Analyzing Watford’s Perfect Approach to the Transfer Window

Morecambe’s 1-0 victory over Newport County on the last day of May signaled the official end to the 2020/21 EFL campaign. For Watford, however, the goal of promotion was mathematically achieved on April 24th, two weeks before the Championship season (not including promotion playoffs) ended and nearly one month before the Premier League season concluded. So, the Hornets had a head start in the transfer window. They have used that time perfectly, with noteworthy deals already over the line and many more under consideration. The Watford hierarchy’s intentions are clear. 

Completed Transfers Show Perfect Balance Between Focus on Present and Future

At the time of publication, Watford have announced three arrivals: Kwadwo Baah from Rochdale, Mattie Pollock from Grimsby Town, and Imran Louza from FC Nantes. 

Baah was chased by top clubs such as Manchester City and Bayern Munich. Even though the 18-year-old will need time to further develop before he can make a true impact at Vicarage Road, securing his signature was shrewd business. The winger already has the foundation to be a Hornets’ star in the future. Even if he does not make a major impact in the Hornets’ first season back in the Premier League, the Club will eventually be further pleased that they made the move for the promising youngster. 

Pollock arrives at Watford in a similar manner to Baah. Like Baah, 19-year-old Pollock already has a considerable amount of experience in the lower leagues of English football. The center-back dominated aerial duel stats in League Two last season, showing his physical foundation is already present. Similar to Baah’s, Watford will primarily reap the benefits of Pollock’s transfer in future seasons rather than the upcoming one. 

By signing Baah and Pollock, Watford ensured that even if they get relegated again, they have talented depth ready to step in. If the Hornets establish themselves as a Premier League mainstay, then even if the Club needs them to wait a couple of more seasons, Baah and Pollock have what it takes to eventually be integrated into a top-flight team. Regardless of the Hornets’ future division, signing the two youngsters was wise.

The transfer for Louza, however, is undoubtedly the most noteworthy (and exciting) of the three. The 22-year-old signs after an impressive season with FC Nantes. The former French U21 international player scored seven times in 35 appearances last campaign, playing a pivotal role in his club’s Ligue One survival. 

Louza is able to play in any central-midfield role, whether it be as a defensive-minded midfielder or more advanced. With FC Nantes, he made a name for himself as a box-to-box midfielder. With the ability to move out to the wing if necessary, he will fit perfectly into Xisco Munoz’s style of play. As in, with his skills of knowing when to drift wide, he will be able to make effective overlapping/wide runs in attacking phases of play (which he found success with on multiple occasions with FC Nantes, including his goal against Stade Brestois). 

The transfer fee Louza warranted is thought to be in the region of 8-10 million pounds – a fair fee (and arguably a bit low) for a player of his caliber. Considering his age, despite already proving to be more than “just ready” for the top-flight, the talented midfielder will only continue to improve. If Watford prolong their Premier League stay once more, Louza will have a significant role for as long as the Hornets can keep hold of him. 

Beyond Watford securing themselves a Premier League starter, signing Louza proves Gino Pozzo, Scott Duxbury, and Cristiano Giaretta will not hesitate to mobilize significant funds if improvements in any position are available. Simply stated, while the moves for Baah and Pollock were low risk and for future benefit, the Louza transfer is a statement of ambition and intent to ensure an immediate return to the second tier is not on the cards. And, with over two months until the 2021/22 Premier League season kicks off, the Hornets are far from finished with their transfer business.

Rumoured Targets Further Show Both Immediate Intent and Focus on Future Success 

It seems as if there is now a Watford-related transfer rumour swirling online every day. Most of the names mentioned are loose links and never under serious consideration by the Club. Other names garner more focus once Watford seriously contemplate a move or attempt to enter negotiations.

Of the dozens of transfer rumours, some seem more likely to come to fruition than others. The most obvious name that has been on people’s lips is Ashley Young. A fairytale reunion has been mentioned by Young numerous times in the past, and now that a new Inter Milan contract is not likely to be offered, a Vicarage Road return could very well be in the cards. Admittedly, he will be 36-years-old when the next season starts. Nonetheless, the versatile left-midfielder/defender would provide Watford much-needed left-sided depth.

Young is an anomaly when it comes to players who Watford are planning swoops for. Players such as 19-year-old Scottish left-back Josh Doig and his 21-year-old compatriot Lewis Ferguson have been heavily linked with Hornets’ transfers. Doig starred for Hibernian last season, drawing Kieran Tierney comparisons. Ferguson now has over 120 appearances for Aberdeen despite his age. If signed, both would compete for Premier League minutes right away. Bringing in Doig would address Watford’s left-back problem, as Masina currently has no backup or competition (and Doig has what it takes to overtake Masina in the pecking order at some point). Both youngsters would additionally bolster Watford’s increasingly-youthful core. 

Watford know center-forward reinforcements are necessary for a solid chance at survival, and the rumours have been steadily flowing in. Ashley Fletcher is likely to sign to provide competition far down the pecking order, but he is not the higher-profile center-forward signing Watford will want to settle with. Rafael Santos Borre is set to head to an English club, and as the Hornets were one of the only Premier League clubs linked with him, they may have a good chance at signing the River Plate star. Typically valued in the region of 20-30 million pounds, he is available on a free transfer as his contract expires in the summer. 

Even if Watford do not bring in the talented striker who averages one goal contribution per 112 minutes since the start of the 2019/20 campaign, there are still a handful of other exciting strikers already on the Club’s radar. Ike Ugbo, Yakou Meite, and Mbaye Diagne, to name a few, have all been linked with Vicarage Road moves. No matter who ends up signing, the Hornets appear willing to spend what they must to sure up the center of the attack.

With center-forwards pursued, left-sided players targeted, and most potential arrivals being relatively young (either in age or surname), the hierarchy is addressing the biggest of the squad’s concerns while ensuring a bright future is secured. 

With the transfer window not even officially open yet, there is plenty of time for more deals to be made. But so far, Watford are doing a phenomenal job. Pozzo and Co. appear ready to do everything possible, even if financially costly in the short term, to preserve the Club’s Premier League status. 

Kwadwo Baah: the Inverted Winger Further Brightening Watford’s Future

When a player moves to Manchester City as an 18-year-old, it is clear that the player has all the tools necessary for being a future star. So, when Kwadwo Baah’s transfer to Manchester City in January broke down during the medical phase, it was clear that whoever secured his signature would be partaking in shrewd business. Watford are fortunate enough to be the team to capitalize on the high-profile breakdown. But, what exactly should Hornets fans be expecting from Baah? 

Kwadwo Baah Showed Promising Signs with Rochdale

The England U18 international initially made headlines as a 13-year-old when he was a ball-boy at Crystal Palace and ran onto the pitch to prevent West Ham United from time-wasting. The Stuttgart-born attacker made his senior debut for Rochdale as a 16-year-old on the first day of October in 2019. 

The now 18-year-old’s 2019/20 campaign came with 4 league starts. This season, he truly broke into the spotlight. Baah played a total of 30 league matches for Rochdale this past campaign, starting 13 of those matches. He ended the season with three goals and two assists. The numbers, however, are deceiving. 

