployed centrally, he will provide the Hornets a new, necessary kind of centre-forward. Imran Louza was a specialist at FC Nantes when it came to playing through-balls to attackers making such runs off of the shoulders of the opposition’s backline.
In the Premier League, with clubs such as Aston Villa, Leicester City, and West Ham United all making pushes to solidify spots as European-competing clubs, Watford will rarely have matches where they are “supposed to” dominate possession. In the Championship, as they usually were the better squad with the more talented players, the Hornets dictated the tempo of play more often than not. In the top flight, Watford will for sure try to play how they did in the Championship tactically when possible, but they must also be prepared to play an increasingly high amount of counter-attacking football.
Dennis provides a perfect attacker to counter-attack alongside Sarr in the Premier League. Many times in transition, when the ball finds Sarr, he has to slow up and wait for attacking support because his tremendous pace on the wing makes him outrun his teammates. Now, Dennis provides a player who can match Sarr’s pace and make counter-attacks much more threatening/lethal. This is applicable regardless of whether Dennis plays centrally or on the opposite flank as Sarr.
Furthermore, if Dennis is deployed as an inverted left-winger, if Danny Rose usurps the starting left-back spot, a perfect combination will easily be achieved. Rose specializes in making wide attacking runs and whipping crosses in from wide positions. With the former Tottenham Hotspur star occupying the wide position on the left, Dennis will be able to peel behind the defense as an inverted left-winger, allowing Rose the option to slip the ball through to him or for Rose to drive further out wide to put in a signature delivery.
And besides, Watford have secured Dennis for a fee in the 3-4 million pound range. For a player who was sought after for over quadruple that sum just one year ago, the Hornets have paid a bargain fee. Dennis offers a new type of attacker to Watford, as well as immediate starting competition in multiple positions. The gamble of buying him is of minimal risk, whereas the potential upsides to his arrival more than justify the Hornets’ decision to bring Dennis in. In a couple of years, do not be surprised to see Watford cash in on the potentially prolific attacker for many times greater than the fee the Club just paid.
The transfer rumour mill is well and truly in motion. According to Tom Hopkinson of The Mirror and other sources, Watford are considering making an approach for 18-year-old Harvey Elliott on a season-long loan deal from Liverpool. As exciting as this rumoured transfer may seem for Watford, the deal is not as straightforward as one may think.
Harvey Elliott Impressing at 18 Years Old
Elliott first broke onto the top-flight scene when he became the all-time youngest Premier League player as a result of his substitute appearance for Fulham against Wolves in the May of 2019. Elliott debuted at just 16 years and 30 days old, a record that is unlikely to be broken for many years. His introduction to first-team football at such a young age was justified. For Fulham’s Under-18 team, he scored five goals and provided three assists in 12 appearances, as a 15-year-old, in the 2018/19 season.
In the summer of 2019, Elliott made a £1.2 million move to Liverpool (with add-ons making it a possibility for the fee to be many times greater than the initial payment). He has since made nine appearances for Liverpool’s senior team, assisting once in a Carabao Cup clash against Lincoln City. Despite frequently traveling with Liverpool’s first team and impressing in the UEFA Youth League with goal contributions in six of his seven matches, it became clear a temporary move away is what would be best for Elliott’s development. Blackburn came calling, and the Reds proved to be shrewd in agreeing to the season-long deal.
In 42 appearances for Blackburn, Elliott scored 7 goals and set up 11 more. In an attacking-minded side containing the impressive Adam Armstrong, Elliott did indeed arrive with the expectation that he would not be the star man. Thus, there was added pressure on him to perform well, as if he fared poorly in a Championship side with Armstrong spearheading the attack, then Elliott would likely have to spend a couple of more seasons on loan in the lower tiers before a true top-flight breakthrough.
