Season Preview Part 2 04/08/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
INS: Yohan Cabaye (Paris St Germain, £10,000,000), Connor Wickham (Sunderland, up to £9,000,000), Alex McCarthy (Queens Park Rangers, Undisclosed), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea, Season Loan)
OUTS: Mandela Egbo (Borussia Mönchengladbach, TBC), Lewis Price (Sheffield Wednesday, Free), Shola Ameobi, Stephen Dobbie, Owen Garvan, Peter Ramage, Jerome Thomas, Jerome Binnom-Williams (Burton Albion, Season Loan), Hiram Boateng (Plymouth Argyle, Six Month Loan), Jack Hunt (Sheffield Wednesday, Season Loan), Ryan Inniss (Port Vale, Season Loan), Yaya Sanogo (Arsenal, End of Loan)
OUR EX-EAGLES: Dean Austin, Ben Watson
THEIR EX-ORNS: Adlène Guedioura, Adrian Mariappa, Keith Millen (Assistant Manager), Jordon Mutch
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: None spring to mind. Oh, OK then… defeat to Kevin Phillips’ penalty late in extra time two years ago as we wilted in the Wembley sun. Prior to that, a well-earned point at Vicarage Road in a 2-2 draw, TV coverage featuring that tiresome Holloway gamesmanship interview, and a 3-2 win at Selhurst on the opening day in which Almen and Matej opened their accounts for the Hornets and we began to wonder quite what the new regime might mean. Still, quality like that was never going to hang around was it…? “What will they do when the loans go back?”
|2005-06||1-2||1-3||0-0 / 3-0|
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Ward Dann Delaney Souaré
Zaha Cabaye Bolasie
VERDICT: The thing is, you look at the middle of the Premier League and there’s all sorts of clubs that a few years ago were second tier fodder, or worse. And, yes yes yes for every Stoke, Swansea or Palace – none of whom will be in many folks’ bottom three predictions – there are any number of chancers who slunk back where they came with their tails between their legs… not good enough, not wealthy enough, not lucky enough when it mattered. Hell, that’s been us on a couple of occasions. So… there’s no pretending that what’s in front of us is easy but others have done it and whilst any successful plan looks well thought out with the benefit of hindsight, it’s tempting to suggest that clubs that look organised, that look to have a plan that are pulling it off. And then you think about Palace, and Ian Holloway’s approach to recruitment two years ago and that argument loses some credibility.
The Eagles have attained their current status remarkably quickly having gotten promoted by beating us two years ago and sitting, at that point, squarely in the “going straight back down” slot prior to that excitable scattergun approach to the squad. Holloway is long gone, but any Hornet who’s been watching our frequent encounters over the years will know that there’s never any shortage of reasons to dislike Palace, and Alan Pardew’s brand of prickly superciliousness is an adequate replacement. The squad looks solid, the addition of Cabaye an eye-catching one… as I wrote this bit at first I was thinking you might want stronger options up front: Chamakh is talented but injury-prone, Murray leads the line and the fact that he looks like a lower division plodder is thoroughly deceptive but he’s not going to develop any further, whilst Dwight Gayle’s effervescence and finishing is let down by a lack of physical strength not suited to a lone forward role. Since then Bamford and Wickham have come in and added different options, if not quite proven ones. All in all though, an astonishingly strong, well-established squad in a short space of time. Still don’t have to like them though.
INS: Gerard Deulofeu (Barcelona, £4,300,000), David Henen (Olympiakos, £200,000), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United, Free)
OUTS: Chris Long (Burnley, Undisclosed), Antolín Alcaraz (Las Palmas, Free), Sylvain Distin (AFC Bournemouth, Free), George Green (Oldham Athletic, Free), Luke Garbutt (Fulham, Season Loan), Christian Atsu (Chelsea, End of Loan), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham Hotspur, End of Loan)
OUR EX-TOFFEES: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: Tom Cleverley
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: The opening day of our last top flight season set a tone, when a strong display yielded no reward after a bizarre late penalty decision against Chris Powell. Later in the season an altogether more comfortable 3-0 victory for the Toffees at Vicarage Road in what would be Malky Mackay’s last League appearance.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Coleman Jagielka Stones Baines
Mirallas Cleverley Barkley Deulofeu
VERDICT: There’s the temptation to look at Everton and say “why bother”? What is there for Everton to aspire to… after so many year of what was generally recognised as fine achievement in context under David Moyes, and that of by and large just about missing out on a Champions’ League place, what is there for an Everton fan to hope for? Returning to the status of not quite being as good as Arsenal? Of kind of winning a lot of games in a fairly prosaic way but not, like, winning a trophy? Little of this is Everton’s fault, of course, not as such… these are those barriers to competitiveness that the Champions’ League in particular sets in stone. But what does an Everton fan hope for?
