Watford should be in turmoil, they should battered, bruised and ultimately broken from a never-ending rotation of managers – so how have they become one of the most stable fixtures in the Premier League?
The Hornets have burned through more than a dozen managers since 2009, each with a different style, yet they’ve remained a steady ship for several seasons now, and the future looks bright.
Current boss Javi Gracia signed a new deal with the club during last season, a rare outward sign of long-term planning at Watford, and he has quietly gone about turning the Hornets into a real force.
Watford have an eclectic squad full of diverse talents – both obscure and renowned – yet Gracia has coaxed a tune out of them, how far can he take the Hertfordshire side this time around?
RadioTimes.com has rounded up everything you need to know about Watford ahead of the 2019/20 season.
Where did Watford finish last season?
11th. Watford barely endured a dire losing streak to make them look over their shoulders, neither did they experience a white-hot run of form that threatened to dislodge those above them.
Wobbles around the start of December were quickly righted over the festive period and into the New Year with a string of wins and draws thanks to goals spread around the pitch.
Talismanic Troy Deeney led the line in his usual bullish style, while Gerard Deulofeu brought flair and pace to the team and midfield behemoths Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue offered strength, solidity and a stash of goals to boot.
Who is Watford’s key player?
Abdoulaye Doucoure. The French midfielder is a firm favourite at Vicarage Road with his box-to-box style impacting the Hornets performances all over the pitch.
Doucoure is a renowned force of nature with energy to burn and controlled aggression to boss midfields, but he’s also a clever customer with good vision and clever positioning when he gets forward in support (hence his excellent scoring record for a ‘defensive’ midfielder).
The 26-year-old has been linked with a host of elite teams yet none have mounted enough pressure to tempt Watford into selling their star asset.
Alongside Capoue, he has formed a tremendous partnership with the pair seemingly able to do everything. Between them, they recorded nine goals and nine assists last season all while holding firm defensively to allow Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra freedom to roam higher up the pitch.
Who is Watford’s biggest summer signing?
Craig Dawson (£5.5m). It’s been a quiet summer for Watford, but that’s exactly what they wanted.
The biggest coups for the Hornets has been keeping their stars firmly under lock and key, with few glaring errors of weakness.
Craig Dawson has been drafted in from West Brom while Brazilian teenager Joao Pedro is their only other piece of spending, at the time of writing.
That is likely to change in the coming days as the season approaches with swift winger Ismaila Sarr reportedly close to shattering their transfer record in deal worth up to £27m.
Who is Watford’s manager? Meet Javi Gracia
Gracia is a quiet customer, rarely in the media spotlight, he simply does the job he’s paid to do, and he’s doing it very well.
Nuno Espirito Gomes lapped up the plaudits for his excellent achievements in taking Wolves to seventh, but Gracia guided Watford to their highest finish since the Premier league started despite the club losing their star player and without spending big bucks.
Richarlison alone left for £40m and the Hornets’ entire summer dealings totalled under £30m, with just one signing over £5m – the permanent capture of Deulofeu.
Gracia didn’t need a limitless bank balance, he just needed patience from the board to implement his way of playing after taking over from hero-turned-zero boss Marco Silva and his attractive brand of passing football.
The 49-year-old is one of the last believers in the 4-4-2 system or at least an adaptation of it.
Gracia sets up in a more 4-2-2-2 style with wingers pushed up, narrow and given licence to drift inside, the full-backs venture forward at pace on the break and the Hornets are very capable of a stinging counter attack.
It all seems gung-ho, but this is where the beauty of Doucoure and Capoue shines through. Without their relentless ability to yo-yo up and down the pitch, the system wouldn’t be half as effective, but Gracia knows his team, trusts his team, and doesn’t need to make major adjustments to his personnel so long as they grasp the way he wants to play.
Watford fixtures – The start
10th August: Brighton (H)
17th August: Everton (A)
24th August: West Ham United (H)
Watford fixtures – The run-in
2nd May: West Ham United (A)
9th May: Manchester City (H)
17th May: Arsenal (A)
Full Watford fixture list and TV details here
The fans say…
JACOB CULSHAW, WD18: WATFORD FAN CHANNEL
What is the mood like among fans going into 2019/20?
Watford fans are optimistic going into the new campaign. The aim remains the same, to strive to be the ‘best of the rest’ in the league and compete in the latter stages of the cup competitions, which were able to achieve in the FA Cup last season – reaching the final for first time since 1984. In this transfer window, key areas are being targeted and strengthened.
Watford have bolstered defensively with the signing of Craig Dawson from West Bromwich Albion. Rennes winger, Ismaila Sarr, is ‘on the verge’ of being the Hornets’ last addition for a club-record deal. If we can retain Abdoulaye Doucouré and Gerard Deulofeu, who have been subject to interest, then it has been a very successful summer.
Who will be your key player this season?
Étienne Capoue – Our man mountain in midfield. Capoue made 86 interceptions last season, more than any other player in the Premier League. The Frenchman topped the charts with the most outfield ball recoveries (246) and most tackles (88) for Watford and it was no surprise that he was named our Player of the Season.
Alongside Doucouré, they form a formidable central-midfield pairing and are instrumental to Javi Gracia’s style of play. There’s no doubt Capoue will be be as, if not more important, than he was in the last season.
Any young talents to look out for?
Domingos Quina – Although he was ruled out with a shoulder injury from April, Quina made such an impact prior to being sidelined that he won our Young Player of the Season award. A Man of the Match performance in his full Premier League debut away at Everton caught the eye of a number of Hornets. Not to mention his stunning strikes against Reading and Cardiff. Certainly one to watch!
Usually when clubs go through a rapid cycle of replacing managers it all ends in tears. Watford have somehow managed to go through 13 managers in a decade… Does Javi Gracia look like a man who will stick around?
It ends in tears at other clubs, but not at Watford. And that’s down to the club’s infrastructure allowing a seamless transition from one head coach to another. Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury view the head coach as a conductor, to solely coach the team and pick the best 11. This has proved an issue with previous ‘head coaches’ but Javi has grasped this role.
For the Pozzo’s to tie Javi down to a new four-and-a-half-year deal in November was a huge statement of intent. Watford trusts Javi and Javi trusts Watford.
Watford are living the ’average mid-table and a cup run’ dream at the moment. Are you happy to keep picking up solid finishes or are you hungry for more? How high is the ceiling?
“We are not going to wait 35 years for another cup final.” – Scott Duxbury speaking prior to the FA Cup Final. The chairman answers that question, we are still hungry for more. Watford are always striving to improve. Building on last season’s 11th place finish and breaking into the top 10 remains are priority, but of course the end goal is to compete in the Europa League. If we can have another successful cup run then that is a bonus!
Where will you finish in the Premier League?
Check out the latest Watford news and views on WD18: Watford Fan Channel
Where will Watford finish? RadioTimes.com says…
The 2019/20 season really is shaping up to boast one of the most competitive top-half battles in years.
In recent times, it has seemed like there’s nothing between 10th and the relegation zone and that any side could finish anywhere in the bottom-half mess.
This campaign is likely to be made of three distinct mini-leagues: the top six, the bottom nine, and a middle group of blossoming teams aiming to take a shot at European campaigns in the near future.
Watford are in the mid-table group along with Wolves, Leicester, West Ham and Everton – too good to go down though probably not ready to give Manchester United or Chelsea sleepless nights.
They may not better their position from last season but Watford set for another strong showing, if the hierarchy allow Gracia the time to develop his side.
Predicted 2019/20 position: 11th
NEXT: Are the Hammers primed for a big season in 2019/20?