Unfortunately for Baah, Rochdale were tangled in a relegation scrap for the entire season, meaning they could not take the gamble of starting an 18-year-old week-in and week-out. Their season ended in relegation by an agonizing one point. But, to try and stay afloat, Brian Barry-Murphy had to try as many attacking combinations as possible to find the back of the net by any means necessary. As they had the third-worst defensive record in the league, the only way to compensate was by having a formidable attack. And so, despite Baah bolstering the attack when on the pitch, Barry-Murphy also did not want to take too many risks. Baah impressed during his chances; he was just unfortunate to be in a relegation scrap which saw the manager under immense pressure to play more experienced players. Rochdale felt they could not focus too much on a player for the future when their full focus in the present was on steering away from relegation. 

So, Baah only making 13 starts is at no fault of his own. When he did play, he showed tremendous talent. And of course, as mentioned, most Manchester City targets have super bright futures ahead of them (In January, The Athletic claimed Bayern Munich, Juventus, Rangers, and West Ham United were interested in his signature too).

To put his statistics in simple-to-understand terms considering his mix of starts and cameos from the bench, he averaged one goal contribution for every 270 minutes. An output of one goal contribution per three full matches is not jaw-dropping, but for an 18-year-old finding his footing in a competitive, physical league, it is for sure noteworthy. And, if he had more talented attackers on the end of his deliveries, his assist count would be much higher.

Beyond looking at solely goals and assists, Baah’s dribbling is already at an impressively high level. He averages one successful forwards dribble per 30 minutes – for comparison’s sake, this is a rate similar to what Mohammed Salah produces. Considering the physical nature of League One and Baah’s age, such progressive dribbling output – while maintaining a 49% dribble success rate – is a sign of positive contributions to come. 

How Baah Will Contribute at Vicarage Road 

As an 18-year-old with loads of potential, playing time is a must, whether that be with Watford next season or on loan elsewhere. After preseason, Xisco Munoz and the rest of the coaching staff will need to reach a verdict on whether to keep hold of Baah or loan him out to develop further. The likelihood is the latter will occur. But, in the event he stays, what could he offer Watford right away? And even if he does not break in at Vicarage Road for another couple of seasons, what type of player is he set to turn into?

In modern football, positions continue to become more adaptable and fluid. One position with tremendous variations is on the wing. The “inverted winger” is the type of player Baah is on course to be – meaning his playing style already does and is set to further mirror the style of Arjen Robben (Robben played as a right-winger despite him being left-footed). 

To clarify, although Baah can play on either wing and as a center-forward, his best talents will be utilized as an inverted left-winger. In his seven starts as a left-winger last season, he scored all three of his goals. 

His intricate dribbling and willingness to carry the ball into the box mean he does not cross the ball from afar frequently. For a Watford comparison, his playing style is akin to Ken Sema’s, albeit Sema prefers his left foot. Nonetheless, both left-wingers find the most chance-creating success by carrying the ball into the opposition box before sending in low, fizzing balls across the face of the net, rather than trying to pick out a cross from 30 yards away. 

As an inverted winger, Baah will see himself with more chances at scoring as opposed to a typical left-footed left-winger of similar ability. Not having to shoot cross-body efforts can make the difference between a solid goal-scoring left-winger and a great one.  

One moment which shows his value as an inverted winger is his wonder-goal against Charlton Athletic, when he scored a brilliant right-footed goal into the top corner of the net from the edge of the box with his first touch. Another similar moment is his strike against Wigan, scoring from a similar position in a similar manner – a goal epitomizing the strong foundation the talented inverted winger already has. Even his second goal in the match versus Charlton Athletic (skip to 43 seconds) portrays how effective he will be as a right-footed left-winger. 

Whether or not he breaks into the Hornets’ first-team for the 2021/2022 campaign remains to be seen. Although a loan appears more likely for now, he already has developed sufficient physical ability through his time in League One. But, one thing is for certain: upon promotion back to the Premier League, the Hornets’ signing of the January EFL Young Player of the Month proves they are continuing to focus on the distant future, setting them up perfectly for an extended top-flight stay if this inaugural season goes to plan. 

The Ken Sema Dilemma

With the Premier League season kicking off in three months, Watford have more than enough time to shape their ideal starting eleven. Some players’ names are written in permanent ink. Other players, such as Ken Sema, have a bit more uncertainty surrounding their name in regards to being a consistent starter. 

Sema’s Form of Success Changed as Season Progressed

Under the management of Vladimir Ivic, many players did not have their strengths catered to. One of the exceptions was Sema. The 27-year-old spent the 2019/20 campaign on loan with Udinese. When he returned to Vicarage Road, there were mixed expectations for the Swedish international player. From the first match of the season, even the high expectations were exceeded.

From a wing-back role under Ivic, Sema was able to balance his defensive and offensive duties remarkably – with more plaudits coming for the latter. After 12 matches, Sema logged four assists. His strong runs to the byline and dangerous low crosses in the box made him an early Player of the Season contender. 

His impressive run of performances was toned down following a three-match absence due to contracting coronavirus. He played five matches post-illness and pre-Xisco Munoz era, failing to score or assist in any of those clashes.

Xisco’s appointment as head coach offered Sema new territory, especially after the tactical change to a 4-3-3 formation. No longer needing to worry about defensive duties, Sema was able to stay in a true left-wing position for the entirety of matches. Although he only assisted once under Xisco, he also found the back of the net five times. However, there were a handful of matches where Sema seemed off the pace, making some supporters question why he was not given a rest. After all, starting 11 matches in 42 days is bound to lead even the best of players to look knackered. 

At the season’s conclusion, Sema finished with five goals and five assists. But, he is indeed directly responsible for more goals. For example, his cross to Sarr in the Hornets’ first 1-0 victory over Norwich City took the slightest of deflections, meaning he did not get credit for the assist. Also, his cross against Blackburn at Vicarage Road led to an own goal. His cross to Andre Gray’s goal against Coventry City also took a small, credit-for-assist-preventing deflection. Simply stated, at first glance, his numbers do not do his attacking contributions justice. 

Under Ivic, Sema was an assist king. Xisco guided Sema to finding the back of the net more frequently. Overall, Sema’s performances in the Championship were sufficient for a promotion-chasing side, but whether they make him a Premier League starting-eleven player is to be determined – something the Watford hierarchy will have to seriously contemplate ahead of making summer signatures.

Is Ken Sema Premier League Starting Quality?

Regardless of whether he is a consistent starter next season, it will be important to keep hold of Sema. His versatility is a trait the Hornets can tremendously benefit from. He can play anywhere on the left side of the pitch – including in defense – as well as a central midfielder. He can even slot in as a right-midfielder if necessary. 

Sema has already had success in a major European top-flight. His 17 Premier League appearances in the 2018/19 season for Watford following his arrival from Ostersunds did not make jaws drop. However, his performances made it clear he had the tools necessary for top-flight success. 

His 2019/20 loan to Udinese provides further evidence of his ability to thrive in top-flights. He played 33 times for the Pozzo-owned club, primarily playing as a left-wing-back. So, when Watford were relegated, the Hornets had another top-flight proven player in their ranks to help them push for a return to England’s top tier. 

The best evidence to support a claim Sema is indeed Premier League starting quality is by looking at Expected Goals and Expected Assists. Across 90 league matches over the past 3 seasons, Sema outperformed his Xg statistic by 2.66 goals – maintaining a positive residual with respect to the Xg prediction in all of the last three seasons (to be clear: in each individual season, he scored more than expected). 

