Why Watford’s Ship Has Slightly Steered Off Course

Watford started off their inaugural Championship campaign post-relegation in considerably solid form, picking up 13 points from their opening six matches. In those first six matches, which included victories over Middlesbrough, arch-rivals Luton Town, Derby County, and Blackburn, Watford only conceded twice. In their most recent three matches (at the time of writing), Watford have picked up two points. A draw against recently-relegated Bournemouth was not too much of a cause for concern. The draw against Wycombe and defeat at Barnsley, however, has started to faintly ring the alarm bells at Vicarage Road.

Ever since the Pozzo family became the owners of Watford Football Club in 2012, there has been an unspoken philosophy that bad times call for a change in management. Although Ivic’s job is currently secure and sacking him for the past three results would be beyond an overreaction, it is hard to bypass the thought of there being another manager at the helm for Watford this season if form does not improve in the next few matches.

Watford have established the fact that “success” this season is promotion, and “disappointment” is anything less than that. And, looking at the players Watford have, such a high expectation seems reasonable. The squad is littered with players who played a considerable number of Premier League minutes for Watford, players with experience in other top-flights, as well as some highly rated youngsters (including James Garner, who just won the Manchester United U23 Player of the Year Award).

When high expectations start to seem unrealistic due to a patch of bad form, wondering whether the Pozzos will look for someone else to lead the charge (for promotion) feels natural by this point. But, that is still an extreme that is a ways away from happening, and is likely not even a scenario that has seriously crossed the hierarchy’s mind just yet. Ivic will know of the Pozzos’ trigger-happy tendencies, so he understands he will need to re-steady the ship within the next several matches if his job at Watford is to have security. Again, Ivic being sacked is not imminent, nor should it be considered likely right now despite the past few matches, but if the run of bad form extends for several more matches, then perhaps the rumors of the axe will start to swirl. 

Why Watford’s Form Has Faltered:

Under Nigel Pearson last season, Watford found success in a 4-2-3-1 formation, which helped them climb out of the relegation zone by the middle of January despite being nine points adrift heading into their first match of the Festive Period, which was a contest against Manchester United. After Watford worked their way out of the relegation zone, form started to drop. Watford dipped into the relegation zone in the middle of February, but then an iconic victory over an at-the-time invincible Liverpool lifted the Hornets out of the drop zone. But in that match, Gerard Deulofeu suffered a season-ending injury, and his absence from the squad alone was enough to sentence Watford to the second tier. 

Why is an injury from last season relevant to a discussion about this season? The reason is there have been parallels between last season and this season which have both caused a drop-off in form, and the main parallel is the strict sticking to a given formation. Under Pearson, Deulofeu’s injury was not enough to convince him to try new tactics. The 4-2-3-1 was Watford’s only formation until Pearson got the boot, and by that time, it was too late to save the club from relegation. The 4-2-3-1 did not suit the route-one football Watford were trying to play after Deulofeu’s injury (arguably more “hoof-ball” than route-one), with Deeney as the focal point. Him having a strike-partner could have done the club a world of wonders, but Pearson did not even attempt to make that formational adjustment. 

This season, Vladimir Ivic has been insistent on using formations with three center-backs. The two formations he has deployed are the 5-3-2 and the 5-2-3. And, truth be told, the tactics seemed to be working. And perhaps they would still be if there was not a drop in form on an individual-by-individual basis. However, as Watford fans were reminded of during Quique Sanchez Flores’ second stint at Vicarage Road, looking back at what used to work tactically is not usually indicative of what will work in the immediate future. 

During Vladimir Ivic’s time at Maccabi Tel Aviv, he found most of his success utilizing a 4-3-3 formation. Many fans were expecting to see this formation used frequently upon Ivic’s arrival. With Adam Masina, Watford’s only true left-back, sidelined for the foreseeable future, doing a 4-3-3 would require having a make-shift left-back, so it is understandable that Ivic would try to experiment with formations that do not require that position. Adaptability is another thing that Ivic was known for in Israel, so to see him not even attempt a 4-3-3 in nine league matches/experiment with a make-shift left-back, as well as outright claim the formation will not change in the foreseeable future, seems to signal a shying away from his signature ambition. Ambition is needed for promotion.

Beyond a stubbornness when it comes to experimenting with new formations, another downfall in the past few matches has been a lack of depth in quality starting options. Some of Watford’s key players have not been available so far this season, and once other teams figure a system out and form starts to drop, not having strong enough reinforcements can lead to compounding issues. When the same/similar starting eleven has to play multiple times a week, fitness levels quickly drop.

Capoue’s return did coincide with Watford’s drop in form, but he will need time to reintegrate to get back to his best. The likes of Will Hughes, Andre Gray, and Troy Deeney, all have only just become available. Such reinforcements do signal positive things to come, as three quality players will now be thrown into an already competitive battle for spots in the starting eleven. Stipe Perica will soon be back in that mix as well.

An unwillingness to change formation and a lack of true depth has contributed to Watford’s recent disappointing results. From a less tangible viewpoint, a bit of the current form could be validly attributed to complacency. Now that Watford are back down in the Championship, they go into every match expecting a victory, as their squad list suggests they should. That notion, however, seems to go to the head of some players, which then sees the squad playing down to the level of their opponent, rather than being hungry to be the team that dictates how the game flows. 

In Watford’s recent draw to Wycombe and defeat to Barnsley, despite having the majority of possession, it was Watford’s opposition that truly controlled how the game went. Watford seem to expect an easy result, and such complacency leads to an inability to command games. Being reliant on other teams’ shortcomings rather than their own successes is not going to be enough to earn promotion. 

So, even if managerial stubbornness is a cause of the lack of form, some of the burden has to fall upon the players, as many of their individual levels of play seem to have lowered considerably across the past couple of weeks.

Do Watford Have What It Takes To Briskly Get Back On Track?

Yes. Form is temporary. Class is permanent. 

At the end of the day, Watford have arguably the best team in the Championship when it comes to raw talent. The key to success is being able to have those talents mold together to consistently grind out results, something that failed to happen last season in the Premier League. So, ample time should be given before truly stating that the ship has completely veered off course. Right now, the bow is just slightly pointing toward the side, but the end destination is still in the distant horizon. 

Maybe the three center-back formations are what Watford need after all. Perhaps this has just been a bad patch of form with no true explanation, as can happen for even the best of teams. There is a solid chance no immense change is needed. The club is not in desperate times. Vladimir Ivic still has the support of the hierarchy, and deservedly so. 