On many occasions, Elliott showed why Liverpool were willing to roll the dice to sign him. As noteworthy as his 11 assists were (the third-most in the Championship), his goalscoring record sticks out when it comes to analyzing Expected Statistics. Elliott had an Expected Goal statistic of 3.75, meaning he scored nearly double the number of goals as he was predicted to. His Expected Assists statistic was 7.82, meaning his teammates helped Elliott provide more assists than was predicted (in other words, statistically, Elliott’s teammates were scoring more than expected from chances Elliott created). Despite shining on the goal-providing front regardless of what his Expected Assists statistic says, statistically speaking, his overperformance in the goalscoring front is more remarkable. Elliott is ready for a top-flight move, but should the Hornets sign the talented winger?
-*HERE WE GO: THE WATFORD OPINIONS PODCAST HAS RECENTLY GOTTEN UNDERWAY! GO TO THE “PODCAST” PAGE TO LISTEN TO THE MOST RECENT EPISODE – ALSO AVAILABLE DIRECTLY ON SPOTIFY AND BREAKER WITH MORE SERVICES SET TO OFFER THE PODCAST IMMINENTLY*-
Is Signing the Winger Necessary?
Ismaila Sarr: it is safe to say nearly all Watford fans have nothing but the highest of praises for the Club’s star right-winger. The Hornets’ record signing shrugged off interest from some of the largest clubs in the country to help Watford in their quest for promotion. Now that the Hornets are back in the Premier League, the Club should be able to keep hold of the player who scored five goals and provided four assists in his first Premier League season a couple of campaigns ago.
Not much explanation is needed: Sarr is one of Watford’s most important players and has the right-wing spot reserved for him. That is where the complication with a potential Harvey Elliott transfer comes in, as Elliott thrives on the right wing too. If Watford were to move Sarr, arguably their best player, into an unnatural position to cater to a loanee’s needs, then the coaching staff and hierarchy at Vicarage Road would be making a grave mistake.
So, if Elliott were to arrive on loan, he would likely be deployed as a left-winger, as Liverpool would never accept a loan where Elliott’s main role is to be Sarr’s understudy. On the left wing, Watford would benefit from reinforcements of Elliott’s caliber. With Ken Sema’s Premier League readiness still to be determined, a left-wing arrival would not be a big shock and is advisable. Even with Philip Zinckernagel capable of playing on the left and Joao Pedro potentially adapting to the wide role, the hierarchy knows certainties in their depth – and minimizing the number of makeshift players starting consistently – is pivotal in maintaining Premier League status.
Important to note is Elliott is left-footed, meaning he could feasibly make the switch from the right wing to the left. He even played five matches – scoring one goal and providing two assists – as a left-winger last season. Unfortunately, this does not distinguish Elliott as a player who provides something different on the left wing than the others currently on the squad could. Zinckernagel, a right-winger by trade, is as capable of performing as a makeshift left-winger as Elliott. If anything, Zinckernagel would slot in with more ease out of position right away due to his experience and proven adaptability. Pedro equally has what it takes to eventually break in as an effective left-winger if new arrivals (such as, potentially, Rafael Santos Borre) temporarily push the 19-year-old out of the first-choice center-forward conversation. And, of course, Sema is already a true left-winger. Even if Elliott were to unexpectedly arrive as an understudy to Sarr, he might not even be the first one in line behind the former Rennes player, as Zinckernagel likely has the second-choice right-wing role as his own.
Simply put, Watford do not need another right-winger unless the transfer market shuffles unexpected pieces. The left wing, on the other hand, may see a new face come through the door (in addition to already-signed Kwadwo Baah). With Elliott not naturally a left-winger and Liverpool likely to be reluctant to loan him to a team that cannot play him to his strengths, the transfer does not make the most sense.
If Liverpool offer Elliott to Watford on loan, then the Hornets should accept Elliott’s services on the grounds that he is a fantastic player with lots of potential and a loan is low risk. From Elliott and Liverpool’s standpoint, however, the move poses too much of a risk for there to be stagnation to the youngster’s growth. For now, the Hornets cannot offer another right-winger considerable playing time. Bringing in Elliott would admittedly be decent business, though doing so is far from imperative.