Fees Named as One Midfield Star Departs Watford and Another Arrives

With the transfer window storming to a close, there has been no shortage of rumours and transfers flying around. With Will Hughes on his way to Crystal Palace for an initial fee in the region of £6 million with the potential for the sum to rise to £10 million (as reported by Adam Leventhal and Dominic Fifield of The Athletic), the Hornets had no shortage of funds to bring in yet another midfielder. Now, Watford have found their next potential midfield star – a player all Premier League fans will know a considerable amount about. 

Watford Set to Confirm Moussa Sissoko Arrival

Even with Peter Etebo, Imran Louza, Ozan Tufan, and Juraj Kucka arriving as midfield reinforcements upon the Hornets’ return to the Premier League, the hierarchy knows a strong, reliable, deep midfield is one of the biggest priorities in a quest for survival. With Hughes and potentially Nathaniel Chalobah departing, all of these signatures are necessary.

Still, after four central-midfielders arrived, even with the departure of Hughes, a fifth arrival was not necessarily a guarantee. However, the hierarchy swiftly acted to ensure the Hornets used those funds to sign a player who provides an upgrade in the middle of the park.

Moussa Sissoko signed for Tottenham in the summer of 2016 for around £30 million from Newcastle. A consistent member of Spurs’ match-day lineups ever since arriving, the Frenchman went on to make 202 appearances for the North London side. 

However, for the 32-year-old, minutes appear fewer and further between this season, leading both the Club and the player to agreeing a departure should be sought. Watford came knocking, and now, the deal is all but finalized.

Sissoko Transfer Fee Named

The powerful midfielder, mainly characterized by his strength and ability to ensure a midfield presence is always felt, gives the Hornets a type of player they do not already have. Players such as Kucka and Etebo for sure are characterized by their tough style of play (not shying away from challenges, willing to give the extra nudge, etc.), but Sissoko is a cut above most players in the league when it comes to sheer physicality and drive. 

Between Sissoko and the other arrivals, a loud midfield is shaping up. There is still a chance the Hornets try to bring in Okay Yokuslu to provide a true, natural number six. Even if they do not, Watford should now have enough in the heart of the pitch to not be dominated in the midfield like they were against Brighton. 

With confirmation from the Club set to arrive soon, Adam Leventhal of The Athletic reports Sissoko’s contract with Watford is a two-year deal with the option to extend one further year. He further says that the 71-time capped French international team player is arriving for a fee in the region of £5 million. Considering he is not in the last year of his Tottenham contract, even with his age, such a fee for a player of Sissoko’s talents and experience is fair.

(UPDATE: Watford have officially confirmed his arrival). 

Watford Likely Dealt Another AFCON Blow

With the first international break of the 2021/22 campaign swiftly approaching, countries are revealing their squad lists. With World Cup qualification matches to be played, managers know it is the time to only take the strongest players; experimenting with fringe players has to wait for friendlies. For Morocco, Adam Masina and Imran Louza have been given the nod. Both represented their respective European nationalities previously, but this year, they opted to activate their senior international swap. However, can Louza expect to play serious minutes in international competitions and earn a trip to AFCON?

Imran Louza Impressing in Early Stages of Career

Even though he has currently only featured in two matches for Watford and needs time to adjust to English football, it is clear Louza has a bright future ahead of him. In his time with Nantes, the versatile midfielder with a keen eye to thread intricate passes between the defensive lines played 66 senior matches, scoring 12 times in the process. 

His transfer to Watford for a fee in the region of £9 million shows how highly-rated the 22-year-old is. His playing style has a noteworthy level of finesse and composure to it, especially when compared to more robust, aggressive midfielders such as Juraj Kucka. Even as Louza’s best role at Watford remains to be seen, his versatility and vision at such a young age make him destined for top-flight and international success barring any surprising setbacks. 