To achieve promotion, improvement is necessary, but Watford have all the tools they need, and Ivic is the handy blacksmith who can put things back into positive motion. 

VAR: Is Football Better With Or Without It?

In Watford’s recent draw against Bournemouth, the main talking points post-match surrounded center-back Lloyd Kelly. In the match’s opening minutes, he put in a challenge on Ismaïla Sarr which was objectively reckless and cynical, and was nothing short of a textbook red card. Referee Tim Robinson reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow one. 

Later on in the match, Kelly took down Sarr once more, this time on a counter attack. A second yellow for Kelly, who was fortunate to still be on the pitch, momentarily seemed inevitable, until the referee controversially decided there was no foul play. Watford took the lead early on in the match, but were denied all three points as Cherries’ center-half Chris Mepham scored the late equalizer. Who assisted him? Lloyd Kelly.

When Watford played Tottenham in the October of 2019, there was a very similar storyline of controversy and disgust at refereeing decisions, but with a notable difference. In the 6th minute of play, Abdoulaye Doucouré gave Watford a surprise early lead. The Hornets looked surprisingly strong for the rest of the match, and were on track to get their first win of the season, until the ball found its way into the back of the net in the 86th minute.

As Dele Alli wheeled away in half-hearted celebration, as Spurs wanted to go on and push for a winner, Watford players protested for a potential handball in the lead-up to the goal. The Video Assistant Referee took a look at the incident, and despite the ball clearly hitting Alli’s arm, which was in an “unnatural” position, the goal was awarded. Well, the referee on the pitch said the goal stood, the screen in the stadium said, “no goal,” though the on-the-pitch official’s word was what was listened to. There was also an incident in the match where Gerard Deulofeu was taken down and a penalty for Watford seemed as clear as day, but VAR saw nothing wrong with the challenge.

In both matches, it seemed unfortunate for Watford to not walk away with all three points, and a lot of fans have put the blame directly on the officials for this. The presence of VAR did not protect against such officiating misjudgments. Whether or not Watford would have won had these decisions gone their way is another story. Nevertheless, both of these incidents pose the question: should VAR be implemented in all leagues, or should it be consigned to the dustbin of the game’s history?

The Cons:

The most blatant downside to VAR is that it feels unnatural. The Football League was founded in 1888. For generations upon generations, through multiple World Wars, the rise and fall of empires, the invention of the car, the revolution of modern technology as we know it today, and more, one thing had stayed the same until very recently: the referee’s initial verdict is the final, and only, verdict. What is decided on the pitch cannot be overturned. That’s how things were for well over a century, so any veering from that normality feels odd. 

The direct impact of VAR on a match is the fact that a goal can be scored, the fans wait for three minutes, and then suddenly learn that the goal is disallowed. Even for fans watching at home, the game seems to have an unruly pause to it. One way in which football triumphs over sports such as basketball is the way in which the only full screen advertisements occur pre-match, during halftime, and post-match. The 90 minutes plus stoppage time is otherwise uninterrupted. VAR has undeniably interrupted the flow of matches for both the players and supporters.

Beyond the logistical and traditional downfalls of VAR, there is, more controversially in terms of a match-to-match basis, a seeming inability to utilize VAR correctly. The purpose of VAR is to see if the match official has made a “clear and obvious error.” Taking three minutes to review whether someone’s armpit was offside in the buildup to a goal is not checking whether or not a “clear and obvious error” was made. If the referee made a glaring mistake, it would not take so long to review. 

The way in which “clear and obvious errors” are not the only thing reviewed introduces a new type of controversy. Potentially, but understandably, wrong decisions by the referee are also meticulously analyzed, If VAR takes an extensive look at a call (or non-call), the expectation is that there will be zero error when it comes to the final determination. If VAR is meant to overturn wrong decisions or reaffirm controversial, but correct, ones, and it takes so much time to reach a conclusion, then there should be no post-match debates. The second chance the officials get via VAR means the final ruling, in theory, should always be correct.

The reality is that VAR is far from correct on too many occasions. Bad refereeing decisions, which sometimes are still confirmed after VAR intervention, only become more calamitous. There have been a handful of occasions in the Premier League where VAR will make a decision in the first half of the match, but then the officials at Stockley Park will later admit that the wrong verdict was reached. If VAR isn’t perfect, then why have it at all? VAR sacrifices the imperfect officiating traditions of old for an equally, or arguably more, flawed modern practice.

The Video Assistant Referee is run by another official, so yes, there will still occasionally be human error. That still does not take away from the extent with which controversy becomes magnified. From the perspective of a fan, when a referee without VAR misses a call that ultimately costs a team points, there is a feeling of being hard done by. But, when the officials make a costly mistake following multiple looks, there is a sentiment of willful unfairness.

Controversy without VAR is understandable. Controversy with VAR is contradictory to VAR’s purpose.

The Pros:

There is undeniably plenty wrong with VAR. That is not to say, however, that it does not have some upsides. 

The concept of VAR is fantastic, in the sense that officials should be able to make the correct decision virtually every time because they will have multiple opportunities to review incidents. Referees are far from perfect and understandably so, so giving them a second chance is reasonable. Besides, who doesn’t want the right call to carry the day?

As detestable as VAR may be when it results in an unpopular verdict, the truth is the chance of there being an officiating error is objectively lowered. If the official brandishes a yellow card since a challenge looks a bit excessive but nothing more, and then upon VAR review, it is shown the player’s studs were up, then the official is able to correctly show a red card. Likewise, when players dive, it is easier for the match officials to make the right call since they have more on which to base their final decision than simply a fleeting glance and players’ inevitable protests.

When there is a better chance that the official makes the correct calls, there is a better chance the team that deserves to win on the night does. The best team on the pitch, whether it be through possession, defensive soundness, tactics, or anything else, deserves to get their points. Bad officiating too frequently robs teams of what they deserve from a match, and VAR decreases this occurrence.

As for the players, VAR protects them. It allows them to focus more on football. Without VAR, a player whining about getting hit in the head despite being five yards away from the closest person on the pitch can result in an opposing player getting into hot water. With VAR, the players know they can focus more on their football and less on the antics of their surrounding competition. When the players know they can play without being occupied by the notion of being unjustly sent off, then the overall level of matches improves. 

