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?


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.


Ismaila Sarr: no explanation is needed. 


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. 


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.

Watford’s Noteworthy Net Transfer Spend Since the Start of the Pozzo Reign

Ever since the Pozzos purchased Watford in the summer of 2012, the Hornets’ fortunes have changed dramatically. After spending five seasons in the Championship following their relegation from the Premier League, where they had only stayed in for one season, it took the new hierarchy just three more years to return Watford to the Promised Land. This time, it took the Hornets five years to get relegated, and the return to the Championship, of course, was brief. But, since the Pozzo takeover of Watford, has the transfer cash flow been applaudable?

Disclaimer: the fees used are based on data from transfermarkt.co.uk. The final numbers do not include some of the potential/unknown performance-based add-ons to transfers. Wages are also not included in the figures: this article simply analyzes initial transfer fees. 

Pre-2015 Promotion Transfer Flow

In the Pozzos’ first two seasons of ownership, before Gino Pozzo took sole control in 2014, the Hornets did not spend any money on transfer fees. Free transfers and loan deals were the calling at Vicarage Road. In the 2012/13 season, Watford made £3.6 million from departures, with most of that figure coming from the sale of Adrian Mariappa. The following season, Watford sold Britt Assombalonga and others for a total sum of £1.9 million. 

In the 2014/15 season, the Hornets had their first campaign under the new ownership with a negative transfer flow. The £7.2 million arrival of Odion Ighalo from Udinese signaled a serious intention of getting promoted. By the point of promotion, the Pozzo ownership spent £8.1 million on transfers and recouped £6 million from outgoings. Across three seasons, with the final ending in a more-than-lucrative promotion, a net transfer spend of £2.1 million is fantastic business. 

Five-Year Premier League Stay Saw Substantial Spending

Before diving into the transfer spending from Gino’s first Premier League stay with Watford, it must be recalled a reasonable transfer deficit does not signal poor business considering how much revenue being in the Premier League makes. For example, between the Hornets’ 2018/19 and 2019/20 campaigns alone, they made around £212 million from TV revenue. So, a transfer deficit is not alarming/does not necessarily signal poor money management in the slightest. 

The Hornets’ first season after a nine-year absence from the top flight saw them have their largest-ever transfer deficit. They spent £74.5 million across 12 players, including the likes of Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure (with even more players coming in on free transfers). Only £8.8 million was regained via sales.

First-year safety set the stage for an elongated Premier League stay. In the 2016/17 campaign, Watford spent £63.4 million on arrivals, including club-record fees for Isaac Success (£13.5 million) and Roberto Pereyra (£12.2 million). The Hornets received £52.3 million from player sales, with over half of that figure coming from the departures of Ighalo and Matej Vydra.

The 2017/18 window once again saw Watford in a transfer deficit, spending £66.1 million on transfer fees, including the £18.4 million arrival of Andre Gray and £11.2 million signing of Richarlison. £16.9 million was recouped through selling players. 

The 2018/19 campaign saw the tides switch, as the Hornets had a substantial transfer profit ahead of their second-best season in Club history. Watford spent £27.1 million on arrivals, with Gerard Deulofeu bought permanently for £11.7 million and Masina for £4.5 million. The £35.3 million departure of Richarlison and £11.4 million in sales of other players saw Watford profit £19.6 million.

The Hornets’ relegation season came after the Hornets spent £43.7 million on transfers, including the record-breaking £27 million arrival of Ismaila Sarr. The £18 million departure of Dodi Lukebakio spearheaded the Hornets’ £22.9 million in transfer sales. 

Post-Relegation Transfer Window

Amidst the financial struggles caused by COVID-19 and relegation, the Hornets did not spend a penny on incoming players. However, £45.5 million was earned through the sales of players such as Doucoure, Pervis Estupinan, Luis Javier Suarez, and more. Through the sales, Watford were put in a safe-enough position to not being forced into selling Sarr. His remaining at Vicarage Road played a key role in the Hornets’ promotion. Selling him, in the short term, would have relieved immediate financial worries. Keeping him, however, has proven the more-than-shrewd financial choice through the economics of promotion and his ever-rising transfer value. 