International Outlook

For a few years, Louza has been on the radar of two international teams. He started his international career with Morocco’s U20 setup, ironically scoring in a 3-2 victory over France’s U20 team. He then proceeded to play eight combined matches for France’s U20 and U21 sides. However, considering France’s sheer depth in all positions and the hunger the midfielder has for a taste of senior international football, he decided to revert back to representing the country for which he made his international debut. 

This was the first time Morocco had to select a squad since Louza’s international switch, but as expected, Louza is on the roster for the World Cup qualification matches. Even though their other midfield talent is still impressive, Louza could have a key role to play. 

The seven central-midfield options making the trip to the matches are Fiorentina’s Sofyan Amrabat (the brother of former Watford player Nordin) and Youssef Maleh, Louza, Standard Liege’s Selim Amallah, Benfica’s Adel Taarabt, QPR’s Ilias Chair, and Frankfurt’s Aymen Barkok. What must be noted is that the last four midfielders listed primarily line up as attacking-midfielders. Thus, it is likely going to be a battle between Amrabat, Maleh, and Louza for the holding and box-to-box roles. 

Vahid Halilhodžić, the manager of the Moroccan international team, almost exclusively lines up in formations that call for three central-midfielders. Thus, there must be this many options for sufficient rotation and depth. 

AFCON Departure Likely

With the international tournament running from January 9th to February 6th, Louza is probably going to miss a couple of league matches in the less-busy post-festive-period schedule. 

Nonetheless, this call-up is exciting for Louza and will only continue to help his development by giving him more experience in adjusting to different styles of play. This, in turn, could help him better adapt to changing to suit the Premier League’s style of play and Xisco Munoz’s tactics. Considering his international team manager loves three-central-midfielder formations and Louza’s ever-increasing talent, it is hard to see a scenario where Watford’s new signing does not make the squad for the prestigious tournament at the start of 2022.

Deeney’s Days at Watford Looking Numbered

No post-match tweet. No inclusion in the match-day squad. No sign of him anywhere. Following Watford’s victory over Crystal Palace, the Hornets’ (former) Club captain Troy Deeney was invisible between social media and the stadium. So, is there a chance Deeney’s Vicarage Road race is finally at an end?

Career Crossroads

Regardless of whether this transfer window is the end of the line in Watford and Deeney’s relationship, one of the ones in the near future will have to be. That is solely on the basis that he is 33-years-old, meaning, simply stated, his best days are only getting further and further behind him and places for him as a player at the Club are becoming less available. 

Especially if Watford maintain their Premier League status, unless the Club legend has a tremendous change in fortunes, there simply will not be room for him on the 25-man roster. Fans should of course remember him with nothing but fondness, but the reality that the best of his days are past cannot be ignored. 

In 19 Championship appearances last season, he scored just one open-play goal. The Hornets averaged 1.78 points-per-match when he started and 2.06 points-per-match when he did not. The statistics tell the story.

Tuesday’s Potential Turn of Events

Whenever a Watford head coach stands in Deeney’s way of featuring, well, usually the head coach cannot get that far as either the player or the hierarchy will insist upon his inclusion. Yesterday, this was not the case.

Geoff Doyle of BBC Three Counties Radio Sports started dropping hints suggesting Deeney’s Watford future may be up in the air. Perhaps there are just lots of coincidences, but the stars are aligning for a departure to be in the cards.

Doyle said (via Twitter) that Xisco told him, “It’s a question about today. I used these players as I want to see everyone, and I give a rest to Sarr, Kabasele, Masina, & Troy also. Moment now for try to give the best for the team. We need to speak about the guys who played.” 

Doyle proceeded to say how uncomfortable Xisco appeared when answering questions about Deeney and highlighted how U23-player Jaime Alvarado was selected over him. And, considering Deeney has only played 23 minutes over the first two matches, giving him “rest” is hard to believe. The other three players Xisco named have played all 180 minutes of the league season so far, making rests for them understandable. But, for Deeney, “rest” appears like it is an excuse for something else. 