Yet across that span, Sema played primarily as a wing-back. Spells as an out-and-out attacker primarily came in the second half of the promotion campaign – a period where most of the wide play went to the right side thanks to Ismaila Sarr. Still, Sema scored five goals this past season despite an Xg of 4.01. In terms of finishing, although he does not test his luck often, he is statistically overperforming. The Xg metric may admittedly be slightly misleading here due to his frequent deployments in non-attacking positions. 

Regardless of whether he is playing as a wing-back or out-and-out winger, his Expected Assists statistics are more prominently – and more importantly, considering his varying tactical instructions – highlighted. Over the course of the past two league campaigns, Sema’s actual assist count is much less than what is expected. As in, his strikers/teammates have considerably let him down in front of the net. Thus, his actual statistics show less than what they should according to the Xa statistic. Between his Serie A season and the Championship campaign, Sema notched 5.41 fewer assists than expected, epitomizing how his attacking partners have let him down on the end of his deliveries. 

So, when it comes to Expected Goals, Sema scores at an impressive rate. In terms of Expected Assists, he creates many more chances than scoresheets give him credit for. But still, even though the “expected statistics” signal he is overperforming/not getting enough credit, does that mean he is Premier League starting quality?

The answer is likely the following: it depends. If the season commences and he is Watford’s first-choice left-winger, it is not as if it will be detrimental to the Club’s hopes of survival. He will be able to get the job done and chip in with a few assists and goals. However, with Philip Zinckernagel bound to be vying for a starting spot, Cucho Hernandez and Joao Pedro potentially getting minutes out wide, and the prospect of new attacking signings, a starting spot is far from secure. 

Sema will – as he for sure knows – have to prove himself as the best man for the starting role. He has some evidence to back his claim, but not enough for him to be considered a sure-fire starter just yet. He has the foundation he needs for the role and currently has the upper hand. Summer transfers may change the picture if a true upgrade is brought in. However, that upgrade is not necessarily a must. Sema has proven himself as capable of being a good-enough Premier League starter. Whether or not the transfer window will change his importance to the Club remains to be seen. And, even if competition arrives, it is important to keep hold of King Ken regardless. 

So, simply stated, he has sufficient Premier League quality, but an upgrade is not ill-advised either only if the price is right. But either way, it is not a make or break position in the Hornets’ hopes for survival. Not signing a new center-forward, however, may prove to be a relegation curse, but that is a conversation for another time. Besides, early indications in the transfer window signal those in the Watford hierarchy agree. 

Watford’s Full Keep, Sell, and Loan List Ahead of Premier League Return

Promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking: the reality still feels like a dream. The taste of triumph in these otherwise hard times has an extra sweetness. Soon, if not already happening, basking in the glory will shift to focusing on the ever-pivotal post-promotion summer transfer window. So, it is the perfect time to wade through which players of the current Watford squad should be kept, loaned out, or sold permanently.

Disclaimer: potential transfer arrivals are not taken into consideration unless specified. 

Keep

Daniel Bachmann: the Austrian shot-stopper has proven himself as a capable number one. Unless a new starter is purchased (which is not necessary), there is no reason to part ways with him.

Ben Foster: the goalkeeper – and YouTube star – is reliable whenever called upon. He will still be nice to have to provide Bachmann starting competition if poor form (or injury) hits. 

Rob Elliot: although his contract expires at the end of the season*, he is included on this list as an extension is advisable. Having a reliable third-string keeper who seems to always be boosting morale in training is never a bad thing.

Christian Kabasele: despite injury limiting him to 19 Championship appearances, keeping the top-flight-proven center-back will give the Hornets reliable defensive depth.

William Troost-Ekong: one of the two Udinese center-back signings from the 2020 summer transfer window, Troost-Ekong was one-half of one of the Championship’s best-ever defensive pairings. He was widely considered Premier League quality upon arrival one year ago.

Francisco Sierralta: the other Udinese center-back signing and the other half of the nearly-impenetrable defense, Sierralta was Watford’s surprise player of the year. The 24-year-old had Premier League suitors, but now Watford know they can, and must, provide him the top-flight competition.

Craig Cathcart: with Watford during the last promotion, there is no reason to offload the proven defender. The 32-year-old brings experience and consistency. 

Adam Masina: as he is currently Watford’s only true left-back under contract for next season, keeping him is imperative, even if Ashley Young arrives. 

Jeremy Ngakia: although a loan might appear a smart move for the 20-year-old, keeping him at Vicarage Road for next season is important. Despite being Kiko Femenia’s understudy, he is a more-than-reliable back-up and has already proved himself in the Premier League with West Ham United during Project Restart. Hopefully Xisco takes more note of Ngakia’s talent than he seemed to this season. If, however, another right-back arrives and Femenia stays, then a loan move for Ngakia would be appropriate.

Kiko Femenia: one of Watford’s players of the season, keeping the Spanish right-back is crucial. His ability to play on the left if necessary makes him a coach’s dream.

Nathaniel Chalobah: ever since being named captain, Chalobah has been a star in Watford’s promotion push. He continues to improve and grow in confidence and has already proven his value in the top-flight. His continuously-building head of steam makes him a pivotal player in Watford’s fight for Premier League survival.

Will Hughes: no explanation is needed.

Tom Cleverley: the 31-year-old was a phenomenal captain when called upon. Robust in defense and very good at pressing, having him for depth and rotation in the Premier League will only be a positive. 

Dan Gosling: his transfer to Vicarage Road was underwhelming when announced, but the former Bournemouth player proved to be a shrewd signing. He will bring more experience to the midfield if necessary, though his minutes are set to be limited. 

Domingos Quina: a player who there might be some debate about, Quina has spent the second half of the season on loan with Granada CF in La Liga. Featuring somewhat regularly under Vladimir Ivic, Quina seemed to still need to adjust to the physicality of the second tier. In the 21-year-old’s 6 La Liga appearances, he has performed well (and scored 2 screamers). The style of play of the top-flight better suits Quina’s playing style. Previously on the fringe of being ready for Premier League football, now is the time to give him a chance to truly shine.

Ken Sema: even if reinforcements are brought in for the left-wing, Sema is an important player to keep hold of. He is versatile, and it still would not be the end of the world if he were the Club’s starting left-winger in the first match-week. If an addition is made, his competition and rotation would still be pivotal to keeping a balanced attack.

Ismaila Sarr: If an offer of over 50 million pounds arrives, then selling Sarr would be unavoidable. However, as that is not (for now) inevitable, Watford should for sure not sell Sarr for any discounts. Keeping hold of him guarantees Watford a threatening attack force. And of course, he is Sarr. Not many clubs in the world would reject the opportunity of having his services. He will only prove to be more prolific, creative, and hard to defend than he was in his inaugural Premier League campaign. 

Philip Zinckernagel: despite only truly breaking into the first team due to an injury crisis, Zinckernagel showed why Watford brought him in. Despite only making 19 league appearances – only 8 of which were starts – he is the Club’s joint-leading assister with 5. He is yet to even be seen in his most-preferred right-wing position. Even the left-wing position is more natural for him than the midfield role he has been asked to play. The Premier League style of play will suit him better as well, and he has now had enough time to adjust to English football. Keeping hold of him is a low-risk, high-reward bet to make. In the worst case scenario, he moves elsewhere in January. 