Overall Net Transfer Spend Since the Pozzo Takeover

With this season’s transfer window a couple of weeks away from closing, it is hard to tell what the Hornets’ total transfer spend/profit will be. One thing is for certain: the Hornets have learned their lesson and will be reluctant to operate under a significant transfer deficit. So, the figure below, as pieces are still moving, does not include 2021/22 transfer spending/profits.

From the Pozzo takeover of Watford through the Club’s second-promotion campaign under Italian ownership, the Hornets have had a net transfer-fee spend of £83.8 million. Considering the time that spend has come across, including five Premier League seasons and a sixth just starting, it is safe to say, even considering the questionable transfer sums spent on players such as Gray and Success, that, so far, Watford’s money has been wisely handled by Gino and Co.

Watford Insert Key Fine Print in Philip Zinckernagel’s Loan Deal

When Philip Zinckernagel joined Watford, he had the dream of playing in the Premier League. During preseason, he continued to wear the number seven kit and seemed to be impressing Xisco Munoz, especially after scoring in a closed-door friendly against Arsenal. Controversially, the Hornets elected to loan him to Nottingham Forest which appeared to be a mistake for multiple reasons. However, one of the biggest concerns regarding his departure is addressed, and potentially resolved, in the fine print of the loan deal.

Watford Have January Recall Option on Zinckernagel Loan

According to Adam Leventhal of the Athletic, Watford made sure to put a January recall option in the deal to temporarily send the Dane to the second tier. Tom Dele-Bashiru, who has been sent on loan to Reading, also has a January recall option.

So far, in two starts for Nottingham Forest, Zinckernagel has provided three assists. He has had the opportunity to line up in his more natural, more preferred wide positions, whether it be on the right flank or left. At Watford, he performed well in the center of the midfield, but his true talents come from the creative wide positions, so the Hornets never got to see him utilized to the best of his abilities.

Even after a 19 goal, 18 assist Eliteserien season, Zinckernagel was not going to start on the right-wing over Watford’s star Ismaila Sarr. Thus, minutes on the left-wing appeared as if they could be in the cards. However, as the Hornets felt he would not get sufficient playing time at Vicarage Road, a loan move to keep him at the top of his form, increase his transfer value, and perhaps get him ready to be Sarr’s right-wing successor had its upsides. However, one of the main points of conflict raised when he departed regarded Watford’s lack of talented, natural attacking depth, particularly out wide, when AFCON (Africa Cup of Nations) comes around. 

Hornets Could Sting Nottingham Forest By Taking Back Zinckernagel for AFCON

AFCON runs from January 9th to February 6th, a span in which Watford have just two Premier League matches. However, it remains to be seen how early players’ respective nations will want them to report to international team training and how long it will take for players to recover after the tournament. This time on either side of the main tournament could realistically see stars missing up to six or seven matches. 

With Sarr one of Senegal’s stars and Emmanuel Dennis in the mix for a Nigeria call-up, there is a chance Watford are without their best attacker and one of his most effective compliments. Without Sarr, Watford will need someone to fill the right-wing role. If Zinckernagel keeps up his form in the Championship, he will be more than ready to take the reins from Sarr while he is gone to minimize the effects of Sarr’s absence. With Peter Etebo and Imran Louza also both eligible for AFCON duty, Zinckernagel would offer midfield cover as well if necessary. 

Furthermore, Zinckernagel could be used as an X-Factor in the second half of the season, especially if the Hornets need more creativity in the squad rotation to avoid the drop. 

Overall, the January recall option makes the mistake of loaning him out only minimally detrimental. If he gets recalled in January, it means he is in Premier-League-ready form, and the loan was useful in getting him there. If he is not recalled, then loaning him out was the right move as it means the Hornets can focus elsewhere for answers while Sarr is gone if it is clear Zinckernagel is not the best choice. 