Depth and Summer Recruitment Suggest Time is Up

As Ashley Fletcher, Joshua King, and Emmanuel Dennis were brought in this summer, as well as Cucho Hernandez returning from loan, the Hornets have no shortage of options in the center of the attack. And, with Joao Pedro soon returning from injury, yet another talented, starting-worthy center-forward option will be available. Thus, Deeney may already be finding himself as a fringe player, as he could be as far down as sixth-choice already. In the clash against Brighton, King and Cucho were thrown into the fray from the bench before Deeney eventually was. 

For fringe players, cup matches are the perfect time to get minutes in the legs to stay fresh in case a starting role becomes available via injury. So, for Deeney to not even make the match-day squad despite neither being injured nor ill is beyond just noteworthy. 

There is a small chance Deeney mysteriously needed rest and there is nothing more to this whole situation. However, considering the whispers starting to swirl, the squad’s present attacking options, yesterday’s situation, and the current junction of his career, a departure for Deeney before the end of the month would not be a shock in the slightest.

Watford Eyeing Two Defensive-Midfielders

After signing Juraj Kucka, Imran Louza, Ozan Tufan, and Peter Etebo, the Hornets might still not be done shaking up their midfield. With Will Hughes’ departure imminent and Nathaniel Chalobah also likely heading out the door, midfield reinforcements and improvements were (and still may be) needed. The 2-0 defeat against Brighton also showed a true number six would be a useful signing. And so, the Hornets appear on the lookout for yet another midfielder.

New Arrivals Get the Job Done, But Not Entirely

Even though Etebo has played well as a number six, Louza can play there as well, and Tufan also has been frequently deployed as a defensive-midfielder in his career, all of their best strengths are better utilized in more advanced-midfield positions. Tufan, for example, has moved to more progressive-midfield roles in recent years, notching 25-goal-contributions in the last two seasons alone. Etebo’s ball-carrying ability makes him better suited for a number eight role. Louza’s attacking creativity makes him more adept at playing as one of the two central midfielders in a 4-4-2 formation. 

So, when it comes to a true defensive-minded holding midfielder, one who will effectively act as a third center-back, the Hornets do not necessarily have someone who plays there most naturally.

Okay Yokuslu Links Persist

Almost one month ago, Okay Yokuslu’s agent met with Cristiano Giarreta, making a Watford arrival seem imminent. The Celta Vigo man, who impressed with West Brom while on loan for the second half of last campaign, is open to the move to the Premier League, according to Turkish-Football.

The recent arrival of Tufan at Watford might further push Yokuslu in favor of a move to Vicarage Road (as Wolverhampton Wanderers also have interest, according to Sky Sports). The two midfielders played together this summer at Turkey’s underwhelming Euro 2020 campaign. 

He would provide Watford a true defensive-midfielder and will only be brought in if he is to be a consistent starter. In Xisco Munoz’s 4-1-4-1 system, a player of Yokuslu’s strengths is necessary and has to be reliable every week. However, if Xisco is considering a formational change, then an arrival in the number six position may become unnecessary.

Isaac Hayden Also Reportedly Targeted

According to Football Insider, Watford are interested in signing Isaac Hayden, who is thought to be intrigued by the potential transfer. The report suggests, even though Hayden has started Newcastle’s first two matches, that a move away for him should not be written off, with the player and both teams open to a potential agreement. 

Like Yokuslu, Hayden falls into the category of an “extra-center-back-esque” midfielder. The 26-year-old also has more Premier League experience than Yokuslu, having featured in 106 top-flight matches. 

What to Expect

It is still hard to determine whether another midfielder will come through the door before August 31st. It will likely go down to whether the likes of Hughes and Chalobah (and maybe others) can be offloaded first. Nonetheless, the room for a true, natural defensive-midfielder still exists, especially ones that can also play as center-backs (as these two can) if necessary

Predicting Domingos Quina’s Watford Future

Watford have already signed four central-midfielders in this transfer window, and their shuffle in the center of the park may still not be finished. This leaves current midfielders at the Club, such as Domingos Quina, in a very difficult situation. For the talented youngster, what should the future hold, and what will likely occur?