And then you look in the mirror and think about it for a bit and realise what a load of old bollocks that argument is. The same trite, lazy tosh that the armchair United fan in the office comes out with when you mention that you follow any club below the elite. We’re not in line for trophies any more than Everton are, less so, and that’s never stopped any of us, or of the tens of thousands of others who follow clubs that haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of, you know, winning a major competition. You’re in it for the ride. You’re in it for belonging to something, for the victories however small or parochial they might be and for the despair and misery too. That applies to Everton fans as much as it does to fans of Watford or Accrington or anyone.
Perhaps the person suffering most from Everton’s awkward place in the grand scheme of things is Roberto Martinez, stymied as he is by following a successful manager who never actually won anything that high bar isn’t in itself terribly exciting and therefore anything below that sees Everton slip into the morass of also-rans. Everton fans will cite an epic season for injuries as a driving reason behind last season’s relative slump and if they’re right then the Toffees will be up in fifth or sixth again come May. Messageboards contain ominous anxiety however, in amongst the griping about ineffective possession football and bickering about quite how good Romelu Lukaku is or isn’t. That anxiety can be captured in the possibility that too many players might be past their best whilst the kids coming through aren’t (all) quite ready to step in just yet. In the former camp count Tim Howard – at 36 was last season an aberration or the beginning of the end? Phil Jagielka, terrific for half of last season but awful for the other half and 33 in August, it’s donkey’s years since he was turning out against us at Bramall Lane. Gareth Barry, by consensus run into the ground during the last campaign. Leighton Baines, still only 30 but another dipping below his very high standard.
As for the first game of the season… I think we could have done without that particular repeat of 2006/07 when we faced the Toffees at the same stage and found a new and creative way to add to our failure to pick up as much as a point in (now) ten trips to Goodison. In particular, it would be helpful if Tom Cleverley doesn’t chose his debut to remember what an effective attacking threat he was during his season at Vicarage Road, something that years of being employed otherwise and having his confidence battered by sneering twitterati appear to have pummeled out of him. Thereafter… somewhere between sixth and twelfth, natch.
INS: N’Kolo Kante (Caen, £6,300,000), Robert Huth (Stoke City, £3,000,000), Yohan Benalouane (Atalanta, Undisclosed), Shinji Okazaki (Mainz 05, Undisclosed), Christian Fuchs (Schalke 04, Free)
OUTS: Chris Wood (Leeds United, Undisclosed), Paul Gallagher (Preston North End, Free), Tom Hopper (Scunthorpe United, Free), Kieran Kennedy (Motherwell, Free), Anthony Knockaert (Standard Liége, Free), Adam Smith (Northampton Town, Free), Matthew Upson (Franchise FC, Free), Esteban Cambiasso, Conrad Logan, James Pearson, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Ben Hamer (Nottingham Forest, Season Loan)
OUR EX-FOXES: Lloyd Dyer
THEIR EX-ORNS: Danny Drinkwater, Kevin Phillips (First Team Coach)
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A miserable capitulation to a rampant Foxes side in November 2013, and a much more credible draw in Leicester four months later that brought to an end what had been Leicester’s nine-match winning run. Before that… this. And this.
|2012-13||2-1||2-1||3-1 / 0-1|
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Wasilewski Huth Morgan
Albrighton King Kante Schlupp
VERDICT: So I was looking forward to playing Leicester again to a quite unreasonable extent. Far from a novelty of course, the Foxes have been regular adversaries in recent years but that’s kind of the point… a side that we’ve locked horns with frequently and memorably. Last year’s respite in hostilities saw Leicester claw their way improbably out of a deep hole… seven points from safety at the end of March, seven wins in the last nine almost trebled their tally for the season and left them comfortable and looking upwards. After a couple of seasons of building they’d always looked like the promoted side most likely to, and had stuck to their guns throughout the first half of the campaign when performances hadn’t matched results. The outcome justified the approach and Leicester might have been looking onwards with optimism. Until everything appeared to implode.