Cucho Hernandez: following a handful of loan moves to Spain, the 22-year-old’s time to make his Vicarage Road bow has arrived. He has already proved himself in the Spanish second tier as prolific, and his goal record in the top flight is not astounding, though it is not disappointing either. Considering he only has room to grow and, more importantly, how Getafe wanted to extend his loan, the risk of letting Cucho play considerable minutes at Vicarage Road is one worth taking. 

Joao Pedro: the 19-year-old (yes, it is important to realize how young he is) finished the season in underwhelming fashion in regards to the scoresheets. However, he was still pivotal to the promotion push, and of course, his nine goals in his first true season in England are impressive. The term “style of play” has been thrown about a lot. But, Pedro will indeed likely get to have the ball at his feet in the buildup to attacks with more consistency than the Championship offers. Besides, even if he does not hit the ground running, offloading him would still be a rash decision. 

Troy Deeney: this may be the most controversial decision on the list. Only one goal from open play in 19 Championship appearances is beyond underperforming. Nonetheless, he is the club captain. If he is going to demand to start every match, then okay, a departure would be advisable. Nonetheless, the best-case scenario would be he stays and is content as a rotational player. And who knows? Perhaps shades of his prolific past will show. 

Andre Gray: if the Deeney choice was not the most controversial decision, this one is. Gray underperformed this season; that is a fact. He scored five fewer goals than his Xg statistic predicts. During the relegation season, he only scored twice. In the 2018/19 Premier League season, he scored seven times, two more goals than his Xg statistic predicts. During the 2016/17 season with Burnley, he outscored his Xg statistic by over one goal. In his 25-goal 2015/16 Championship season with Brentford, the now 29-year-old’s Xg statistic was 20.90. Despite his shortcomings this season, recent history shows he is an overperformer. He also ended this season strong – from the 2-0 victory over Wycombe Wanderers onward, he averaged one goal scored per 114 minutes. Four goals in such a span – in which he only started four matches – is noteworthy. The other key point in the case for keeping him is he is heading into the last year of his contract. Thus, a transfer would not be very profitable anyway. Making the bet he returns to his overperforming trends is one worth taking. He is on the outside competing for a look-in regardless (as in, Watford are not reliant on him), so if he is unable to continue how he ended this season, then he simply does not need to play and can be moved on in January. 

Sell

Marc Navarro: he has never really settled in since arriving from Espanyol three years ago. It is best for both parties to part ways. 

Stipe Perica: the summer signing showed bright glimpses at the beginning of the season, though he has hardly found any minutes under Xisco Munoz. With Pedro, Cucho, Gray, and Deeney all already above him in the pecking order, a permanent transfer is best for the Croatian. 

Ignacio Pussetto: the 25-year-old, currently on loan at Udinese after arriving at Watford, from Udinese, in the January of 2020, did not fit the Premier League’s style of play. His production with Udinese is much better than it was with Watford, so he should be used as a weight in permanent transfers between the related clubs.

Adalberto Penaranda: despite showing tremendous promise when initially signed, the 23-year-old has never hit the ground running at Vicarage Road or on any of his loan moves. Between injuries, off-field antics, and most importantly, poor performances, it is time to cash in on the striker who had five goals and four assists for Granada as an 18-year-old many seasons ago.

Jerome Sinclair: the 24-year-old is out on loan with Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia, which is where Penaranda is currently too. Like Penaranda, there were high expectations for Sinclair when he signed. The former Liverpool youngster has not impressed on any of his many loans since joining in 2016. The transfer simply has not worked out, and it is time for both sides to move on. 

Loan


Ben Wilmot: 
is he Premier League ready? Most likely yes. Unfortunately for the 21-year-old, minutes under Xisco are near non-existent. His most recent start was Xisco’s second match in charge. With Troost-Ekong, Sierralta, Kabasele, and Cathcart preferred by Xisco over him, letting Wilmot ride the bench for the entire season is bad for all parties involved. He is probably good enough for the Premier League, but as it is clear Xisco trusts many other players over him, letting Wilmot’s development halt to be Xisco’s fifth-choice (which he is for sure much better than a fifth-choice) will result in unnecessary discontent. The risk of losing Wilmot permanently thus increases. To keep all parties happy and not risk losing the talented center-back for the long-term, a loan to, at minimum, a promotion-chasing Championship side is necessary. Of course, if Xisco has a change in heart about Wilmot, keeping him would make sense. Indications over the past few months, however, signal that that is unlikely. As phenomenal as an appointment as Xisco has been for Watford, like all things in football, there will be a couple of people who are left less content than others: it is just unfortunate for Wilmot that he is one of the few people who has not benefitted from the necessary coaching switch at the end of 2020. 

Joseph Hungbo: the Watford youth product showed tremendous signs of promise in his cameos from the bench. The talented 21-year-old winger deserves to go on loan for increased minutes and to further his experience at the senior level. He had a successful short-term loan with National League side Aldershot Town, so a move to a League Two or League One side should be in the cards.

Daniel Phillips: the Trinidad and Tobago international player showed glimpses of professional tenacity during preseason and in the Carabao Cup. The powerful midfielder would benefit tremendously from a loan. 

Tom Dele-Bashiru: the former Manchester City youngster seemed as if he would play a considerable part in the push for promotion. Unfortunately, his injury in the fourth match of the season against Reading abruptly paused his impressive rise. A loan will do a world of good for rebuilding confidence and form, in addition to gaining experience, as an immediate jump to consistent Premier League minutes for him is likely not yet in the cards. 

Pontus Dahlberg: between Bachmann, Foster, and likely Elliot, Dahlberg will still be surplus to requirements at Vicarage Road. He has a phenomenal future as his successful loans in Sweden prove. Keeping him on the sidelines in England is bad for all parties, so another loan, and then letting him properly compete for the number one role in the 2022/23 season, seems best.

Isaac Success: another placement sure to spark debate, Success’s future at Vicarage Road hangs in the balance. He is in a similar boat as Penaranda and Sinclair, in the sense his high expectations upon arrival a few seasons ago have not been met. Success’s time at Watford has been hindered by off-field antics and injury. Following a year-long injury absence, Success featured in 10 of the Club’s last 12 matches of the season. Watford’s final goal of the season was his wonder-volley against Swansea City. The 25-year-old showed glimpses of talent in the promotion run-in, so one last loan move to see if he can shake off the rust and prove to be the player he was expected to be is deserved. But, if the Hornets cash in on him, that would not be the biggest of shocks either. Still, his performances this season have earned him one final chance at a loan to prove himself of being top-flight quality for the Hornets in the future. 

*Another disclaimer: Carlos Sanchez and Achraf Lazaar are not included as their contracts expire in the summer and extensions for both are not necessary (though if one had to extend, Sanchez would be the preferred choice). 

An Open Letter to Gino, Scott, and All of Watford Football Club

Dear Gino, Scott, and all of Watford Football Club,

“Rest assured, we will do everything in our power to take Watford Football Club back to the Premier League, something we all believe we can achieve,” is what you said on July 27th, 2020, following our relegation from the Premier League.

At times, to many supporters, that statement did not appear true. Other Championship clubs signed players we were supposedly linked with. Luis Suarez, Pervis Estupinan, Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra, Abdoulaye Doucoure, and many more left in the summer transfer window. Although an exodus of players was expected – especially considering the turbulent financial climate – it was still disappointing to see such talent on its way out. 