What Quina’s Watford Career Should Look Like

After signing on deadline day in 2018 for a fee in the region of £1 million, expectations for the former Chelsea and West Ham youngster were high. In his first season at Watford, he impressed whenever given first-team opportunities. In his Hornets’ debut, he scored an outside-the-box screamer in a League Cup clash against Reading. He also scored a wonder-goal in one of his eight Premier League appearances that campaign.

The following season saw the attacking-midfielder play just 18 Premier League minutes. When the Hornets were relegated, his role was expected to increase. For the first half of the season, this held true: he featured in 14 of the Hornets’ first 18 matches post-relegation. However, an injury sidelined him for the time period when Xisco Munoz took the reins, meaning when Quina regained fitness, he was not part of the Spaniard’s plans. A loan to Granada for the second half of the campaign saw him score twice in eight appearances, though he was unable to truly break in as a consistent first-team starter.

This season, expectations remained high, though he has now been omitted from the first two Premier League match-day squads. Still, Xisco and Co. should try to convince the talented 21-year-old to extend his Vicarage Road stay. If he is not part of first-team plans this year, even though he should be included considering he is the Hornets’ only true creative-attacking-midfielder, then a contract extension and loan to a side where he is guaranteed to play consistent starting minutes is imperative. 

Simply stated, the Hornets should try to avoid repeating another Ben Wilmot situation, where they let a promising youngster depart when he still could have been used in the first team and will only continue to improve.

The Predicted Outcome

With his contract expiring at the end of the season (although an option-to-extend can be exercised) and Football Insider claiming Bournemouth are interested in securing his services, it might unfortunately be the time that Watford and Quina cut ties. Even though such is not optimal, the stars are aligning for the little-wanted departure to occur. Despite Quina’s creativity, the current tactics Xisco is pursuing do not necessarily call for a player with the Portuguese youth international’s specialties.

If the Hornets do not let him depart and continue to ice him out of the first team, then he will be lost for no profit next summer. Or, even if the optional extension is activated, a transfer would still be at a heavily-discounted price. Gino Pozzo, Scott Duxbury, Cristiano Giaretta, and Co. have undeniably done some tremendous business for the Hornets, though the management of Quina falls under the category of their more questionable decisions. 

Watford should be doing all they can to integrate arguably their most creative midfielder into the squad’s rotation. However, as the first couple weeks of the season suggest, such easing in does not seem in the cards. 

Watford Miss Out on Torino Center-Back

The Hornets should continue to look for defensive reinforcements until the transfer window closes for multiple reasons. Young Mattie Pollock arrived at the start of the window from Grimsby Town, though he is a player for the future rather than an immediate Premier League starter. A new, talented senior center-back appeared close to arriving at Vicarage Road, but now, Southampton have hijacked the transfer. 

Watford Had Interest in Lyanco

On August 17thSky Sports reported the Hornets were nearing a deal for the 24-year-old. A £7.5 million fee was close to being agreed between Watford and Torino. Lyanco is under contract at Torino until 2024 following a contract extension in 2019.

He initially signed for the Italian side in 2017, leaving Sao Paulo FC for around £6 million. He only played six matches in all competitions in his first season in Europe. However, he spent the second half of the following season on loan to Bologna, impressing to the point where he was rewarded with the new contract. 

In an injury-stricken 2019/20 campaign, he featured 18 times for Torino. Last season, he played 25 matches for them, particularly impressing with his brilliant distribution (something Watford lack with their current center-backs). Lyanco has also played 19 times for Brazil’s youth teams. 

Despite impressing, it is suspected that Ivan Juric, Torino’s new head coach, is not fond of the center-back, allowing for a summer departure. 