As of now, VAR is far from perfect. Having said that, the concept of getting all the calls right, even if it requires a second look from the officials, is undoubtedly a positive. But such perfection is still ways away from being the reality, a reality that might not even be possible to reach.


One immediate, feasible improvement that needs to be made is quickening video reviews. To have an official out of the stadium, away from the intensity of the match, speaking into the ear of the on-the-pitch referee, is more unnatural, and takes longer, than if the referee himself were to quickly take a look on the pitch-side monitor. 

VAR is far from perfect in its current form. The way in which the rule of “clear and obvious error” seems to lack a “clear and obvious” definition epitomizes the current state of VAR. But with improvements, there is no denying VAR has the prospect of being for the better. It just depends on whether or not that near perfection is actually attainable and worth pursuing, or if VAR will survive long enough to see that possibility become a reality. 

As of now, teams like Watford which play in a league without VAR will not insist upon its immediate introduction. But, if it is substantially refined to meet its true intended purpose, then perhaps VAR is better for football after all. 

The bottom line is that VAR needs improvement, but if its current drawbacks are rectified, all of football can benefit. The beautiful game will be purer when each and every match is more about the football and less about the antics. 

A Different Kind of Three Points: Player Ratings After Watford’s Victory Over Blackburn

Up to this point in the season, Watford had found success through tremendous defensive displays. The main worry surrounding the squad was whether goals could be scored at a much higher rate. This match, Watford’s attack was free-flowing, with the defense a bit more concerning. Then again, Blackburn are the league’s top scorers up to this point of the season.

The first 15 minutes of the match epitomized the flow of the fixture: Blackburn with the lion’s share of possession, but Watford taking control of the match through quick counter attacks and glimmers of top-tier quality. 

In the 13th minute, Watford’s young superstar João Pedro met the end of a Femenía low-cross and tucked the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to open the scoring. Four minutes later, Cleverley doubled Watford’s lead following a save off of an Ismaïla Sarr shot. 

The rest of the first half was firmly controlled by Blackburn, and they quickly cut their deficit in half through a Ben Brereton wonder-volley in the 28th minute. 

Watford started the second half strongly, and were rewarded with a gift from Blackburn when Ken Sema’s cross into the box found the tangled feet of Darragh Lenihan, who smashed the ball into the back of his own net. Near the 70th minute, Craig Cathcart took down Lewis Holtby in the box, but Adam Armstrong, the league’s top scorer, could only see his penalty smartly saved by Ben Foster.

The Watford of this match felt different from the Watford of the opening five matches, but the three points all count the same.


Ben Foster: he might be a bit disappointed about the goal he conceded, considering he got his hands to it and it went in on the near post. But besides the goal, which was sweetly struck nevertheless, Foster was the main reason why Watford walked away with all three points. He did well to parry away Armstrong’s early curling effort, and soon after made a pair of smart saves on some set-piece headers. He did fantastic work in making another save on Armstrong despite being in no-man’s-land on a one-versus-one, and most notably, he emphatically saved Armstrong’s well-taken penalty. He will have more than enough quality footage to put on his new YouTube channel.


Kiko Femenía: this was the Spaniard’s second impressive performance in a row. He lined up in his more-natural right-wing-back position, as Ngakia was dropped to the bench to get some rest. Femenía did even better on the right than he did on the left against Derby, as Femenía timed his run and weighted his pass perfectly to set up Pedro’s opener. He was sound defensively and made some other noteworthy attacking contributions as well.


Craig Cathcart: no defender was at fault for the goal, though Cathcart was not at his strongest. He played solidly in defense for most of the match, but was too slow to react to Holtby’s intricate movement, which led him to giving Blackburn a silly penalty and a potential lifeline.


Christian Kabasele: to state it simply, he was lucky to be on the pitch for the full match. If there were VAR, he would have likely been sent off for his challenge on Armstrong in the 22nd minute. Besides that hiccup, he was decent throughout. With William Troost-Ekong hungry for minutes, such lapses in concentration could lead to less playing time for any of this match’s starters. 


Ben Wilmot: the 20-year-old looked strong yet again for Watford. He seems to have the defensive experience of a true veteran, and did well to silence Liverpool-loanee Harvey Elliott in his debut. He, alongside the other center-backs, will look to be more commanding while defending set-pieces.


Ken Sema: Watford’s revelation of the season so far, Sema put in a good shift despite being in a more defensive role than the role he was in against Derby. He made some intricate overlapping runs, and deserves the credit for an assist in the creation of the own-goal.


James Garner: so far, the Manchester United U23 Player of the Season has been everything people said he was, and then some. He played the key through-ball to Femenía for the first goal, and hit a pinpoint ball forward to Sarr to create the second. He was unfortunate not to get an assist in the dying stages of the game when he shimmied through some defenders to find Watford’s record signing, though he might be pondering whether he should have struck it himself. His first goal for Watford does not seem far away.


Tom Cleverley: Watford’s captain did well to find himself in the right spot to nod home the second goal. He seems to be flourishing in his advanced position up the pitch. When Watford were last promoted, a key part of the success was having a goal-scoring attacking midfielder in Almen Abdi. Cleverley seems like he could fill that role this season (so too could Garner, and potentially even Quina).


Nathaniel Chalobah: he has been an anomaly for Watford this season. Whenever he was on the pitch in the past, he seemed to really belong and raise the level of the players around him. Now, likely due to his lack of playing time last season, he is one of the players that seems to have not taken kindly to the readjustment to the Championship. He frequently conceded pointless fouls, and gave the ball away a couple of times. He does, however, seem to be improving slightly week-by-week.


Ismaïla Sarr: the pacey winger showed why some of the best clubs in the country wanted him. His speed consistently tore through the Blackburn defense, and he did phenomenally to control Garner’s ball over the top despite being sandwiched between two defenders. He was a pivotal part to both goals, and will be disappointed to not have tucked away the chance Garner opened up for him near the end of the match. He also nearly assisted Pedro on multiple occasions. Plenty of goals and assists will start to show up sooner than later for him if he continues to perform in this manner.


João Pedro: the 19-year-old continued his strong start to the season, scoring in his second successive match, and thus grabbing his third goal of the season. He did well to get into open space on multiple occasions, but perhaps should have tucked away at least one of the few additional chances that came his way. He is undroppable right now.


Étienne Capoue: subbed on in the 61st minute and taking the captain’s armband, it would be harsh to slate the Frenchman on his first game in over three months. However, the only real criticism which could be thrown his way is that he did not appear to be at his very best, but that is simply due to a lack of action in the past few weeks. Otherwise, he did what was asked of him.