Vladimir Ivic was appointed as head coach. At first, his appointment seemed a positive one. The high-octane attacking football he successfully deployed at Maccabi Tel-Aviv promised an exciting campaign. Despite picking up seven points from the first nine available, it quickly became clear the expectations for his style of play – from the fans’ perspective at least – were the opposite of what he demanded. He nonetheless laid the groundwork and discipline for one of the best defenses the Championship has ever seen.

By the time we were spiraling downward and lost 2-0 to Huddersfield and on the brink of falling out of the playoff places, it was clear change was needed, whether it be the players’ fault or Ivic’s. At the time, when he was replaced with a 40-year-old Spaniard who had hardly any head-coaching experience, the sacking seemed even more peculiar, and in a way, unjust.

Quickly, skepticism from supporters started to die down after Xisco Munoz’s inaugural match in charge, the first 1-0 triumph over Norwich City. But then the January transfer window came and went. Etienne Capoue departed. Instead of securing a what-appeared-to-be-imminent signing of talented Rennes midfielder James Lea-Siliki – a direct Capoue replacement – we settled for Dan Gosling. 

As the second half of the season progressed, what felt like a poor transfer window proved to be perfect business (as Gosling, for example, rarely put a foot wrong when on the pitch). Xisco’s appointment as head coach could not have been any more ideal. At times, Mr. Pozzo and Mr. Duxbury, your ideas seemed unjustifiable, but in the end, you were right, as you have been so many times before. And for those times we doubted you, well, thank you for not letting it affect your planned path. 

As supporters, we do not have to agree with all of your decisions. We can formulate our own opinions. But what we have to do, and as this season proved yet again, is not let differing views affect our passion and pride for the Club. Once more, you have shown us why we should always back you, even when times are tough and choices are questionable.

Now that we are back in the Premier League following a remarkable end to the season, we have a stronger foundation than before, a firmer identity, and new hope. So many times, your decisions that drew disagreement proved to be masterstrokes. Automatic promotion to the Premier League with two matches to spare in an ever-improving, extremely difficult second-tier is tangible proof that you doing everything in your power did not always take the form we wanted, but at the end of the day, it was exactly what we needed.

Perhaps many of us supporters focus too much on the bad. Not enough credit is given to the Club for being able to keep hold of Ismaila Sarr (for which Sarr himself also deserves tremendous praise and admiration). Joao Pedro’s rise to the spotlight felt expected, but we need to remember the tremendous scouting and job it took to sign him in the first place. The typical transfers with Udinese proved to be far from random, as it gave birth to a beyond-formidable center-back partnership of William Troost-Ekong and, remarkably, Francisco Sierralta. How you uncovered the managerial gem of Xisco is beyond our imaginations. 

Through all the criticism, you stayed firm to what you believed, and more importantly, you ensured the club stuck to its values. In given moments, it is hard not to speak up against what the Club is doing. But in the end, your direction is exactly what we needed. For the times we doubted you, we could not be more glad to be proven wrong.

So thank you Gino, Scott, Xisco, all the players, everyone who works at the Club, and even Vladimir. It has been a hectic season, but in the end, sticking by you was beyond worth it, as has always been true, and as will always be true. 

We can rest assured, as you indeed did everything in your power to take Watford Football Club back to the Premier League. 

Words alone cannot describe how thankful, grateful, ecstatic, and proud we all are of our wonderful club. 

Sincerely,

Watford Opinions and Watford supporters from around the world. 

Football’s “Americanization” – An American View On The Evil European Super League

Passion, tradition, and prestige are three of European football’s keystones. Without any one of them, the sport loved by so many would not be the same. And now, the creation of the European Super League threatens to strip football of all three.

Football: Unparalleled Passion

As a New Yorker, before the April of 2015, I had been to my fair share of professional sports games. I went to a few Yankees games (baseball), a handful of Giants games (American football), as well as a couple of Knicks (basketball) and Rangers (ice hockey) matches. 

The atmosphere at all were impressive to me at the time. The applauding of a home run; the roar of a touchdown; the clapping of a basket; the songs of a goal. In terms of sports and passion, that was all I knew. And to me, nothing was wrong with the amount of passion in any of the stadiums/arenas.

But then came my first Watford match, a Championship clash against Middlesbrough (accompanied by a locally-supporting family member). I did not know much about football – much less Watford – before the match. After the match, my days of being an American sports supporter felt decades behind me.

I still keep tabs on American sports for sure, but from that day forward, Watford, and football as a whole, was my passion. The constant chants, the immersion of the crowd into the match, the feeling of directly helping the team through support, and so much more made one match all that was needed to make my lifelong allegiance. Even supporting from abroad, the passion can never die nor dwindle. Football has intangibles which no other sport has – and there are many more reasons, apart from match-day atmosphere, as to why. 

The Breaking Of Tradition Strikes Football’s Soul

Football has been rapidly evolving over the past couple of decades. There are clubs like Manchester City that have had tremendous cash injections to propel themselves to domestic domination. There are teams such as Red Bull Leipzig who compete in the Champions League despite being founded in 2009. Even 20th-placed Premier League teams are paid nine figures. 

Some change is inevitable, but through all the changes of the past, tradition in football was not lost. Arguably the most fundamental part of footballing tradition is there is always something to chase no matter a club’s trajectory: the idea that any team from anywhere can achieve anything – the notion that the sport of the people is going to provide thrills on all tiers – (most importantly) the promise of always having something to play for, whether it be for silverware, a European spot, promotion, or avoidance of relegation. 

In American sports leagues, including the MLS, the truth is if you are not first, then nothing matters. If you win the championship, you are super successful. If you are the 7th best team out of thirty, so what? You might as well have been the worst team because, in the end, there is not too much incentive to finish in a higher position. In fact, the worse teams get rewarded with better draft picks.

Hardly any Americans complain about this system. The leagues have always been this way. The owners of the teams know they have a salary cap, know they will make revenue regardless of the season’s outcome, and know that they can be terrible for ten seasons and make their fans suffer and it would not financially matter. That is the way it has always been, so in America, the corporate-first system feels normal (not to mention the other logistical issues implementing promotion and relegation in American professional sports would have).

Seeing both sides, the promotion and relegation system is a tradition that cannot be abandoned. It breathes life into football. It gives every supporter of every team of the hundreds of teams in England reason to put their all behind their club. The traditions in football are the heartbeat of many people’s lives, especially now during the challenging times imposed by the pandemic. 

Football is always going to have its changes, but with the loss of tradition will come an inevitable loss of truly inherent value. 

European Super League Cannot Have Prestige

If the European Super League does commence, the format it will take, at the time of writing, remains unclear (as in what the implications are for domestic competitions). Either way, one thing is for certain: the value of winning in the European Super League is absent.

The notion that the founding teams cannot be relegated/leave the European Super League is this so-called “Americanization of the sport.” The league is not filled with for-the-fans football clubs; it is filled with franchises who care primarily, perhaps exclusively, about money. 

With no risk of punishment for not performing well (as in no risk of relegation or missing out on European competition), what is the true incentive to winning? With guaranteed money, the owners and players have no reason to put their best forward. All that is being competed for is a trophy without history. A poor season is a poor season and there is no downside to it. A team does not have to try to improve at all when they know there is literally no need to. 