Southampton Set to Beat Watford for His Signature

Despite Watford reportedly being close to wrapping up a deal for the Brazilian, Dan Sheldon of The Athletic claims the Saints have agreed a deal in principle for the defender. The Hornet’s (potential) relegation rivals want a replacement for Jannik Vestergaard following his £15 million departure to Leicester City.

Center-Back Worries Persist Following Defeat in Brighton

After a phenomenal opening-day victory against Aston Villa, the Hornets lost in poor fashion to Brighton by a score-line of 2-0. Defensive breakdowns were responsible for both goals, with the first coming from an unmarked man on a corner and the second a result of a poor pass out of the back from William Troost-Ekong. 

With only four center-backs with top-flight experience and some already appearing off the pace for consistent Premier League football, another center-back should be brought in to provide starting competition. A center-back such as Lyanco, one who is talented in playing out of the back, would be optimal. He would have been an ideal signing, but Southampton moved too swiftly. Whether the Hornets will be able to swoop in for a different target before August 31st remains to be seen. 

Watford Player Ratings Following Abysmal Performance in Brighton

The Hornets were unable to replicate their impressive opening-day performance in a 2-0 defeat to Brighton. The hosts were always favored to win the match, but the ease with which they did it was a shock nonetheless. 

Player Ratings

Daniel Bachmann: not at fault for either goal and tremendously let down by the men in front of him. Not much action otherwise. 

Rating: 6

Craig Cathcart: playing as a right-back for the second successive match, Cathcart had a shaky performance. He was one of Watford’s few aerially sound players, and in his defense, he performed better than Watford’s opposite full-back.

Rating: 5

William Troost-Ekong: weak in the air and played an atrocious pass in the direction of Cleverley to gift the Seagulls a two-goal cushion. As with many players in the Watford squad, he had a performance to forget.

Rating: 4.5

Christian Kabasele: although not overwhelmingly solid, he performed better than his center-back partner and was sounder in the air. 

Rating: 5.5

Adam Masina: should be seriously worried about losing his starting spot now. He was arguably Watford’s worst player against Aston Villa and lots of people would agree he was the Hornet’s biggest weak spot in this match too. His defensive positioning and awareness were poor throughout, and he was also the man to lose his marker for the opening goal of the match. He did not provide much of anything going forwards either. Danny Rose, if his fitness permits, deserves to get a chance as the starter.

Rating: 4

Ken Sema: as poor as Masina was, Sema did not give him enough support in the first half. Especially considering the Swede is known for his defensive soundness despite being an attacker, that trait did not show in the first 45 minutes when Brighton were causing overloads on the left. He had a couple of decent attacking moments, but he was unthreatening overall and does not appear to be the Hornet’s best option for the left-wing role (more on this later).

Rating: 4.5

Imran Louza: Watford’s most-expensive signing of the summer had an underwhelming debut performance. He looked to play his signature through-balls on a couple of occasions, though largely to no avail. However, considering the flow of the first half, he did not get enough opportunities to show the best of his talents.

Rating: 5

Peter Etebo: following a stellar Watford debut, Etebo was unable to help the Hornets gain an ounce of control in the midfield. Still, he defended robustly and was one of the few players who had sufficient positional awareness. 

Rating: 6

Tom Cleverley: like Louza and Etebo, he was unable to give the Hornets a foothold in the midfield (though with Brighton attacking frequently through wide positions and the Hornets struggling to defend in those areas, Watford did not get many chances to cement their spot in the heart of the pitch). He was also partially at fault for Brighton’s second goal, not being strong while checking in for the poor pass from Troost-Ekong.

Rating: 4.5 

Ismaila Sarr: it is hard not to feel bad for Watford’s club-record signing. He was not given the service he requires to be most effective, yet he still provided moments of brilliance to maintain attacking possession and try to open up goal-scoring opportunities. Nonetheless, it was one of his quieter performances. 