Report: Watford Want Turkish Midfield Star Ozan Tufan

Juraj Kucka and Peter Etebo, two of Watford’s three new midfield signings, performed admirably well in the Club’s first match back in the Premier League. With Imran Louza also available following his £9 million arrival this summer, the Hornets look to have offset the problem posed by the contract situations regarding Nathaniel Chalobah and, more notably and likely to depart, Will Hughes. Nonetheless, the Club might still be interested in signing yet another midfield reinforcement. Reports from Turkey suggest Watford have identified their main target. 

Watford Supposedly Eyeing Move for Fenerbahce’s Star Midfielder

According to Ridvan Dilmen on Turkish television channel TRT Spor (and relayed by Fanatik.com.tr), Watford want Ozan Tufan. His future at Fenerbahce is unclear, so if the right offer comes in, there is no reason to suspect the Turkish giants will prevent a move away. 

He joined Fenerbahce for around £6 million from Bursaspor in 2015. The past two seasons, after spending four years as a rotational player or being out on loan, he has been a mainstay in Fenerbahce’s starting eleven. The 26-year-old has already made 63 international appearances for Turkey. He almost started his Premier League journey in 2018 until his transfer to Crystal Palace was called off by Fenerbahce not long before Tufan was set to fly to England.  

In the 2019/20 campaign, Tufan started 33 matches, wearing the captain’s armband on numerous occasions. He scored six goals and provided five assists. The following season, his numbers were very similar, appearing 37 times (making 32 starts), contributing six goals and eight assists.  

What He Would Offer if the Surprise Transfer Occurred

A transfer for Tufan would likely cost Watford a hefty fee, a move which funds would likely not be used for unless considerable cash came in for the services of Hughes. However, if Watford are to spend the money to bring in Tufan, they will have secured themselves a versatile midfielder who offers tremendous goal-scoring threat. 

As a 19-year-old with Bursaspor in the 2014/15 campaign, he scored three times and provided seven assists despite primarily playing as a defensive midfielder. He has gradually worked his way into more advanced midfield positions as time has passed, playing most of his matches nowadays as a number eight or number ten. 

Again, a transfer for Tufan does not seem probable unless other pieces move first. But, in the midfield, if the Hornets are to bring in another reinforcement, a creative, attacking-minded player such as Tufan would be the preference (with Lewis Ferguson, who was heavily linked with a move to Watford earlier in the summer transfer window, another similar option).  

With the transfer window closing in around two weeks, the Hornets do not have too much time to complete a deal. If Tufan signs, the Hornets will undoubtedly have an immediate starter. The funds, however, might not need to be spent on another midfielder, especially considering Domingos Quina could provide a useful attacking-midfield option and signing another center-back could be a better use for the money.  

Watford Linked With AEK Athens Winger Once Called “The Best Player” in His League

With the transfer window closing at the end of August, the clock is ticking away for teams to make the final additions to their squads. According to multiple reports, the Hornets might be nearing a deal to sign a player once deemed by former Watford head coach Vladimir Ivic as “the best player in Israel.

Hornets Reportedly Eyeing Move for Levi Garcia

According to Israeli outlet Sport 5, echoing a report from Homme Du Match, Watford have submitted a substantial offer for winger Levi Garcia, with the figure thought to be at least £4 million. Sport 5 suggests AEK Athens may be looking for twice that sum to secure the 23-year-old’s services. Beitar Jerusalem is keeping a close eye on any progress for a deal regarding Garcia as they are set to receive 40% of his sale from the Greek side. 

Garcia joined AEK Athens in the 2020 summer transfer window for a £2 million fee the year after he left Kiryat Shmona for Beitar Jerusalem in a £500,000 move. Numerous other clubs in Europe are reportedly vying for his services, including Levante.