Jeremy Ngakia: the youngster came on in the 71st minute for Femenía, and is likely to start the upcoming match against Bournemouth. He did most of what was asked of him, though he was shown a yellow card, and had a potential heart-in-throat moment after his challenge upon the final whistle was not the prettiest, and could have potentially warranted a second yellow if time had still been left. 


Domingos Quina: he joined the game very late on, so he did not have the opportunity to contribute notably. His recent work rate on the pitch seems to be elevated. He will seek more playing time in this intensive fixture schedule. 


Vladimir Ivic: the Watford manager clearly had a plan to play low-possession football, and it paid off. Blackburn has enjoyed possession in most of their matches this season, so he allowed them to try and break down Watford’s astute defense, and then when they committed numbers forward, Ivic knew the counter attacks would be on. Blackburn’s main chances, besides the goal, came from set-pieces, but apart from the man-marking on those, which is mostly out of Ivic’s control, the match was a tactical masterclass.


Departures, Signatures, Returners, and Retention: An Analysis of Watford’s Most Noteworthy Transfer Window in Years

Since promotion in 2015, Watford’s transfer windows have looked the same, with the incomers being more notable than the departures. This window, the roles were reversed – or so it seems. 

Watford had their usual player shuffle with Udinese, as well as lodged interest in some high-quality players. But now, Doucouré is on Everton, Luis Javier Suárez is on European-competing Granada, and Pervis Estupiñan is with Villareal. Most of Watford’s most valuable assets had to be sold, with the financial consequences of the coronavirus compounded by relegation. 

At the same time, Watford made a considerable number of low-cost transfers. Some have said that an unwillingness to splash the cash shows a lack of ambition. The truth is, Watford have done all that is situationally necessary. Between signing the captain of one of the most respected national teams in Africa and bringing in one of Manchester United’s future stars, Watford have had their share of impressive transfers.

Most noteworthy, however, is who did not leave. Étienne Capoue and Ismaïla Sarr were practically considered gone upon the club’s relegation. Troy Deeney and Will Hughes also seemed at great risk of being lost. But now, with both the international and domestic transfer windows closed, Vladimir Ivic now knows exactly who he will be working with until at least January. A squad with so many question marks surrounding it has now been re-solidified. The storm of the transfer market has been weathered. 

Below is an analysis of each and every notable transfer Watford were involved in:


Abdoulaye Doucouré: the 27-year-old French midfielder was one of the most integral parts of Watford’s successes the seasons prior to the 2019/20 campaign. Doucouré’s departure was inevitable upon relegation, and even though the roughly 20 million pound fee is 15 million pounds less than what Everton offered in the summer of 2019, the sum is still fair. Between relegation and the implications of the virus, being able to cash in on anyone for such a sum is key toward reestablishing financial stability. Doucouré will be missed at Watford, but he certainly belongs in the top-flight, competing for European football. 

Pervis Estupiñan: there is no sugarcoating the fact that Estupiñan was one of the best left-backs in La Liga last season, and that Watford would be better off with him. Vladimir Ivic stressed the importance of only having players who truly want to be in the fight for promotion. Estupiñan’s head was clearly elsewhere, and going into the last year of his contract, Watford would have to sell him as soon as possible if they wanted to make a profit off of him. And that they did, getting 15 million pounds for his services. Holistically, the substantial fee Watford got from Villareal for a player who never played a competitive minute in England is solid business by the Watford hierarchy.

Luis Javier Suárez: the case of Suárez is very similar to the case of Estupiñan. The exact transfer details for Suárez’s move to Granada is unclear, but an eight-figure profit off of another player who has never played a minute for Watford is yet another piece of shrewd business. Yes, Watford would have been better off with Suárez, but losing players like him is the cost of relegation. But between the sale of Doucouré, Estupiñan, and Suárez, Watford were able to get enough funds to not feel any urge to sell other key members of the squad. 

Gerard Deulofeu: “From 2-0 down, they lead 3-2; he’s got 2 of the 3!” exclaims Martin Tyler, as Deulofeu’s shot trickles past John Ruddy and sends Watford into the FA Cup final. Deulofeu is one of the newest members of Pozzo United, as he is set to spend this season on loan at Udinese. If Watford do get promoted, Deulofeu will likely return to Vicarage Road for the inaugural campaign back in the Premier League. If promotion doesn’t come, however, Deulofeu will inevitably be sold on a permanent basis. The bottom line of this transfer is that Deulofeu’s time at Watford is not up just yet.

Roberto Pereyra: the experienced Argentine has also joined Udinese, albeit on a permanent basis, for an unknown fee. Pereyra joined Watford in the summer of 2016 from Juventus for what was a club-record fee at the time. Despite being an attacking midfielder in Turin, Watford frequently played Pereyra on the left-side of the pitch. He scored some memorable goals for Watford, but never consistently reached the true quality of a Champions League Finalist that fans were expecting. He has a good relationship with Udinese apart from the clubs’ Pozzo connection, as Pereyra was with them prior to his move to Juventus. 

Ignacio Pussetto: the third and final Watford player to have headed to Udinese this summer was unable to find his footing in English football, only managing sporadic appearances off the bench since his arrival in January. The 24-year-old, who is now on loan to his former club, is known for his versatility. He is someone who also could still have a future at Watford, albeit a bit less likely than Deulofeu’s odds of playing for Watford once more. 

Craig Dawson: the 30-year-old center-back was one of Watford’s better performers of Project Restart. However, his efforts were not enough to keep Watford in the Premier League. Throughout the offseason, it was clear he had fallen out of favor with Ivic, as Cathcart, Wilmot, and Kabasele became the three first-choice center-backs. Once William Troost-Ekong arrived, a move away was the only foreseeable way for Dawson to be able to play a decent amount of first team minutes. West Ham have taken the former West Brom player on a loan with an option-to-buy.

Cucho Hernández: one of Watford’s loan-success stories, Cucho has become a strong, solid striker who has been getting looks from some of Europe’s top clubs. Watford would have liked for him to play in the Championship, but loaning him out, and being able to have him in the future, unlike Suárez, could prove to be a wise bit of business. If Watford get promoted, they will have themselves an ever-improving striker who is currently playing for Getafe, one of the better teams in Spain. If Watford fail to get promoted, they are still set to receive a hefty fee for the player’s services.