Indeed, a positive is that the top clubs in the world will make more money as a result of this. That, however, is the only positive, and that is exactly at the heart of this problem, and the main reason why all fans of all clubs are uniting: football should never solely be about franchises making money – it is about being the sport of the people. It is about highs and lows, rivalries, passion, tradition, and so much more. Even if the top clubs go ahead with their plan and make more money, the true joy fans will get is lost. The money to be made by the few shareholders involved at the top is worth infinitely less than what football is meant to be to the billions of its followers.

Owning a football club is a business; that is a fact. But, it is more than that too. It is a duty to the followers. It is an oath of loyalty to uplift those who spend their entire lives following the team. Being an owner is more than just about making money – especially when profit comes at the expense of football, and even a way of life, as we know it.  

And finally about the European Super League, well, it cannot be “super.” When everyone is super, no one is. Without lows, there are no highs. With “super matches” every week, none of the matches are truly unique. What makes given clashes have prestige and attraction is the value of witnessing one. The rarity of playing against top teams gives that handful of matches per season the extra value. When the scarcity and specialness of playing a “big” opposition go away, then the magnitude of each match declines. 

Regardless of the format the European Super League will take, it is a direct attack on football and all that the sport is built upon. In America, similar systems work because franchised leagues are all that has been known for generations. But, the way football is different puts the value of the sport so above and beyond the value any other sport could have. The creation of the European Super League will tear football away from its core values, rip what sets it apart from all other sports, and signal the people’s sport being stripped away from the world in favor of money.  

It might be too late to stop the league’s creation, but if we do not use our voices, then the die is certainly cast. It is up to all people of the sport, from pundit to supporter to player, to ensure football remains football as we know it – the football we all love. 

The Luton Lesson – A Familiar Story

When Watford fell to a 1-0 defeat against Bournemouth on February 27th, the main talking points were about Jefferson Lerma and an otherwise poor Hornets’ performance. On Saturday, in Watford’s derby against their arch-rivals Luton Town, a similar fate occurred – with even fewer antics needed from the Hatters.

Watford Get Dominated In Derby

52% possession. 16 shots. More passes and better passing accuracy than the opposition. In a match between a mid-table side playing for nothing but pride and a second-placed team pushing for promotion, one would expect the latter to have the mentioned statistics. In the Beds-Herts derby, however, it was Luton Town with the mentioned numbers. The statistics signal a deserved Luton Town win, or more alarmingly, a justified Watford defeat. 

Ever since the most recent international break, the Hornets’ form has dropped. A 1-0 Watford victory against Sheffield Wednesday was arguably a harsh score-line for the Owls. The Hornets settled for a 1-1 draw against Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough. A 2-0 victory against Reading flattered Watford, as Reading missed many clear-cut chances. And, of course, the 1-0 defeat to Luton Town is the declining form catching up to Watford.

To be clear, none of this is to say Watford’s season is on the ropes. This is not an admission that Watford should not be favored for the second automatic-promotion spot. But, this is to point out the reminder that the job is far from finished, and that if form does not improve, then promotion to the Premier League is far from a guarantee. 

Against Luton Town, the Hatters were objectively better. Nathaniel Chalobah was out with injury, whereas Adam Masina ultimately missed out after initially being included on the team sheet. Even with Achraf Lazaar and Carlos Sanchez both getting their first Watford starts, the squad fielded was more than strong enough to beat Luton Town by a comfortable margin. Complacency, lack of accountability, sloppiness, laziness, and disjointed play characterized the Hornets’ performance. The main talking point is the first on the list.

Going into the fixture, most people expected Watford to win all three points, as has been the case in all matches recently. The winning intensity simply was not there. Creativity was absent. Frequent mispositioning and poor passing from most players made it impossible for the Hornets to gain control of the match. Even with Watford losing through a penalty conceded following an awful back-pass from Lazaar, the performance was worthy of zero points either way. To summarize, Watford’s complacency, amongst other factors, made them the architects of their own downfall.

A Similar Story

A sloppy, lackluster defeat such as this has been brewing for a while, has happened before, and needs to be learned from. Again. Of course, no team can expect to never lose. But, considering the time of the season and position of the opposition, a loss was unacceptable. The only thing making the loss not catastrophic for the Hornets is Brentford and Swansea both drew their home matches against sides circled as “must-beats.” Watford are still six points clear of Swansea and eight points clear of Brentford (who have one extra match to play). 

Still, the lesson that needs to be learned from the match is to only focus on the football. The Lerma Lesson was about the same idea. This time, external distractions were (surprisingly) less about antics and more about complacency, pressure, and the stigma of a derby. The psychological and tactical impact of being without Chalobah and Masina influenced the match too.

Regardless of the personnel, over the course of the past few matches, Watford have been losing their newfound identity under Xisco Munoz. The intricate play down the wings is no longer being seen. Controlling possession and allowing the attacking midfielders to set up more chances is starting to be overtaken by booting the ball forward, hoping for the best, and soaking up pressure – nearly Ivic-esque. 

With four tough matches left, promotion is far from secured. It is necessary that Watford return to their attacking identity and that individual performances do not have to bail out the rest of the squad. The draw against Middlesbrough should have been the wake-up call. The defeat at Kenilworth Road must set off a true reaction. Otherwise, the chances of promotion back to the Premier League will rapidly diminish.

Watford were in this exact situation following a heated, underwhelming defeat against Bournemouth. So, it has already been proven the Hornets have what it takes to bounce back promptly. Although this now seems to be said before every match, the upcoming clash against the Canaries is truly “season-defining.”

Watford’s Promotion-Formula Rundown

With five matches remaining for the Hornets – and a nine-point gap separating them from third place – automatic promotion back to the Premier League is more than just a wishful possibility. Watford are in the driver’s seat for the second automatic-promotion spot by a considerable margin. But, the die is far from cast.

There are thousands of combinations for how the season could play out. Supporters will be running all of these different outcomes through their heads until the end of the season or until promotion is clinched. Below is a list of each clubs’ fixtures, a discussion of the key matches, and shortcuts on how to determine the “magic number.” 

Fixtures

Watford: Luton Town (Away), Norwich City (Away), Millwall (Home), Brentford (Away), Swansea (Home)

Brentford: Millwall (Home), Cardiff City (Home), Bournemouth (Away), Rotherham (Home), Watford (Home), Bristol City (Away)

Swansea: Sheffield Wednesday (Away), Wycombe (Home), QPR (Home), Reading (Away), Derby County (Home), Watford (Away)

Key Matches

As this season has proved yet again, anything is possible. There is no such thing as a “free three points.” Nonetheless, there are some fixtures that appear more threatening than others. 

Watford’s final run-in sees them come up against the rest of the top four, as well as a derby clash against Luton Town. Despite the difficult fixtures, Watford control their own fate with the points gap, and they are playing significantly better now than they were during the reverse fixtures.

Brentford’s final six matches, as they have one match in hand, have three fixtures that appear destined to end in Bees wins. Again, there are no “free victories,” but Rotherham, Millwall, and Bristol City are all fixtures Brentford are clear favorites to win. Cardiff City and Bournemouth, however, are not teams that will easily combine to yield six points to Brentford.

Swansea, like Brentford, have a slightly more favorable run-in than Watford. Still, an away fixture at Sheffield Wednesday is no walk in the park, while QPR have had a notoriously strong second half of the season. An away fixture to Reading is a daunting task for the Swans as well.