Offers Versatility and Starting Competition if Signed

The Trinidad and Tobago international team player made his professional first-team breakthrough with AZ Alkmaar at the start of 2016. After making 44 Eredivisie appearances, notching three goals and six assists in the process, he made his move to the Israeli top-flight. With Kiryat Shmona, in all competitions, he scored three goals in 22 appearances. 

The following season, with Beitar Jerusalem, the “very fast, dynamic, excellent in one-on-ones, and an ideal player to break through defenses,” as Ivic called him, scored six goals and provided three assists in 33 appearances. With AEK Athens, the raw talent Ivic raved about continued to turn itself into goal-contribution output. In 35 appearances, Garcia scored six times and provided seven assists. 

Despite primarily lining up as an inverted right-winger last season, the left-footed attacker has played the majority of his career as a left-winger. In 93 career appearances as a left-winger, Garcia has scored 14 goals and provided an equal number of assists. As a right-winger, in 52 appearances, he tallied 11 goals and seven assists. He even has found success on multiple occasions at centre-forward, providing three assists and scoring twice in 12 matches in the position (source: transfermarkt).

Not Destined to Happen – Still Worth Keeping an Eye On

Whether a deal to bring Garcia to Watford is actually close to happening, even with the reports, is still hard to determine. Considering the attacking threat Watford showed in their victory against Aston Villa, and with Joshua King and Joao Pedro yet to return from injury, a move for yet another attacker does not seem the most necessary. Perhaps Garcia could be brought in and then loaned out to provide competition for out-on-loan right-winger Philip Zinckernagel for who Ismaila Sarr’s successor will be. If Garcia is to arrive in this transfer window and stay, then minutes for Ken Sema will quickly become scarce. 

Nonetheless, Garcia is an exciting player with lots of raw talent and tremendous potential. A move is likely still a long way away from being completed as things stand, though if the shocking transfer were to be made, the Hornets’ faithful would have plenty to be excited about.

Watford Player Ratings and Four Key Men Following Victory Against Aston Villa

The Hornets started the season in flying form by defeating Aston Villa 3-2. Goals from Emmanuel Dennis, Ismaila Sarr, and Cucho Hernandez were enough to fire the Hornets to the three points before goals from John McGinn and Danny Ings allowed for a nervy end to the match. Xisco Munoz will be ecstatic with how his team performed, as Watford more than proved that they will not be a pushover this season.

Player Ratings

Daniel Bachmann: the Austrian goalkeeper was not at fault for either of the goals conceded. Last season, his decision-making when it came to coming off of his line and claiming crosses was sometimes questionable. However, on this occasion, he commanded the box and looked as sound as ever.

Rating: 7

Adam Masina: solid for the first 68 minutes, performing notably well in the air having won five aerial duels. However, the penalty the left-back conceded in the dying embers of the match was lazy and unacceptable. In most other matches, lapses in concentration like that could lead to relegation-determining points lost. He could have also done better (admittedly, this is a harsh critique) to close down McGinn on Aston Villa’s opening goal. 

Rating: 6

Christian Kabasele: after only featuring three times for Xisco last season (mainly thanks to injury), Kabasele performed considerably well in the center of the defense. Like Masina, he was aerially strong.

Rating: 7

William Troost-Ekong: like Kabasele, the Super Eagles’ center-back performed well to keep Ings and Emiliano Buendia at bay. However, as will be discussed, the two center-back’s jobs were made much easier by the men in front of them.

Rating: 7

Craig Cathcart: his inclusion as a right-back was one of the big shocks when the lineups were announced, causing many Hornets’ supporters to question Xisco’s decision to start him. In fairness to Cathcart, he allowed for the backline to keep a natural defensive shape by never committing too high up the pitch. Considering he played out of position, he did what Xisco needed him to do. However, once Leon Bailey came onto the pitch, Cathcart did seem to be more out of place. 

Rating: 6.5

*Peter Etebo: one of Watford’s four key players from the match, Etebo made life for the center-backs easy through his aggressive defending and ball-recovering acumen. Even if Will Hughes departs, Etebo seems more than capable of replacing him in Xisco’s system.