Danny Welbeck: following Watford’s relegation, Welbeck’s departure felt inevitable. His year at Watford was hampered by injuries, though he did ultimately end up making 18 appearances, one of which included a memorable overhead goal. The former Arsenal and Manchester United player was released by the club, and has since been snapped up by Brighton.

Daryl Janmaat: like Welbeck, Janmaat’s contract was terminated by mutual consent. The former Dutch international joined Watford in the summer of 2016 from Newcastle for a fee of around 7 million pounds. The right-back had become a consistent fixture in Watford’s starting eleven, and was quite consistent in his performances. However, he was only able to play 10 matches in all competitions last season due to a knee injury. He has now recovered, and will likely try and find a suitor in a European top-flight. 

Dimitri Foulquier: the French right-back has been on Watford’s books since 2017, but never found his footing at the club. He was only ever part of Watford’s training/matches between the summer of 2019 and the following winter transfer window. He has frequently impressed while out on loan, so his lack of success at Watford is an oddity. He has now permanently moved to Granada. 

Jose Holebas: one of Watford’s longest serving players, Holebas had joined Watford ahead of their inaugural season in their return to the top-flight in 2015. The Greek left-back was characterized by his fierce intensity with which he always seemed to play. The most concrete evidence of this ferocity is the fact he racked up 40 yellow cards, as well as one red card, in his 114 Premier League appearances for Watford. He did not feature too much in 2015/16, but was an ever-present for the next three seasons, until Adam Masina eventually usurped his role as starter. He has now moved to Olympiacos on a free transfer.

Pontus Dahlberg: Ben Foster is nearing the end of his career, but between Daniel Bachmann and Pontus Dahlberg, Watford’s goalkeeping future seems to be in safe hands. But, having both Bachmann and Dahlberg at the club while neither is starting consistently would potentially halt their development, so Watford elected to send the 21-year-old stopper on loan to Häcken, in his home nation of Sweden. 

Heurelho Gomes: the club legend announced his official retirement from football following Watford’s relegation. Before becoming Ben Foster’s backup in 2018, Gomes was pivotal to so much of Watford’s success, including their promotion in 2015. The first season in the Premier League, Gomes led the league in saves. Watford had taken a risk when signing him from Tottenham, where he had sometimes become a laughing stock from his errors. If people only knew Gomes from his time at Watford, no one would suspect Gomes of being anything but a top-class keeper.

Adalberto Peñaranda: the 23-year-old Venezuelan has been on Watford since 2016, but has only made sporadic cup appearances during the times he has not been out on loan. His future was cast into serious doubt this summer, following explicit videos of Peñaranda being leaked. He will spend the upcoming season on loan with CSKA Sofia in the Bulgarian first tier. 

Jerome Sinclair: big things were expected of Sinclair once he joined Watford from Liverpool in 2016. However, he quickly became a forgotten man that found himself on loan to the lower tiers of English football, and then spent last season with VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands. He is headed to CSKA Sofia as well. Watford’s new sporting director, Cristiano Giaretta, recently arrived from the Bulgarian giants, which explains the two clubs’ unexpected ties. 

Ryan Cassidy: one of Watford’s best youth products in recent memory, the 19-year-old attacker got himself a season-long loan to League One side Accrington Stanley. He is set to receive lots of first team action, which will be crucial for his development.


Jeremy Ngakia: the 19-year-old right-back followed in Domingos Quina’s footsteps, in the sense that both were a part of West Ham’s youth system, but then made the switch to Vicarage Road in search of more consistent first team action. Ngakia was getting increased first team action at West Ham during Project Restart, but that was not enough to keep hold of the young star. To say he is one of the most exciting right-back prospects in all of England would not be an overstatement. The youngster has brilliant defensive acumen, and is a very tricky player to defend against when he attacks down the flank. Signing Ngakia on a free contract was a brilliant piece of business by Watford, and he has so far been the signing-of-the-season.

James Garner: another high profile signing, Garner joined Watford on a season-long loan after winning Manchester United’s U23 Player of the Year award. Some people expected Garner to play an increased role in the Red Devil’s 2020/21 campaign, which shows how talented the 19-year-old is. The main reason for his departure goes down to Manchester United’s signing of Donny Van De Beek from Ajax, which meant Garner would not have received as much playing time as United would have liked. A key talent of Garner’s is his set-piece accuracy, something Watford have lacked for the past few seasons.

William Troost-Ekong: the captain of the Nigerian International Team was an ever-present for Udinese the past couple of seasons. The 27-year-old joins Watford on a permanent basis. His high-percentage passing from the back-line is a strength which Watford has lacked at times. With Ivic fielding three center-back formations, getting Troost-Ekong into the squad was wise for both depth and quality. He would also be able to seriously compete for a starting spot if Watford do get promoted back to the Premier League.

Stipe Perica: like Troost-Ekong, Perica joined from, not unexpectedly, Udinese. The tall 25-year-old center-forward spent last season on loan at Mouscron in Belgium, where he scored 8 goals, and averaged a goal every 122 minutes. He joins on a permanent basis, and will look to compete for the starting center-forward spot. His main strength is his aerial prowess.

Glenn Murray: by far the oldest of Watford’s signings, 37-year-old Glenn Murray joined from Brighton on a season-long loan. He came in to offset what was set to be a Deeney departure. With Deeney staying, however, Murray might find playing time hard to come by. Still, Murray has years of experience in the Championship, and Watford will hope that he does indeed have one more season left in his legs. 

Francisco Sierralta: yet another one of the typical Pozzo transfers, Sierralta came in on a permanent basis to help Watford with defensive depth. The 23-year-old Chilean International Team player can play centrally or on the right. He is still young, so perhaps he will find himself getting considerably more playing time in the future.

Toby Stevenson: the 20-year-old left-back spent much of preseason on trial with Watford following his release from Chartlon Athletic. After impressing, Watford gave him a one-year contract, with the option to extend a further year. With Watford having a relative lack of depth of true left-backs, Stevenson could find himself getting some valuable playing time this season. 

Loan Returnees:

Ken Sema: the Swedish midfielder joined Watford in 2018, but spent last season on loan at, as one would expect, Udinese. His versatility is what makes him such an important part of any squad he is on. He is able to play anywhere on the left side of the pitch, as well as in the center of the midfield. He has been one of Watford’s standout performers so far this season, which has come as a surprise to some. 