Nigel Pearson’s sacking came on the back of his son’s dismissal following a well-publicised incident on a tour of Thailand. It seems, however, that the relationship between the notoriously prickly Pearson and the club’s Thai owners was fragile at best in any case. In any event, the appointment of Claudio Ranieri as his replacement appears an odd one… a very experienced manager with an impressive CV he nonetheless comes to Leicestershire on the back of a bizarrely disastrous four months as Greek boss that saw one draw from five games including a defeat at home to the Faroe Islands. He will suffer from being neither Nigel Pearson nor popular replacement rumour Martin O’Neill… indeed in some ways he’s as far from Pearson as it’s possible to imagine. City fans, however determined to be positive, will be uncomfortable with the fact that in his four months he turned Greece from a side characterised by discipline and organisation to an unholy mess.
The squad is, as I write, short of quality in midfield in particular with the loss of Esteban Cambiasso, who played under Ranieri for a season at Inter, particularly awkward. Suddenly City look much more precarious.
INS: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa, £32,500,000), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim, £21,000,000), Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, £10,000,000), Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic, £3,500,000), Bobby Adekanye (Barcelona, Undisclosed), Danny Ings (Burnley, TBC), Adam Bogdan (Bolton Wanderers, Free), James Milner (Manchester City, Free)
OUTS: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, £49,000,000), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, £3,500,000), Sebastian Coates (Sunderland, Undisclosed), Rickie Lambert (West Bromwich Albion, Undisclosed), Steven Gerrard (Los Angeles Galaxy, Free), Glen Johnson (Stoke City, Free), Brad Jones, Luis Alberto (Deportivo La Coruña, Season Loan), Lloyd Jones (Blackpool, Season Loan), Kevin Stewart (Swindon Town, Season Loan), Lawrence Vigouroux (Swindon Town, Season Loan), Danny Ward (Aberdeen, Season Loan), Jordan Williams (Swindon Town, Season Loan), André Wisdom (Norwich City, Season Loan), Javier Manquillo (Atlético Madrid, End of Loan)
OUR EX-REDS: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: Brendan Rodgers (Manager)
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: In contrast to 1999’s excitement, two uninteresting comprehensive defeats within a month of each other last time around during a run in which the Reds won nine league games in ten. The latter of the two was Ashley Young’s final outing in yellow. And Will Hoskins’ debut.
|2004-05||0-1 / 0-1|
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Clyne Skrtel Sakho Moreno
Henderson Milner Coutinho
Firmino Benteke Lallana
VERDICT: Twenty five years since Liverpool won the league. In some ways that’s extraordinary, almost inconceivable especially if you’re old enough to remember it and the years before it. In others it just isn’t. Liverpool have only occasionally been serious contenders for the title in the interim… and yet opening this sort of article with this sort of reflection is still unavoidable. And therein part of Liverpool’s problem, really, the mismatch of seeing themselves as one of the country’s Biggest clubs (that b-word is a dangerous thing) and yet 25 years since they were champions, the 2005 Champions’ League notwithstanding, belies that. There’s a sort of frantic desperation that persists, an urgency divorced from reality to justify what they perceive as their status.
Liverpool have bought a lot of players over the summer and at the time of writing boast a vast squad. There’s some of that franticness there too, mind… much as last season was a bit disappointing given what happened before, much as Sturridge’s injury situation left them horribly short up front and much as there’s money to spend given the Sterling transfer it all feels a bit desperate once more…. “look, we’re really serious this time”. Revolution rather than evolution (again). Firmino, subject of a big outlay, may be a terrific player… but his recruitment is rather transparently an attempt to recreate the signing of Suarez who was brought in at a similar age and developed and was sold for a significantly higher fee. And I guess that might work but it all feels a little… haphazard. Liverpool will still be strong, of course, and might even finish higher up than last season but… you get the feeling that being seen to be doing something is the priority at Anfield.