Rating: 8.5

**Juraj Kucka**: the Watford Opinions Man of the Match winner had a near-perfect performance. Like Etebo, Kucka defended in tremendous fashion, disallowing Dean Smith’s side from gaining control of the center of the park. From the 34-year-old’s countless nutmegs to his combative style of play, he is a dream to have in the squad and a nightmare to play against. Most notably, and perhaps the most understated as well, were his contributions to two of Watford’s goals. His clearance on the edge of the box found Sarr to spur the counterattack for the Hornets’ second goal. His run forward after Watford regained possession was key in the counterattack ending in Cucho’s wondergoal. He was the perfect conduit from defensive phases of play to attacking phases and offers proof that age is just a number.

Rating: 9.5

Tom Cleverley: the ever-reliable midfielder, despite frequently being excluded from supporters’ preferred starting elevens, showed he still has the ability to perform well in the Premier League. His work rate was as good as ever, playing through a hard challenge to hook the ball into Cucho’s path for Watford’s third goal of the match. He played a pivotal role in ensuring Watford dominated the heart of the pitch.

Rating: 8

Ken Sema: the 27-year-old was isolated for most of the match, not offering nearly as much as his two attacking partners. However, he did track back well when he needed to. Unfortunately, the left-winger did not find the room to fizz in the teasing crosses from the byline that he became known for in the Championship.   

Rating: 6.5

*Emmanuel Dennis: one of Watford’s many new signings, the decision to start him at center-forward came as a surprise considering Cucho appeared the obvious first choice (with Dennis seeming as if he would find minutes on the left-wing as he did in preseason against Crystal Palace). The 23-year-old more than justified his inclusion, linking up with Sarr brilliantly multiple times on scintillating, rapid counterattacks. Dennis earned himself a more-than-deserved debut goal and assist, as well as giving the Aston Villa defense no time to build out from the back. 

Rating: 9

*Ismaila Sarr: the fourth of Watford’s stars of the match, the Club’s record-signing yet again proved why he is so highly rated. The right-winger set up Dennis perfectly for the opening goal (although he does not get credit with the assist as the center-forward’s initial shot was blocked) before doubling Watford’s lead thanks to a deflected shot. He outclassed Matt Targett to such an extreme extent in the first half to the point where Dean Smith subbed off the left-back at the halftime interval. If Sarr plays like this more often than not, the sky is the limit for his goal and assist tallies come the season’s conclusion.

Rating: 9


Cucho Hernandez: at long last, he got to make his Vicarage Road debut. Within one minute, he submitted the Club’s first entry for the goal of the season award – a curling wonder-strike that proved to be the match-winner. Starting Cucho against Brighton next week appears like a must. Considering his goal came from when he picked up the ball on the left flank and cut in, perhaps the Hornets will line up with a front three of Cucho-Dennis-Sarr with Cucho as an inverted left-winger. 

Rating: 8

Dan Gosling: the unfortunate truth is once Gosling came on, Watford lost control of the midfield and conceded twice. He did not sufficiently fill the void left by Kucka, making the decision to substitute him on instead of Imran Louza even more mysterious. He performed admirably well on a couple of occasions last season to help the Hornets return to the Promised Land. He simply did not replicate such performances in his return to the top flight. 

Rating: 5

Troy Deeney: came onto the pitch late on and only touched the ball three times; difficult to give a rating on his brief cameo.

Rating: N/A

The Familiar Name Watford Must Sign – Already Linked With Player

A few weeks ago, L’Equipe reported Watford were one of a handful of clubs interested in signing Chelsea’s Trevoh Chalobah. The 22-year-old has since impressed Thomas Tuchel in preseason, capping off preparations for the upcoming campaign with a stellar performance in the UEFA Super Cup. However, if the Blues are willing to let Chalobah head out on yet another loan to further his development, the Hornets should do everything possible to ensure Vicarage Road is his destination.