What must be noted is that with Brentford and Swansea both having one match in hand on Watford, they will have extra fixture congestion. The Hornets only have one more midweek match left, whereas both the Bees and Swans have two. Fine margins, such as fatigue and fixture congestion, could play a huge role in the final month of the campaign. 

And, inevitably, the main fixtures that must be mentioned are Watford’s final two matches. If Watford are seven points clear of third-place heading into those matches, promotion will already be clinched. This, of course, is what Watford fans hope for. But if promotion is not clinched by then, both Brentford and Swansea will have key chances to gain serious ground on, and potentially even leapfrog, Watford.

The Magic Number

Watford are currently nine points clear of third-placed Brentford and ten points clear of fourth-placed Swansea. If both win their matches in hand, the Hornets will effectively be six and seven points clear respectively on equal games played (although Brentford’s extra midweek fixture is not until after Watford’s clash against Millwall). 

The current “magic number” for promotion is 10. If Watford pick up 10 more points in the last five matches, an immediate return to the Premier League is mathematically confirmed. The 10-point magic number is under the assumption Brentford win all of their remaining matches. Their maximum points tally for this season is 91, while Watford currently sit on 82. If Brentford catch up to Watford, the Bees’ goal differential will likely be considerably better than the Hornets’. Winning every match for the rest of the season is beyond a steep task for Brentford – not impossible, but highly improbable.  

Here is the list of equations for calculating the “magic number” for the rest of the season: 

Watford victory: subtract three from the magic number.

Watford draw: subtract one from the magic number.

Watford loss: the magic number stays the same.

Brentford loss/draw and Swansea win: subtract one from the magic number (only applicable until Swansea go ahead of Brentford).

Brentford draw and Swansea draw/loss: subtract two from the magic number.

Brentford loss and Swansea draw/loss: subtract three from the magic number.

If Swansea go ahead of Brentford, repeat the same process but replace the two teams in the formulas above.

If they are level on points, a draw for both is subtract two and a loss for both is subtract three. 

A victory for both teams or the team closest to Watford: the magic number stays the same.

And to be clear, if Watford win and Brentford win, the magic number still decreases by three, for example.

So, if Watford theoretically win and both other teams lose in a given match-week, six points can be slashed off the magic number on a given day. The earliest Watford could clinch promotion is against Norwich, if Brentford drop four points from their next two matches, if Swansea drop three points in their next three matches (as their extra midweek fixture is on April 13th), and if Watford win against both Luton Town and the Canaries.

Odds indicate Watford will eventually get their moment of joy at promotion. That moment will likely not be in the next couple of matches, but it is still a possibility. But, what has to be remembered is that nothing is ever set in stone until the math says so. The push for the automatic-promotion places is far from over. Watford are in pole position by a decent margin, but serious veering from the track still cannot be afforded. 

Watford Player Ratings Following Scrappy Victory Against Sheffield Wednesday

The Hornets were able to sting the Owls for all three points at Vicarage Road in what was a mostly lackluster match. 

The hosts were always favorites to win the match, with the return of Philip Zinckernagel and Ismaila Sarr to the starting eleven further giving Watford a personnel advantage. Xisco Munoz’s men came out of the gates strong. Adam Masina’s inch-perfect cross-pitch aerial pass to Sarr allowed the Club’s record signing to hit a low cross intended for Isaac Success. Tom Lees turned the ball into his own net before the ball reached Success. The linesman raised his flag so as to say the Nigerian striker was offsides, but after deliberation with Chris Kavanagh, the goal was rightfully awarded.

The rest of the match was without too much goal-mouth excitement. Although Watford had most of the better attacking spells, Sheffield Wednesday ended the match with 52% possession. The three points were necessary for gaining separation from Swansea and Brentford, though the obtaining of the points was far from pretty and not one of the Hornets’ stronger performances as of late. But, considering the untimeliness of the international break, tired legs as a result of it, and inclusion of multiple returnees from injury, a slight drop-off in the first match back is understandable. Nonetheless, a crucial three points were picked up from a spirited, albeit not overwhelmingly strong, performance.

Player Ratings

Starting XI

Daniel Bachmann: the Austrian shot-stopper put in yet another strong claim as to why he should continue to be the Hornets’ number one. He grows in confidence when it comes to coming off of his line/commanding the box every week and moved smartly to preserve the 1-0 lead at the end of the first half. A great performance overall from Bachmann and another clean sheet.

Rating: 7.5/10

Kiko Femenia: the Spaniard put in yet another solid performance. This was not one of his loudest matches, though he moved forward well on a couple of occasions and was defensively sound. His relatively quiet match was not his fault, and he did what he had to well. 

Rating: 7/10

*William Troost-Ekong*: although Sierralta has stolen the spotlight as of late, Troost-Ekong deserves a tremendous amount of praise for his performance. Despite captaining Nigeria in the middle of the week, Troost-Ekong looked rejuvenated and lively. He dealt with the Sheffield Wednesday aerial threat well and looked solid throughout. This was a true man-of -the-match performance from the summer signing. 

Rating: 8/10

Francisco Sierralta: Watford’s surprise gem put in yet another applaudable performance. He commanded the air well for the most part and the opposition attack rarely got behind him. He picked up a pointless yellow card, however, as well as being partially responsible for giving up a big chance at the back post due to his skewed heading of a cross. Still, Sierralta was strong throughout.

Rating: 7/10

Adam Masina: besides his perfect distribution to Sarr in the lead-up to the goal, the Moroccan had a relatively quiet match (as most of the squad did – as was a common theme of the match). Despite looking fatigued at times, he did well to not get beat and put in some good standing challenges to prevent crosses from entering the box late on.

Rating: 7/10

Will Hughes: the former Derby County player continues to stake his claim as to why he is the best central midfielder in the Championship. He sat in front of the defense well and was an unsung pacemaker throughout the match. Although lots of his contributions get overlooked due to his deep position on the pitch and lack of involvement right in front of the net, Hughes did not do much of anything wrong. Always reliable, composed, and accurate.

Rating: 7.5/10 

Nathaniel Chalobah: the captain was unable to fully repeat the stellar performance he put in against Birmingham City – with his highlights Friday coming mainly when not in possession. He still played solidly and captained the Club to a hard-fought win, but he will be looking to offer a bit more on the ball next time out against Middlesbrough. Admittedly, the bar for him, especially considering recent performances, is already very high. 

Rating: 7/10 

Philip Zinckernagel: like his partner in the attacking-midfield of the 4-1-4-1 variant of the 4-3-3, Zinckernagel did not have as much of an influence on the ball as he could have considering his abilities. Admittedly, the Dane is coming back from an injury that has seen him without minutes for nearly three weeks. Still, the creativity that has made him a must-start player was missing for large parts of the match. 

Rating: 6/10

Ismaila Sarr: the pleasantly surprising inclusion in the starting eleven continued to show glimpses of why some of the top clubs in the world are vying for his signature. It was his sublime first touch and cross that led to the own goal. He wreaked havoc on the Sheffield Wednesday defense on other occasions too. Statistics alone do not justly explain his performances: this match is a prime example of that.