Rating: 6

Emmanuel Dennis: would have scored a brilliant goal to halve the deficit if he had checked his run slightly better in the second half. Ran his socks off yet again and made a few good runs behind the Brighton back-line which caused them their few moments of trouble. He deserves to keep his starting spot as a center-forward for the next league outing.

Rating: 7

Substitutes

Cucho Hernandez: he is a must-start for the clash against Tottenham Hotspur next weekend off of the left-wing in place of Sema. He provided a few moments of brilliance and made the left flank threatening whenever he was on the ball. The Colombian put in a teasing delivery across the box with a Sema-esque run and was not too far from scoring an ambitious looping volley. The Hornets looked like a more threatening team with him on the pitch.

Rating: 7 

Joshua King: performed considerably well when he came on, shaking off defenders with strong turns and dropping back deep when necessary to provide a conduit from defense to attack during transitions of play (notably on the occasion where Dennis scored the offside goal). He could very well have worked himself into starting consideration (which would likely result in a change of formation).

Rating: 6.5

Troy Deeney: joined the fray late on, but he provided lots of aerial threat, something which was missing from Watford’s game for the first 78 minutes. He could very well become the Hornets’ go-to impact substitute considering the different type of attacking option he offers when compared to anyone else in the Club’s books.

Rating: 6

Major Update Emerges in Watford’s Rumoured Pursuit of Levi Garcia

From Ismaila Sarr to Cucho Hernandez to Emmanuel Dennis to Ken Sema, Watford have no shortage of options on the wings. However, as both Cucho and Dennis can be seen as starting central options and Sarr (and potentially Dennis) will miss time at the start of 2022 due to AFCON, room for another winger at Watford, although not necessary, still exists.

Watford Linked With Levi Garcia

As previously covered on Watford Opinions, the Hornets are linked with a move for Levi Garcia, a winger Vladimir Ivic once called “the best player in Israel.” Now on AEK Athens, the 23-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago has impressed with his pacey raw talent and flair turning into goal contributions. 

A move for the winger is not the most likely considering the Hornets’ current wide choices and the fact Philip Zinckernagel can be recalled from his Nottingham Forest loan in January when Sarr departs for AFCON. Still, considering Garcia’s talent and tremendous potential to further improve, it is hard to look away from the whispers about the talented attacker.

AEK Athens are in a tough situation when it comes to naming the right price for Garcia as Israeli side Beitar Jerusalem will receive 40% of his next transfer fee. Watford’s initial offer was thought to be around £4 million for Garcia, falling into the category of a “we are interested if you are willing to negotiate” offer. The Greek side could be seeking up to two or three times that sum for his signature, especially considering the hefty cut Beitar Jerusalem will take. 

Injury Casts Doubt Over Summer Departure

The Trinidad and Tobago Guardian explains how a summer transfer for Garcia is now thrown into doubt following a meniscus injury that could keep him out for up to one month. With Wolfsburg also vying for his services, a move to a “Top Five league” was certainly in the cards for Garcia.

Transferring in injured players can be a risky game, especially when it comes to injuries such as a meniscus tear. Medicals often involve a cardio component, and with deadline day in less than two weeks, there is a considerable chance Garcia would not be fit enough to complete the cardio portion of his medical when resting and less-intense exercises are the calling for repairing the tear. Teams could technically exempt him from certain parts of their respective medical procedures to push the deal through, but that is far from optimal.

Watford, Wolfsburg, and other interested clubs still have time to make a swoop for his signature in this transfer window, though the injury complicates any potential move. His suitors, if no transfer materializes this month, will for sure be keeping a close eye on his progression throughout the first half of the campaign before reconsidering opening transfer talks in January. 

The versatile attacker, who has primarily played as a left-winger in his career but mainly lined up as a right-winger for the Greek side last campaign, could be brought in by Watford to provide Zinckernagel competition for who Sarr’s successor should be. 

Watford’s Ideal Starting Eleven for Clash Against Brighton

Xisco Munoz and Co. are looking to obtain another three points following an impressive victory over Aston Villa. The squad selection on opening day was questionable at first, though the Spaniard’s choices proved to be a masterclass. However, with a tricky road trip to Brighton up next, what changes should Xisco make to his starting eleven?