Two Birds With One Stone

Signing Chalobah would solve multiple issues for Watford. The Club’s search for midfield reinforcements is well documented, especially as Will Hughes and Trevoh’s older brother Nathaniel have uncertainties about their Vicarage Road futures. Hughes departing leaves a void in the deep-lying midfield role, a position in which the younger Chalobah thrives. His Championship loan spells with Ipswich Town in 2018/19 and Huddersfield Town the season following saw him starring as a number six. His performances earned him a loan move to Ligue 1 side Lorient.

Chalobah played a key role in their successful quest for French top-flight survival. However, instead of solely lining up as a defensive midfielder, for the second half of the season, he played as a center-back. For Chelsea in the Super Cup, Chalobah also played as a center-back, showing his positional adaptability. 

Watford’s center-back depth is a cause for concern. With only five senior center-backs, one of whom has never played above the fourth tier of English football and another who is set to miss time around the start of the new year thanks to AFCON, any injuries would automatically put Watford in a scenario where there is a risk of not having enough natural center-backs. And, considering Watford primarily signed Mattie Pollock as a player for the future for the heart of the defense, the Hornets are yet to considerably improve their central-defender ranks since promotion. Perhaps they will not need to, though operating under the assumption everyone will remain fully fit all season and in good-enough form is risky. 

If Chalobah were to sign, he would alleviate Watford’s quest for both a deep-lying midfielder and a center-back. If signed on loan by the Hornets, Chelsea would not have to worry about him not receiving enough playing time as he has the talent to start most matches throughout the season, whether it be at center-back or in the midfield. The loan move is ideal for all parties involved. 

Super Cup Success

As mentioned, Chalobah starred in Chelsea’s victory over Villareal in the UEFA Super Cup. He played the full 120 minutes, performing so well that after the match, Tuchel claimed, “He never lost face and stayed calm and was physical enough to play 120 minutes. It was quite impressive. He forced his way into our thinking. Let’s see how it goes. We still have some days to decide his personal future, but in the moment, he shows his value to the team.”

Chalobah performed so well in preseason and the Super Cup to the point where Tuchel had to admit he could be included in Chelsea’s senior squad for the 2021/22 campaign. Even though that is unlikely considering their depth in all positions and a loan move would once again benefit Chalobah’s development, to have Tuchel admit Chalobah is giving him a selection headache is one of the best plaudits the former England U21 international team player could receive. 

In the match against former Watford player Etienne Capoue’s current club, Chalobah attempted 140 passes with 95% pass accuracy, won five duals, made five interceptions, gave away zero fouls, and was not dribbled past in the entirety of the match. Any team in Watford’s position would be more than wise to secure his services for the upcoming campaign if the opportunity is still on the table. 

Analyzing Watford’s Recent Transfer Mistake

28 appearances. 19 goals. 18 assists. Six penalties won. One dream. Philip Zinckernagel’s 2020 campaign with Bodo/Glimt in the Eliteserien (Norwegian top-flight) earned him plenty of interest from clubs in more prominent European leagues. Watford snapped him up in the recent January transfer window as his contract expired – a move widely accepted as a brilliant piece of business. 

Upon joining, Zinckernagel said, “I always dreamed of playing in the big leagues; the top five in Spain, Italy, England…for me, Watford belong in the Premier League.” Now that the Hornets achieved the promotion he hoped for when joining, the Dane, who wore the number seven kit at Vicarage Road, had the opportunity to make his Premier League dreams come true. Watford would have tremendously benefitted from having a versatile, creative player such as Zinckernagel in their squad. However, a recent transfer decision put Zinckernagel’s dreams on hold, something which could prove to be a nightmare for Watford for multiple reasons.

Already Showing Signs of Excellence on Loan

In Zinckernagel’s first two appearances for Nottingham Forest after signing on loan, he has already made an unmissable impact. Within minutes of coming on in his club debut against Coventry City, he whipped in a teasing corner kick which almost found its way into the back of the net. His second match for Chris Hughton’s side was a Carabao Cup clash against Bradford. The 26-year-old provided two pinpoint assists for Joao Carvalho. The first of Zinckernagel’s two assists was so impressive that the squad ran over to him, instead of Carvalho, to celebrate the goal. 