Ben Wilmot: the 20-year-old defender joined Watford from Stevenage in 2018 for around 1 million pounds. He spent last season on loan at Swansea City, where he got valuable Championship experience. He made 23 appearances in all competitions for them, until an injury saw him out for the second half of the season. At the time of publication, which is after Watford’s 1-0 victory over Derby County, Wilmot has played every minute in the league, and deservedly so. 

Marc Navarro: the Spanish fullback was rumored to have been seeking a move away from Watford, but was ultimately content with staying after no departure materialized. Like the other two returnees, Navarro joined in the summer of 2018. Navarro has struggled to find first team minutes at Watford, but could find himself enjoying more time on the pitch thanks to the fixture congestion that comes with playing in the second tier. 

Those That Stayed:

Ismaïla Sarr: Watford’s most valuable possession did not ask for a move away, and thus Gino Pozzo was able to stick to his price-tag of 45 million pounds for Sarr. There was serious interest from top clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester United, but both ultimately found alternative options when Watford refused to lower their valuation. Crystal Palace made a deadline-day approach, though their efforts to sign the winger did not cause Watford any trouble or worry, as their proposed fee fell way short of the mark. Sarr has impressed since joining from Rennes for a club-record fee in 2019. The rapid attacker is only 22-years-old, and he could very likely be one of the most pivotal players in Watford’s push for promotion. 

Étienne Capoue: Watford had admitted that Capoue would be moving to another club. Everything was in place for the French midfielder to meet up with former Watford manager Javi Gracia at Valencia. The La Liga giants, however, were unable to provide Gracia with the funds to get Capoue, and the deal fell through. Capoue then rescinded his transfer request and returned to training with Watford. Despite being 32-years-old, Capoue has been one of Watford’s most consistent performers since 2015, and showed no signs of declining in quality last season.

Will Hughes: with Doucouré gone and Capoue presumed to be out, Hughes seemed to be the only player left from the strong Watford midfield-three that had a chance of staying to play in the Championship. There was rumored interest from Tottenham, though a move there never came close to happening. Hughes never agitated for a move out, and the 25-year-old recently returned to training following an operation in the summer. He is one of the players Watford have been looking to build a young-core around, so keeping him will have more than pleased the Pozzos.  

Troy Deeney: on the day Watford were relegated, Deeney admitted his time at Watford could very well be over. Interest from Tottenham soon followed, and even more serious attention to Deeney was given by West Brom. Deeney spent much of preseason and the start of the season apart from the squad in anticipation of a move away. But nothing materialized for him either, and he will be with Watford until at least January. He has captained Watford to promotion once, so the club will not frown upon having him to attempt to do so once again. 

Even though many players departed and arrived, the real victory for Watford in the transfer window was being able to keep hold of many key players, as well as being able to reintegrate players who spent the past season on loan.

Watford certainly have a squad decorated with top-flight caliber players, a squad which on paper, makes the club look like they should be promoted with ease. But in the Championship, what should happen is rarely what truly does. But most importantly, Ivic now knows exactly who he is working with. 

The ship has more than just survived the turbulent transfer window.

How Watford and Udinese’s Unique Relationship Has Ultimately Yielded Success

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and transfers between Watford and Udinese. 

When discussing this symbiotic relationship, it is important to take note of the status of the clubs before and after the Pozzo family’s takeover of Watford. Giampaolo Pozzo has owned Udinese since 1986, whereas Gino Pozzo, Giampaolo’s son, helped save Watford from administration by purchasing the club in 2012. Despite recent relegation, Watford seem to have benefitted more from the clubs’ connection. 

The Case of Udinese:

In the 2010/11 season, Udinese finished 4th in the Serie A. The season after, they were all the more impressive and finished 3rd. And then the Pozzo’s bought Watford. But, nevertheless, Udinese had another admirable season during the 2012/13 campaign, as they finished in 5th place. Since then, Udinese’s highest finish in the league has been 12th. That most certainly is not a coincidence.

Udinese’s norm under Giampaolo Pozzo’s ownership consisted of competing with the giants of Italian football, which included fighting for European competition every season. Now, the club finds itself in relegation scraps and lackluster mid-table finishes. Many fans say the main reason for their misgivings of recent years is the fact that too many of their better players go to Watford, and ample reinforcements do not arrive subsequently. In other words, some Udinese fans feel as if Watford has become a parasite to their club.

So, the implications of the Pozzo takeover in Hertfordshire has been harsh to Udinese and their fans. The term “success” is far from the correct word to describe the effect the Pozzo’s purchase of Watford has had on Udinese so far. 

The Case of Watford:

When Watford needed a hero to save them from bankruptcy, Gino, with the help of his father, did just that. The haphazard ownership of Laurence Bassini had come to an end. The Hornets were officially safe.

In terms of on the pitch, the Hornets had established themselves, once more, as a mid-table Championship side following their one-year stint in the Premier League during the 2006/2007 season. In Gino Pozzo’s first season as owner, Watford were able to make an improbable trip to the Playoff Final, a journey which included THAT Deeney goal. And, after finishing 13th the season after, Watford were able to finish 2nd, earning automatic promotion, during the 2014/15 season. 

From there, Watford spent 5 seasons in the Premier League, as well as made it all the way to the FA Cup Final during the 2018/19 season. Now relegated, Gino Pozzo is in somewhat uncharted territories. But, he has led Watford to the Promised Land once, and there is every reason to believe he can do so again.

The main criticism of Gino Pozzo’s ownership has been the fact that managers always have an axe looming over their head as soon as they sign a contract with the Hornets. Last season alone, Watford had four different managers (one being caretaker Hayden Mullins). In fact, the number of managers Gino Pozzo has sacked since his takeover in 2012 is in the double digits. Some fans loathe this philosophy, while others argue that although it might be unorthodox, it has ultimately brought the club tremendous success.

The reason why the Pozzos have been willing to sacrifice some of Udinese’s success for Watford’s is, albeit unfair to the Udinese faithful, evident and reasonable: money.


Last season, for finishing 13th in the Serie A, Udinese made in the range of 50-55 million pounds from the competition’s prize/broadcasting money. Watford, who finished 19th and got relegated, raked in a sum that is in the region of 100 million pounds (not including parachute payments). The Premier League has seen billions upon billions of dollars pumped into it over the last decade, thus making British clubs competing in the top-flight much more lucrative to own than a club in the top-flight of Italian football.