Season Preview Part 1 03/08/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
OK. Here we go… four today, four more tomorrow. And so on.
INS: Petr Cech (Chelsea, £10,000,000), Vlad Dragomir (ACS Poli Timosoara, £71,000)
OUTS: Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray, £1,800,000), Semi Ajayi (Cardiff City, Free), Abou Diaby (Marseille, Free), Ryo Myaichi (St.Pauli, Free), Dan Crowley (Barnsley, Six Month Loan), Isaac Hayden (Hull City, Season Loan), Carl Jenkinson (West Ham United, Season Loan), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Ipswich Town, Season Loan), Yaya Sanogo (Ajax, Season Loan), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma, Season Loan), Jon Toral (Birmingham City, Season Loan)
OUR EX-GUNNERS: Tommie Hoban (youth)
THEIR EX-ORNS: Héctor Bellerín
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A 3-0 defeat in Theo Walcott’s top flight debut that was rather less comprehensive than it sounds, and a 2-1 Boxing Day defeat settled by a late Robin van Persie goal that nonetheless constituted one of our best performances of last time around. That we lost anyway rather says something…
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Debuchy Koscielny Mertesacker Monreal
Oxlade-Chamberlain Özil Sanchez
VERDICT: Here’s the challenge, you see. How to add anything of any value. This time last year I would have been scouring Rotherham United’s messageboards, sifting what appeared to be wheat from the chaff and perhaps ending up with something that added to your knowledge in what might even have been an interesting way. Hell, if we’re honest I could have written any old bobbins and you probably wouldn’t have been any the wiser. Now, here… how do I write something that’s interesting and informative that by definition means not replicating the guff that proliferates and is plagiarised across the internet in the shameless search for hits and cheap advertising revenue. Just how many interesting things are there to say anyway?
On the off-chance that some of you were paying far more attention to the Championship than to the Premier League last season – and frankly, given the relative levels of competitiveness and drama in the two leagues who could blame you – here’s the lowdown. Arsenal entertain pretensions of breaking free of the almost-but-not-quite mantle and mounting a sustained challenge for the title. The recruitment of Cech sees them trade up and improve what might have been a problem position, but there remain question marks up front – where Giroud perhaps isn’t mobile enough to pull open spaces and therefore make the most of Arsenal’s surfeit of small clever blokes in the midfield – in defensive midfield, where the emerging Coquelin is perhaps the only destructive option, and perhaps at centre-back. Everything’s relative of course… we’re talking about concerns that probably mean that the Cech signing sees Arsenal tread water, retain their nearly-but-not-quite position rather than any more consequential failings.
In the background is the simmering boredom borne of finishing third or fourth for each of the last ten (!) seasons. Perhaps the starkest of the artefacts of the Premier League, Champions League age is this dull corridor between the very top and the great unwashed, where the barriers to entry created by Champions League qualification and the sort of financial backing enjoyed by City and Chelsea cut off… Arsenal? Liverpool? Spurs? into a group that won’t win the league and that won’t be in any danger of finishing amongst the rest. Despite playing some of the best football in the division, despite a consistent Champions’ League place being no small achievement, much of however much simmering anti-Arsène stuff there is is borne of that boredom. Be careful what you wish for, says I. Stop me if I’m beginning to sound as if I care…
INS: Rudy Gestede (Blackburn Rovers, £6,000,000), Jordan Amavi (Nice, Undisclosed), Jordan Ayew (Lorient, Undisclosed), José Angel Crespo (Cordoba, Undisclosed), Idrissas Gueye (Lille, Undisclosed), Scott Sinclair (Manchester City, Undisclosed), Jordan Veretout (Nantes, Undisclosed), Mark Bunn (Norwich City, Free), Micah Richards (Manchester City, Free)
OUTS: Christian Benteke (Liverpool, £32,500,000), Fabian Delph (Manchester City, £8,000,000), Matthew Lowton (Burnley, £1,000,000), Antonio Luna (Eibar, Undisclosed), Yacouba Sylla (Rennes, Undisclosed), Andi Weimann (Derby County, Undisclosed), Darren Bent (Derby County, Free), Graham Burke (Notts County, Free), Shay Given (Stoke City, Free), Enda Stevens (Portsmouth, Free), ?Chris Herd?, Ron Vlaar, Tom Cleverley (Manchester United, End of Loan)
OUR EX-VILLA: Troy Deeney (youth)
THEIR EX-ORNS: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Mark Robson (First Team Coach), Tim Sherwood (Manager)