A cameo off of the bench against Coventry City and a match against a League Two side is nowhere near enough to conclude Zinckernagel is guaranteed to have a phenomenal season and would have for sure been one of Watford’s key players. However, the glimpses of excellence he has shown since departing suggest his adaptation to the English style of play is nearing completion.  

Versatility and Creativity Will Be Missed

The feature of Zinckernagel’s playing style which Watford will miss the most is his phenomenal ability to create chances out of thin air regardless of where he is lined up on the pitch. Even though Zinckernagel found his success with Bodo/Glimt as a right-winger, he never got to play in his preferred position for the Hornets as, of course, Ismaila Sarr started every match as the Club’s star right-winger. Thus, Zinckernagel primarily played as one of the Hornets’ central midfielders, a role in which, even though he was not the most natural in when it came to defensive duties, he found considerable success. 

Despite only making nine starts and 20 total appearances for Watford in the Championship, he was the Club’s joint-leading assister alongside Ken Sema with five. Zinckernagel averaged one goal contribution per 153 minutes, a resounding return for a player not in his most natural position.

His creative eye, whether deployed out wide in his preferred role or in the center of the park, is a feature that is arguably unsurpassed by anyone currently at Vicarage Road. Even if Zinckernagel were to only have occasional starting minutes and primarily feature as a “super substitute,” that extra bit of flair and intricacy could have proven to be decisive in the fine margins that outline a relegation battle

Ideal Sarr Replacement for AFCON

With Sarr likely absent around the start of 2022 for a chunk of matches due to AFCON, the Hornets will be without their star player. This would have given Zinckernagel the perfect opportunity to play in his best position. Watford would, in turn, finally get to see their most creative player line up in his most prolific position. He would probably not fully fill the void left by Sarr, though he would provide a different type of option and more than sufficiently get the job done at making the damage of Sarr’s absence minimal.

Now, unless a new signing arrives, Watford will have to start a player out of position to fill Sarr’s place. Keeping Zinckernagel would have provided the Hornets a brilliant rotational player who could push for consistent starting minutes in multiple positions and provide a threatening creative eye. Instead, he will spend another season in the second tier, likely performing really well to give Watford a constant reminder they should have let his top-flight dreams come true as soon as possible. Maybe Watford will not end up missing him in the slightest, though as of now, it is hard to see a scenario where the Hornets do not rue his departure at least once. Hopefully, for the Vicarage Road faithful, he will once more don the Watford colors in the 2022/23 campaign. 

Watford’s Realistic Season Outlook: Relegation-Bound or Surprise Package?

With the Premier League season about to kick off, Watford supporters have a lot to be excited about. Unfortunately, that excitement comes at the expense of a reality that this season has the potential to be a catastrophe. The Hornets are currently relegation favorites alongside the two other recently promoted teams, and understandably so. Nonetheless, even with Watford backed for the drop, the Club’s ceiling for success is considerably high. 

Decent Possibility of Relegation Cannot Be Overlooked

As exhilarating as the 2020/21 promotion campaign was for the Hornets, fans must go into the season understanding that expectations should not be sky-high. Success this campaign is finishing 17th. That is the primary target.

The truth is, after spending last season in the Championship and the financial impact of COVID, Watford are unable to spend as much money as some other clubs in a similar position. Crystal Palace, for example, who are also in the relegation race, have spent nearly £40 million on their defense alone. Thus, in terms of recruitment, Watford have to rely on players who are not necessarily destined to hit the ground running.

As much of a revelation as Xisco Munoz proved to be last season, he is still a very inexperienced head coach who has never had to face such difficult opposition week in and week out. Even with the unavoidable handcuffs of financial limitations, it is still fair to question recruitment and prospects for tactical success.