Rating: 7.5/10 

Isaac Success: his return to fitness is great to see. Unfortunately for Success, he let chances go begging that other strikers in the Club likely would have done better with. Some aspects of his play, such as his hold-up abilities, are starting to come to the fore, but overall, him replacing Joao Pedro centrally (albeit due to fitness/injury-induced reasons) dials down the Hornets’ attacking threat. Despite getting into good positions, his finishing ability was not there for the second match running. When other strikers in the Club miss multiple good chances despite their own good movement, they are given low ratings for it.

Rating: 5.5/10

Joao Pedro: always looking a threat when on the ball, the 19-year-old nearly doubled Watford’s lead with an impressive cross-body strike at the end of the first half. He made some threatening runs and dribbles before he was forced off with an injury. When fitness issues around the club permit, however, Pedro needs to be moved back to his natural central position. 

Rating: 7/10

Substitutes

Andre Gray: the Jamaican international team player looked lively when he came on for Success in the 61stminute. He worked his way behind the opposition defense well on a couple of occasions, and he pressed impressively as well. If Pedro needs to miss time, Gray might have done enough to have usurped the central-forward spot from Success.

Rating: 7/10

Dan Gosling: he slotted in well for Philip Zinckernagel. The former Bournemouth man did not detract from the team’s performance. However, 30 minutes was not enough time for him to make a memorable impact.

Rating: 6/10

Ken Sema: his coming onto the pitch was impressive considering he played for Sweden on Wednesday. He hardly saw the ball during his 20 minutes on the pitch. 

Rating: 6/10

Carlos Sanchez: despite previously doing well in his cameos from the bench, Sanchez looked off the pace after being introduced to the fray in the 84th minute. He made a couple of poorly-weighted, awfully-timed passes to the defense in the closing stages of the match, giving Sheffield Wednesday unnecessary chances at late parity. 

Rating: 5.5/10

**Note: disagreeing with player ratings is common and understandable. Also, do not use player ratings from one match as an overall indication of a player’s talent/contributions to the Club. The rating is solely a numerical value to summarize how Watford Opinions viewed and analyzed an individual’s match-day performance.

Cucho Hernandez: Watford Cannot Afford A Luis Suarez Repeat

Watford have been increasing their international scouting activity ever since the Pozzo family bought the Club in 2012. When Watford sign a youngster from South America, the player typically spends their first couple of seasons under contract with the Hornets elsewhere – whether due to work permit issues or simply a lack of experience. Cucho Hernandez, the embodiment of Watford’s South American scouting and integration system, is nearing a pivotal junction in his career. The Club need to make sure the Colombian does not follow in the footsteps of a player nearly identical to him.   

Hernandez’s Time In Europe

The 21-year-old forward signed for Watford in 2017 from Pereira in his home nation of Colombia. He has yet to make an appearance for the Hornets, but he has been improving tremendously abroad. Hernandez earned a loan move to SD Huesca in the 2017/18 season. The La Liga side were in the second-tier during the first half of his two-year loan spell. He was the focal point to their first-ever promotion to the top flight. In that campaign, he scored 17 goals and assisted on six in 35 appearances. 

The following season was less successful for Hernandez and SD Huesca. The Club were unable to avoid relegation, missing out on safety by eight points. Nonetheless, Hernandez was pivotal to the highlights of their inaugural La Liga campaign. Despite only scoring four goals and providing three assists, it was evident the Colombian was continuing to improve. He scored a goal against both Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Watford elected to loan Hernandez to RCD Mallorca for the 2019/20 season to ensure he continued to receive top-flight minutes. He missed the Spanish side’s first 15 matches due to injury. When he regained fitness, he continued to show signs of why he is so highly-rated. In 22 appearances, he scored five times and assisted once. Unfortunately for Hernandez, his side finished in 19th for the second season running, although this time only missing on safety by four points. 

The current season saw Hernandez depart on his highest-profile loan yet: a year-long transfer to Getafe, which made the Europa League Round of 16 last season. For the club based in Madrid, Hernandez scored two times and assisted on three goals. Despite recently being ruled out for the season due to a fifth-metatarsal fracture, his host club wants him to stay for at least the next campaign. But, according to Marca, Watford do not want to listen to offers just yet – and wisely so. 

Watford Must Avoid Another Luis Javier Suarez Scenario

Luis Javier Suarez’s career was nearly identical to Hernandez’s until the most recent summer transfer window — when Suarez was sold for a fee worth up to eight figures. 

Like Hernandez, Watford bought Suarez from a Colombian side (Leones FC). Suarez spent some time with Granada CF’s Under-19 setup and second-team as a loanee from Leones FC before his sale to the Hornets. In his first season under contract with Watford, he was loaned to Real Valladolid B in the Spanish third-tier. In 34 appearances, Suarez scored 11 times. 

In the 2018/19 season, Suarez was loaned to Gimnastic in the Spanish second-tier. Eight goal contributions in 37 appearances continued to gain recognition for the strong forward. Last campaign, his loan to the same league with Real Zaragoza put him in the scouting notes of some of the top teams in the world. A 19-goal, six-assist season to lead his side to the Segunda Division Promotion Playoffs earned him a transfer to Europa-League-competing Granada CF.

Watford, however, wanted to keep hold of the 23-year-old. When the Spanish second-tier resumed play for the promotion playoffs, the Hornets did not allow Suarez to play for Real Zaragoza, as they wanted him in England for preseason preparations instead. He even donned a Watford kit in a friendly against Scunthorpe. The ever-improving versatile attacker, who now has seven goals in 27 appearances for Granada CF, would have been a focal point in the Hornets’ push for promotion.

Nonetheless, between the financial implications of the coronavirus and relegation, Watford knew they could not turn down a sizable bid. And so, when the offer arrived, Suarez departed for good. The substantial profit from the transfer of a player who never played a competitive minute with the Club is still impressive and noteworthy, but Watford certainly missed a grand opportunity to have a truly prolific striker.

If Hernandez follows Suarez’s path, then the Watford hierarchy will be frustrated for a long time. Even if Joao Pedro is to be the heir to Deeney’s high-scoring throne, they must avoid losing Hernandez. Chances at finding and inexpensively developing such young, talented, ever-improving goal-scorers are hard to come by. His future at Vicarage Road, however, has a key focus.

Keeping Hernandez Nearly Contingent On Promotion

As stated, Marca recently reported Watford are unwilling to listen to offers for Hernandez until the end of the season. The Club believe that if they are to be promoted, then it is the perfect time for Hernandez to finally make Vicarage Road his year-round home. And, based on an interview with a radio station from Pereira, Hernandez is not expected to reject the prospect of playing with Watford in the Premier League. 

Of course, promotion to the Premier League is far from secured. Although the Hornets currently sit in the driver’s seat for the second automatic promotion spot, anything can happen with eight matches remaining. A return to the Promised Land is nowhere near guaranteed, hence why the Club are unsure about his future. It seems Watford’s future determines Hernandez’s. If Watford continue to play Championship football next season, then they seem resigned to cashing in. 

Still, Watford should solidify Hernandez’s future at Vicarage Road as soon as possible. If the Hornets do not achieve promotion but are able to keep Hernandez, then they will still be promotion contenders next season, even if other notable names depart. Having Hernandez in the Premier League would be helpful and a luxury, but having him next campaign no matter what will massively benefit the Hornets in many ways. If he follows in Suarez’s footsteps, the Hornets will have missed out on properly utilizing yet another future star.