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A goalless draw at Vicarage Road early in the 2006/07 season, and a 2-0 defeat at Villa Park settled by two late goals. Watford started that one with a forward line of Tamas Priskin and Will Hoskins; Ashley Young was absent, and would join Villa for what was ultimately an eight figure sum three days later.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Hutton Richards Clark Amavi
Bacuna Gueye Veretout Sinclair
VERDICT: Tim Sherwood broke into the Watford side as a teenager in 1987 looking like an Essex tw*t at a time when, as a 14 year-old living in Essex, I was particularly sensitive to such things. This lingering resentment has stuck with me throughout Sherwood’s successful playing career and surprisingly rapid emergence as a manager which isn’t entirely fair or balanced on my part, but then all the best grudges are based on healthy irrationality. Sherwood took over Villa last season and appeared to enjoy a fillip on the basis of not being Paul Lambert, as is so often the case in such situations. Whether that’s sustained or not – and it’s easy to read too much into losing your last three games of a season even if that run did leave you a mere three points clear of the drop – remains to be seen. Christian Benteke has gone, and that’s a big old hole to fill however much money they got for him… Villa’s resurgence on Sherwood’s appointment manifested itself in Benteke finding his shooting boots again after an injury hit start to the season had seen him score three times before Sherwood’s appointment in mid-February. There’s ongoing talk of a takeover with Randy Lerner’s enthusiasm having waned but the longer that drags the less chance it has of impacting Villa’s activity in this transfer window. They look a bit precarious again as it stands.
INS: Tyrone Mings (Ipswich Town, £8,000,000), Artur Boruc (Southampton, Free), Sylvain Distin (Everton, Free), Adam Federici (Reading, Free), Joshua King (Blackburn Rovers, Free), Christian Atsu (Chelsea, Season Loan), Filippo Costa (Chievo, Season Loan)
OUTS: Brett Pitman (Ipswich Town, Undisclosed), Josh McQuoid (Luton Town, Free), Miles Addison, Mohamed Coulibaly, Daryl Flahavan, Ian Harte, Joe Partington, Ryan Fraser (Ipswich Town, Season Loan), Jaydon Stockley (Portsmouth, Six Month Loan)
OUR EX-CHERRIES: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: None
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A gripping 1-1 draw at the Vic in September in which Gabriel Tamas had a catastrophe before being (permanently) replaced by the very much more effective Craig Cathcart, and a 2-0 defeat in Dorset in January that was rather spoiled by an erroneous (if later rescinded) red card for Gabriel Angella. This remains our most recent away defeat, and the last time that we scored fewer than two goals in an away fixture.
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Francis Elphick Cook Mings
Ritchie Arter Surman King
VERDICT: If I can justify disliking Sherwood for perfectly irrational reasons I can certainly justify resenting Bournemouth for pinching the title from us last season. Not that that’s any more rational really… Wednesday fans’ lack of grace was galling, all Bournemouth did was win the title through playing expansive, positive football. Yes, Eddie Howe’s a bit smarmy and yes, we’ve had some very iffy decisions go against us at Dean Court (or whatever it’s called now) over the past couple of seasons but that’s hardly a watertight list of charges. Actually, what I resent most about the final day is not that we lost the title. That was really annoying, but would have been a bonus prize on top of getting promoted. What I resent more is that the season, magnificent and wonderful and glorious in so many ways, should end like that. Bitter and bitchy and angry, at all sorts of people.
Back to Bournemouth. They’re a very strong side, quite obviously, with momentum and goals and have the punch to make an impact. They’ve acquired and developed a range of very capable players – Ritchie, Arter, Wilson, Cook and Francis ought to be comfortable in the top flight. At the time of writing though they look vulnerable to injuries in a couple of areas… Wilson, most obviously although a striker appears to be a priority, whilst messageboards don’t seem convinced by last season’s loan Boruc. I’m not blown away by many of their signings either; Distin brings plenty of experience but will be 38 in December. Mings is a prospect by all accounts but is an odd choice of priorities, you’d have thought that he was a big-club signing, someone to develop into a top player. Bournemouth might have been expected to gamble their chips on someone who’s ready now, rather than someone who will be making his 50th senior start on his Cherries debut. I can see Bournemouth starting well and occupying column inches if they catch someone cold in August or September. Not beyond the realm of possibilities that they’ll struggle eventually though.