Goalkeeper

Daniel Bachmann: neither of the goals Aston Villa scored was his fault. Nonetheless, he looked more confident than ever when coming off of his line. There is no reason for him to lose the starting spot he thoroughly deserves. 

Left-Back

Adam Masina: even though the 27-year-old’s lapse in concentration gave Aston Villa a needless penalty at the end of the last match, Masina should retain his spot in the starting eleven. Danny Rose provides firm competition for the starting role, though fitness still remains a concern for the former Tottenham star. 

Center-Backs

William Troost-Ekong: one of the leaders of the Watford squad, the Super Eagles defender deserves to keep his place in the starting eleven after helping keep Danny Ings and Emiliano Buendia quiet. 

Christian Kabasele: in all honesty, choosing who the two starting center-backs should be is difficult as valid cases can also be made as to why Craig Cathcart or Francisco Sierralta should be given the nod over Kabasele or Troost-Ekong. However, Kabasele and Troost-Ekong paired well together last time out, so a change is not necessarily needed. Sierralta is likely Watford’s best center-back and should soon be restored to his role of consistent starter. With his fitness perhaps not yet at 100%, Watford should use the less-important midweek cup clash against Crystal Palace to get the Chilean up to pace. Then, Sierralta should return to the starting eleven. 

Right-Back

Kiko Femenia: now available to feature after missing the season opener for precautionary purposes, the Spaniard should return to the starting eleven. Even though there is an argument to be made that starting Cathcart at right-back yet again will disallow Leandro Trossard from finding room behind as he will not commit as far forward as Femenia, the reality is that when Leon Bailey was given time to run at Cathcart, the Watford veteran struggled. Putting Femenia, a natural right-back, back into the starting eleven will allow Watford to play more naturally in terms of patterns of play and also make the right flank even more threatening in attack. 

Central-Midfielders

Peter Etebo: the summer arrival performed admirably on opening day, filling in the Will Hughes number-six role with ease. He disrupted many opposition attacks and carried the ball well, making Kabasele and Troost-Ekong’s job easy. 

Tom Cleverley: an unsung hero from the victory against Aston Villa, the 32-year-old put in a typical max-effort performance, contributing an assist and robustly cutting off passing lanes. He should don the captain’s armband once again on this occasion.

Imran Louza: Watford’s most expensive arrival of the summer did not see the pitch on opening day, with Xisco electing to replace Juraj Kucka with Dan Gosling. However, midfield control was immediately lost with the substitution, so it is evident Louza deserves the starting role to show his class as the more experienced Gosling did not get the job done when given the chance. Additionally, Louza looked a class above in preseason whenever on the ball, so perhaps he did not see the pitch last Saturday solely due to fitness purposes. Kucka is likely to miss the match due to injury and the match comes too soon for new-signing Ozan Tufan. Louza will likely play a key role in Watford’s fight for survival this season, so his entrance into the ring must not be delayed.

Right-Winger

Ismaila Sarr: no explanation is needed. 

Center-Forward

Emmanuel Dennis: after a stellar one-goal, one-assist Watford debut, Dennis deserves to keep his spot as the starting center-forward. His and Sarr’s combined pace proved to be lethal on numerous occasions on counterattacks. The attacking threat the one-two punch provided was immense, so there is no reason to change something that is clearly working. 

Left-Winger

Cucho Hernandez: in the Club’s final preseason friendly against Crystal Palace, Xisco fielded a Sarr-Cucho-Dennis front three with Cucho central and Dennis on the left-wing. However, switching Cucho to the wide position and pushing Dennis centrally seems to be the best decision. Firstly, Cucho offers just as much defensive cover as Ken Sema does, if not even more. Furthermore, Cucho offers more goal-scoring threat from the left-wing than does the versatile Sema, as proven by the Colombian’s debut wonder-strike. Cucho additionally offers considerable pace and flair, giving the Hornets yet another speedy option to play through on their scintillating counterattacks. 