At the end of the day, football is a business. In most instances, an individual, or consortiums, own a club primarily for the financial benefits. Unfortunately for Udinese fans, success with Watford is much more lucrative than success with Udinese. Financially speaking, the Pozzos are totally justified in their decision to primarily focus on Watford.

Now that Watford have been relegated, perhaps the Pozzos will shift their focus and best efforts toward their top-flight team. Then again, Watford getting promoted would be significantly more profitable, in terms of sheer funds, than Udinese hypothetically shocking the world and winning the Serie A. 

The blatant truth is success in England is better for the Pozzos than success in Italy. However, despite Udinese’s decline in the past few years, this connection might finally be yielding positives for them too. 


Odion Ighalo. Roberto Pereyra. Gabriele Angella. Matej Vydra. Gerard Deulofeu. These are just a few of the names that have been involved in the 50+ transfers that have taken place between Watford and Udinese in the past decade. 

Besides there being a plethora of transfers between the clubs, the Pozzos have been significantly more willing to splash the cash on big-name players for Watford than they have been for Udinese. Ahead of the 2019/20 campaign, Watford spent over 40 million pounds on new players. The season prior, the club’s transfer fees equated to around 25 million pounds. And the season before that, around 60 million pounds. 

In the same 3 year span where Watford spent in the region of 125 million pounds in transfer fees, Udinese spent around 70 million pounds. When comparing the ratio of each club’s TV revenue and the ratio of each club’s transfer expenditure, the investments by the Pozzos actually seem fair (credit to Transfermarkt for the transfer sums).

The main reason Udinese hasn’t been able to get out of the bottom half of the table, however, goes down to how they are only able to bring in players who are “good enough,” rather than attracting players who will help them make that step up. And, of course, those special players would cost tens of millions of pounds, and the Pozzos have seemed to reserve 8-figure transfers (except for Udinese’s signing of Rolando Mandragora in 2018) for Watford. 

Before promotion in 2015, Watford having many players with a top-flight pedigree from Udinese, or from since-sold-by-the-Pozzos Granada, was a huge boost. The experience of the players coming in from the Pozzo network ultimately helped Watford get promoted. 

Neither promotion nor relegation meant the ending of transfers between the clubs. While Watford have brought in Stipe Perica, William Troost-Ekong, and Francisco Sierralta from Udinese in this past transfer window, Udinese have now, in return, gotten top-quality players from Watford, including Ignacio Pussetto, Roberto Pereyra, and most noteworthy of all, Gerard Deulofeu. 

The Future of the Relationship

In 2009, Giampaolo Pozzo purchased Granada CF. In 2016, he sold it. Will potential pressure from Udinese fans force the family which has owned them since 1986 to sell their club too? Most likely not. The connection between the two clubs is set to remain intact for the foreseeable future.

But now, for Udinese, things are looking up in this relationship. Roberto Pereyra is a skillful player who has the potential to tremendously help them this season. Gerard Deulofeu, when fully back from injury, which will be sooner than later, will become a star for them. Perhaps most importantly, however, is how the most valuable player on Udinese, Rodrigo De Paul, is still at the club. Leeds United had a bid of over 25 million pounds rejected for De Paul. This shows how the Pozzos were not desperate to cash in on him, which in turn shows how the Pozzos are evidently not treating Udinese as a money-maker for Watford. If anything, relegation will further steer the Pozzos away from sacrificing Udinese’s potential success in order to benefit Watford.

A new balance will be able to take hold now. Watford will seek instant promotion to the Premier League. Udinese will try to at least break back into the top half. Perhaps both happen. Perhaps neither do. But, the Pozzos, through their transfers of the past window, have shown both clubs are their equal priority. Watford will continue to reap the benefits of the connection, and now Udinese will too. The mutualistic ties between the clubs will continue to bring new faces through their respective doors, while an equilibrium is starting to be reached.

Gino Pozzo’s ownership of Watford might be controversial at times, but his ownership is steady, reliable, and the supporters are almost always taken into consideration. Not every club has this luxury. Giampaolo Pozzo’s ownership of Udinese is ultimately the same. The Pozzos have helped both clubs establish a firm foundation in a financially chaotic footballing world. The Pozzos are now in a more perfect position than ever before to help both clubs, equally, build upwards.

Adaptability At The Forefront: How Ivic Has Steadied A Sinking Ship

During Vladimir Ivic’s days as manager for PAOK Salonika and Maccabi Tel Aviv, he found success using a 4-3-3 formation. In his 91 matches in Israel, he averaged an impressive 2.25 points-per-game. Also telltale of his initial triumphs as a manager is the fact his Maccabi Tel Aviv side averaged 3.5 goals scored per 1 goal conceded (168 goals scored, 48 conceded to be exact). Despite the clear attacking quality Ivic was able to get out of his squad, it was mainly the defensive discipline which Ivic was able to receive from each and every player that earned him the plaudits.

But Ivic, young and ambitious, did not hesitate to shuffle around his tactical setup in order to foil his opposing manager’s preparations. The formation changes also allowed Ivic to ensure he was not forcing his available players into playing in unnatural positions. Still, most Watford fans expected to see his preferred 4-3-3 formation from the get-go. 

To the surprise of most, Watford have lined up in a 3 center-back formation for every fixture, so far, this season. Even then, these 3 center-back formations have come with variation. In Watford’s derby triumph over Luton Town, Ivic decided to turn to a 5-3-2 formation, instead of utilizing the 5-4-1 formation which had been deployed in the first 2 league matches.


In the 5-4-1 formation, the defensive setup would always see 4 players in the midfield. In attacking phases of play, the left and right midfielders would push forward and become wingers, creating a modified 5-2-3 formation. This formation saw Watford struggle to gain control of the midfield when trying to conjure up an attacking move from the back-line. With only Cleverley and Chalobah to connect the defensive phase of play to the attacking phase, Watford saw themselves frequently playing “hoofball” to clear their defensive lines, rather than methodically building up the attack. This formation also saw Quina attacking in a somewhat unorthodox wide position, as well as detracted from Ngakia and the left-wing-back’s attacking role (both Femenía and Sema have played in the left-wing-back position this season).

Watford had been able to gain 4 points from 2 matches under the 5-4-1 formation, and the defensive setup was clearly working, considering Ivic’s men did not concede. The defensive positives, however, could not be used to overshadow the underlying issues in the formation. Ivic understood results would not keep coming if nothing changed. So, lo and behold, Ivic did not shy away from rolling the die of formations. 