INS: Asmir Begović (Stoke City, £8,000,000), Nathan (Atletico Paranaense, Undisclosed), Danilo Pantic (Partizan Belgrade, Undisclosed), Radamel Falcão (AS Monaco, Season Loan)
OUTS: Petr Cech (Arsenal, £10,000,000), Gael Kakuta (Sevilla, £2,500,000), Josh McEachran (Brentford, £750,000), Felipe Luis (Atlético Madrid, Undisclosed), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact, Free), Christian Atsu (AFC Bournemouth, Season Loan), Lewis Baker (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Izzy Brown (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Andreas Christensen (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Two Season Loan), Jordon Houghton (Gillibgham, Six Month Loan), Tomas Kalas (Middlesbrough, Season Loan), Nathan (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Danilo Pantic (Vitesse Arnhem, Season Loan), Mario Pasalic (AS Monaco, Season Loan), Marco van Ginkel (Stoke City, Season Loan), Wallace (Carpi, Season Loan)
OUR EX-BLUES: None
THEIR EX-ORNS: Nathaniel Chalobah
RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Three FA Cup defeats in seven seasons, the most recent a third round tie in January following on from which we were able to adopt a “well that wasn’t too bad” position until the Blues played Bradford in the next round. Prior to that, a 5-0 mauling at Stamford Bridge in 2010 and a more credible showing at the Vic a year earlier in which Tamas Priskin gave us a 69th minute lead before Nicolas Anelka salvaged the tie with a hat-trick.
|2003-04||2-2 / 0-4|
POSSIBLE STARTING ELEVEN:
Ivanovic Cahill Terry Azpilicueta
Ramires Willian Hazard
VERDICT: I started paying in attention in about 1980. So… that’s kind of year 0. Chelsea were in the second tier that year, and it seems they missed out on promotion on goal difference… but in my mind’s eye they were and remain a so-so second tier side. That they’ve spent all but one of the last thirty years in the top flight winning the League four times, the FA Cup six times, the Champions’ League and the Europa League is neither here nor there. They’re chancers playing above their station, and that’s it.
Chelsea won the league having blown the rest of the division away in the first half of the season and then just about been as good as anyone for the rest of it. This time… much as Diego Costa was a huge success, “The Charles Bronson of the Premier League” as was popularly observed as he picked a fight with the entire division before Christmas (and won), you’d be a little worried about their attacking options. Another season like that from Costa and they’ll be laughing but… rumours of dissatisfaction, the departure of club totem-cum-dependable backup Drogba mean that the Falcao gamble might need to come off. You wouldn’t be against it, but it feels a bit like the Veron thing, Mourinho wanting to show that he’s the man by getting the best out of a player that United couldn’t just as Ranieri did in 2003. Didn’t really work then though. As with Arsenal, everything’s relative… might result in Chelsea finishing second instead of top. Meh.