Most Watford fans are not ignoring they need to brace for possible relegation. People can raise questions about defensive depth, where goals will come from, and whether the midfield is strong enough. However, such questions and uncertainties surrounding the squad and head coach are the exact reasons why the Watford faithful can still hold onto hope for a surprisingly impressive campaign.

Safety and Beyond Can Be Achieved Through the Question Marks

The relegation race is wide open. Cases can be made for why the three promoted teams, as well as Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Southampton, Wolves, Burnley, and Brighton, should all be worried about relegation. So, the Hornets can reasonably hope to be propelled forward by the shortcomings of other clubs (to an extent). 

Within the Watford squad, the questions about whether there is enough depth and sufficient talent may very well turn out to be answered with a resounding “yes” instead of the feared “no.”

At the back, Francisco Sierralta and William Troost-Ekong will be key to the Hornet’s success yet again after playing a key role in equaling the Championship’s best-ever defensive record. Neither have played Premier League minutes, which may be seen as worrisome. However, especially considering Sierralta’s trajectory, there is a decent chance the gamble of starting them together next season can yield tremendous dividends. If Danny Rose gets anywhere near his form of old, which preseason suggests is possible, he will be a player who performs at a level far above that of a relegation-worried left-back. Admittedly, the lack of Premier League experience at the heart of the defense can backfire. But, simply put, it is impossible to know precisely how Troost-Ekong and Sierralta will perform in the top-flight, and that not knowing is exactly why the fear can be balanced out with the excitement of potential success.

In the midfield, new arrivals Peter Etebo, Juraj Kucka, and Imran Louza could very well prove to be a formidable force to be reckoned with, especially the latter. Preseason showed Etebo can be more than effective as a number six or a ball-carrying number eight, whereas Louza has simply looked of a special class whenever on the ball. Domingos Quina may also prove to have a breakout season in the top flight following his La Liga loan. Again, as is the case with the defense, these possibilities for tremendous success may very well crash and burn. While it is impossible to determine exactly what will occur, there is still valid reason to hope that what will eventually pan out is the best positive outcome.

The attack is where the most surprise may come from. Ismaila Sarr will of course play a huge role in the Hornets’ push for survival – that is one of the few guarantees of the campaign barring any extreme surprises. However, the likes of Joao Pedro, Cucho Hernandez, and Emmanuel Dennis could prove to explode into fine goalscoring form. All are young players (Dennis the oldest at 23-years-old) who have already shown glimpses of prolific excellence in the early stages of their careers. Will they hit the ground running in the leap to the best domestic league in the world? Maybe. What cannot be denied is they all have the tools to be tremendously successful, so, yet again, there is reason to hold onto hope that the risk of relying on these younger players will pay off. If Joshua King finds his form of old after a lackluster 2020/21 campaign, Watford’s attack could prove to be one of the league’s more formidable forces.

And tactically, Xisco’s relative inexperience can have its positives. Firstly, last season, despite his apparently odd tactics, he got the promotion job done. His newness to coaching also makes him naturally less likely to feel married to a given system, unlike Nigel Pearson who refused to shift away from the 4-2-3-1 when form started to drift in the relegation campaign. So, Xisco will be willing to experiment to find the right formulas when necessary. Again, like most things Watford this season, that could backfire and he may not last the entire season. Nonetheless, the possibility Watford are able to find success trusting him once more is very real. 

The Likely Season Forecast

The two keywords throughout this article have been “can” and “may.” Predicting exactly what will happen is impossible, though speculating about the reasons to hope for the best while bracing for the worst is much easier. 

The likeliest scenario is a couple of the questions surrounding the squad are answered positively while the others have an alarming conclusion. Watford supporters, who have every reason to hope for the best, should expect to be in a tight relegation battle for the majority of the season. Between having players who have the capability to explode into stardom and other teams also being in positions to struggle, the hopes of finishing 17th are real and reasonable. It may be risker to cling to aspirations that the Club will climb up the table. Yet, all things considered, such a mindset is understandable.