In the 5-3-2 formation, defensively, not much changed, since nothing needed to. The focus of the tactical switch was reclaiming control of the midfield, as well as trying to reintegrate a potentially-staying Ismaïla Sarr. Cleverley was moved up in the midfield in order to play an attacking-step ahead of Chalobah and Garner. With 3 true central-midfielders in the heart of the action both defensively and attacking-wise, instead of the 2 true central-midfielders from before, Watford were able to thoroughly dominate all aspects of midfield play. This overload allowed for intricate buildups to attacks, eliminating the need to send long balls from the center-backs to the forwards.

In terms of the two forwards up top, Pedro was able to play in his natural center-forward position. Ivic allowed Pedro to thrive in his preferred “Firmino” type of area, which consists of occasionally dropping back into a brief CAM role to help create attacking play. Sarr was able to use his central starting point to find himself drifting out to both wings. 

Sarr’s drifting to the wings was especially effective in the 5-3-2 formation because of the great extent with which the setup invites the wing-backs to be more involved in attacking play. Two of Watford’s best performers against Luton Town were Ken Sema, who got the assist to Pedro’s goal, and Jeremy Ngakia, who looked equally likely, if not even more likely, to be a goal-provider. The attacking freedom for the wing-backs allows them to show their true quality and skills. After all, these are players who were just in the top-flight, so allowing them to show their full potential every match will lead to plenty of attacking, as well as defensive, success.


One thing is for certain: Ivic will continue to switch up the formation to get the best out of the players available, as well as to make tactically preparing for a match against Watford more tedious. With a fixture list which is abnormally intense in comparison to what Watford has seen the past 5 seasons, squad rotation will be even more necessary than ever. With rotation comes different players with different strong-suits. Always being able to line up in a formation where everyone’s strong-suits can be displayed is the epitome of the adaptability which Ivic has brought to Watford.

What remains to be seen is when, or perhaps even if, Ivic will elect to go to the 4-3-3 formation fans had been yearning to see. If Sarr stays, a 4-3-3 allows him to be able to dominate the right-wing, but at the same time, the formation would detract from the fullbacks’ attacking roles. A center-back would also have to be sacrificed to use this formation. But if Ivic ever decides a 4-3-3 is what is best, then Watford fans should have faith in the method to his madness.

When Watford were relegated and without a manager, the club was on the brink of turmoil. Instead of rushing to appoint a new manager, the hierarchy decided to be methodical and ensure the best man possible would be taking the reins. The season has only just begun, and a lot can change in a very short period of time. Still, there is no denying Ivic has so far been able to get the best out of (most of) his players. With more time is more opportunity to roll the die of formations once, twice, or likely many more times. 

The Championship is sometimes said to be the most competitive league in the world. Ivic has ensured Watford have many dimensions, from individual player quality to tactical unpredictability, to compete at the top. But, like all things in football, time will ultimately tell of the successes, or shortcomings, that Ivic has truly brought to Watford. 

Troost-Ekong Signs For Watford: What To Expect From The International Captain

Watford have confirmed the signing of 27-year-old center-back William Troost-Ekong from Udinese. The deal sees the captain of the Nigerian International Team join Watford on a 5-year contract. Watford and Udinese, both of which are owned by the Pozzo family, had been in talks about a move regarding Troost-Ekong for a couple of weeks. Roberto Pereyra recently left Watford for Udinese on a permanent basis, so perhaps the clubs will consider this to be a modified player-swap. 

The experienced center-back came through Tottenham’s youth levels, before transferring on a permanent basis to FC Groningen in 2013 to be one of their potential replacements for recently-departed (at the time) Virgil Van Dijk. After being loaned out to FC Dordrecht, also in the Netherlands, he moved to Belgium to join KAA Gent. He was subsequently loaned out to FK Haugesund in the Eliteserien (the Norwegian first tier) for 1.5 seasons. After struggling to break into the KAA Gent first team, he made a move to Bursaspor in Turkey, where he impressed in his 31 appearances for them in the 2017/18 season. Udinese watched him closely, and then secured a move for Troost-Ekong worth around 2.5 million pounds in the summer of 2018. He immediately became an ever-present for Udinese, playing in 65 Serie A matches.

What To Expect:

William Troost-Ekong’s arrival will prove to be a shrewd bit of business by the Watford hierarchy. Firstly, Troost-Ekong has already proved he is worthy of playing top-flight football, so if Watford do get promoted at the end of this season, he will play a pivotal part in that first Premier League campaign. Arguably even more notable than his top-flight experience is the fact that Troost-Ekong captains a talented Nigerian International Team, which includes the likes of world-class stars such as Wilfred Ndidi and Victor Osimhen. So, there is no doubting Troost-Ekong’s ability to perform with the very best, as well as there being no questioning of whether or not he can be a key leader in a recently-relegated team that is drastically lowering the age of the squad. 

The main questions regarding this signing come in the discussion of whether or not he will be a consistent starter for the Hornets. After all, Craig Cathcart, Ben Wilmot, and Christian Kabasele, under Ivic’s 3 center-back formations, are yet to concede in the league. Craig Dawson is still on Watford’s books (for now, though a move away is not off of the cards), and Francisco Sierralta is also competing for minutes. Moreover, Ivic is known to prefer a 4-3-3 formation, so if Ivic decides to utilize his most familiar setup, then not only will there be the conundrum of who Troost-Ekong might replace, for there will be a dilemma in deciding who should be dropped from a so-far nearly-flawless center-back trio. 

The 6’3” defender was teammates with Ben Wilmot during the 2018/19 season, so assimilation into first team training will certainly not be an issue. Once Troost-Ekong is up to match fitness and has learned Ivic’s playing style, he will have no issues immediately competing for, and receiving, plenty of first-team action. One of his strong suits is his high-percentage passing/being sound on the ball. Considering Luton’s best chance of the last match came from a poor pass out of the back, sure-fire distribution is still a quality the backline will need to improve upon. 

Once the fixture intensity ramps up (such as playing 7 matches between October 16th and November 11th), there will need to be plenty of rotation amongst the center-backs. Even if Ivic goes to a 2 center-back formation, there needs to be at least 4 reliable players to step in when called upon. Troost-Ekong, a natural leader who will likely thrive when he frequently gets onto the pitch, most certainly fits the bill in terms of reliability and class.