What Role Will Hughes Have if He Does Not Depart?

With the end of the transfer window fast approaching, Will Hughes and Watford do not have much time to strike a deal with another Club to offload the Englishman. The Sun reported Crystal Palace offered Watford a laughable £5 million for Hughes to effectively see if the Hornets would cheaply offload his services. The offer falls £7 million short of what Watford are looking for, so the Hughes transfer saga continues.

The Current Hughes Situation

Upon promotion to the Premier League, it seemed a sure-fire bet that Hughes would extend his Watford contract which expires at the end of this current campaign. What more could Hughes want? He was a key player and potential future captain at the Club, adored by the fans, and offered a considerable rise in pay (as per Adam Leventhal of The Athletic). He and his agent decided to search for alternative options, with Crystal Palace being his main suitor.

Such is a puzzling decision to not extend his time at Watford when the alternative is a team of Crystal Palace’s stature, especially considering Hughes was one of the few players whose role in the starting eleven post-promotion was not (previously) under threat. Even though Crystal Palace are undeniably more established in the top flight than Watford in recent years, a move to Selhurst Park is not a considerable step up for a player such as Hughes. Both are teams whose main goal is to avoid the drop, and at Vicarage Road, he already has a strong history and the perfect platform to continue his progression as a player into a more defensive-minded midfield role. 

While the transfer window rolled on and offers for Hughes did not arrive, he was iced out of first-team training. Even though such treatment might be harsh, it is imperative Xisco Munoz has players who are 100% focused on what is going on in Hertfordshire. Thus, Hughes has been spending time with the U23s while waiting for a transfer to be accepted.

Starting Spot Likely Already Lost

Once Hughes rejected the new contract, the Hornets operated under the assumption they would need to find a replacement for him on top of their quest to bolster their midfield into a Premier-League-quality unit. Peter Etebo has performed admirably in the number six role between preseason and the opening-day victory against Aston Villa. Juraj Kucka and Imran Louza have also arrived to play as starters. A deal for Fenerbahce’s highly-rated Ozan Tufan has also just been completed (rumour initially reported on Watford Opinionsconfirmation of the deal by the Club was made Thursday morning). Tufan, who garnered interest from a handful of other Premier League clubs, is destined to play a huge role for the Hornets this season. 

Between the Hornets’ four new midfield signings, room for Hughes in the starting eleven, even if an agreement to stay at Watford is completed against all expectations, is far from a guarantee. 

The Price Offered (So Far) for Departure Is Not Right

As previously mentioned, Crystal Palace offered a “take it or leave it” bid of £5 million for Hughes. Even though the Hornets risk losing him for no profit at the end of the season, the hierarchy knows allowing relegation rivals to strengthen their squad without Watford receiving due compensation to likewise improve is even more costly. 

If Crystal Palace or another club offers the ideal £12 million or a sum close to it, then a Hughes departure should be warranted and the profits to be used for significantly strengthening other positions to boost survival chances (though the midfield does not need any more reinvestment following the arrival of Tufan). 

The Role Hughes Has if He Stays

Simply stated, his role should either be limited or non-existent. If he makes the 25-man roster, then he can still be used as a somewhat effective rotation player, even if the minutes are few and far between due to the form of the new starters and the time he will need to be reintegrated into Xisco’s tactics. 

However, the Hornets do not have any room to waste when naming their 25-man squad, so there is a decent chance Hughes misses out on the roster altogether. In that case, he will have to train with the U23s or away from the Club, not able to play for Watford or anyone else until the beginning of 2022.

The next 12 days will have to be decisive in this transfer saga. It is safe to say what Hughes and his agent envisioned would pan out did not. Now, he runs the risk of losing playing time and suitors for the foreseeable future, with long-term side effects from not playing first-team football a potential issue as well.