Watford 0 Sevilla 1 (31/07/2015) 01/08/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
1- The cost of parking at the grammar school has gone up to £8. Welcome to the Premier League, boys and girls. Not the only change this… the season’s first rogue vendor is spotted on Vicarage Road selling split Watford / Sevilla scarves (where does his excess stock go, you have to ask yourself) whilst evidence of the ongoing work at the stadium itself is immediately evident, construction vehicles standing guard on the open corner between the Vicarage Road and Elton John stands. Inside the Rookery the previously affably drab grey concourses are a startling, intense red and black. Daughter 1 idles her way through a packet of blackberries in the sunshine whilst Daughter 2 reads the fixture list out loud from the programme in the manner of a town crier. It’s football, Jim, but not as we know it…
2- As for the football itself, the most obvious and yet unavoidable challenge facing Quique Flores is to fashion a team out of the excess of riches with which he’s being endowed. Gianfranco Zola had the same manner of problem three years ago, it took him a couple of months to get it together in a more forgiving environment and that was some achievement in itself. Today, Flores strikes a decent balance of bedding in necessary relationships, and trying out new things. Prödl and Cathcart appear nailed on as our first choice pairing; to take advantage of the former’s brute power, size and leadership you need someone alongside him disciplined enough and quick enough to cover the Austrian’s lack of pace. That’ll work, but the more time playing together the better. Of the new stuff, Miguel Layún, back from Gold Cup victory with Mexico, makes a decent, punchy job of one of the three roles behind the striker the highlights of which include skipping in from the left to test the keeper in the first half and an acrobatic volley that narrowly clears the bar in the second. Steven Berghuis is another unknown, but looks short of fitness and has minimal impact, you wouldn’t want to judge him just yet. Wish he’d smile a bit more, though. At the other extreme, left-back is the latest place in which Ikechi Anya’s relentless positivity is accommodated, and the value of having someone direct enough to just run off with the ball is evident more than once whilst he does a dogged job of his defensive responsibilities.
3- …which are considerable, seeing as Sevilla are terrific. Defensively they’re less a team than a borg, a single entity of many bodies flowing back into position and blocking out space through synchronised switching of positions. Going forward they exemplify that fancy foreign business of stroking the ball carefully until the final third and then rattling it around quickly to find two or three men overlapping in space. We’re stretched, and often, with Heurelho Gomes forced into acrobatics several times early in the half.
Sevilla’s thrust is interrupted however by a bad injury to Ciro Immobile, top scorer in Serie A two years ago, who gets his head onto the visitors’ best chance to that point but is taken out by a collision in the process. Craig Cathcart again displays his calm mastery of pretty much everything by quickly putting the Italian in the recovery position whilst beckoning frantically to the Sevilla bench; it’s five or ten minutes before he’s stretchered off, conscious enough to acknowledge his reception from the Rookery but looking like he won’t be Carlos Bacca’s replacement in the Sevilla front line any time soon. We get a bit of a foothold, and by half-time we’ve established that we’re much better off playing a high defensive line and pressing, now holding our own.
4- Star of the first half for the home side and probably our man of the match overall is Allan Nyom who combines focused, disciplined brutality with a street-fighter’s savvy , a willingness to bomb up and down the right flank and no lack of personality. Sevilla do make inroads down the left, but only when Konoplyanka is supported by one or more teammateson the overlap… Nyom bullies us back into possession on more than one occasion and also puts in the cross of the game, a screaming banshee of a ball from the right that meets Ighalo’s head, beats the keeper and comes back off the post with the stadium halfway to its feet. Elsewhere, Behrami does nothing to dispel the much-voiced concerns about how many cards he’s likely to pick up but is endearing enough for all that with a spiky performance high on energy. Capoue alongside him is less convincing on this occasion… still elegant, still powerful but like a musician who’s lost the rhythm of a song he’s not quite with it. Nonetheless, for the most part we hold our own, retain our shape and blot out the incursions. The concerns are broadly twofold… that we really aren’t getting enough support up to the slightly isolated Deeney, Flores’ subsequent comments about the balance between attack and defence well made, and that for all our shape we lose concentration and concede following a quickly taken set piece. I won’t have been the only one thinking “that’s all it’s going to take…”, the consolation being that initial suspicions that it had been the newly introduced Jose Antonio Reyes wot done it proved unfounded (he’s only 31! How is he only 31?).
5- “I reckon last year’s team would have done better”, sighs Rick’s Dad from the row behind. It’s a sentiment borne of anxiety, of the suspicion that we’ve only a week to get this all Sorted but won’t be an uncommon one. It also betrays one of the risks inherent in the summer strategy of frantic recruitment… if things start to go against us, and the more so if Troy is mooching around up front grumpy and isolated, the new lot haven’t got much sentimental investment in the bank. Or to put it another way, a moderately insufficient performance from last year’s team would have been received with much more sympathy, support and gusto in the stands than an equivalent performance from the new recruits. It’s us that need to be conscious of that risk really.
The positive stuff here, the stronger individual performances aside, was that there was a significant upward trajectory from the last game I saw, Wimbledon three weeks ago, to now. Against a considerably more accomplished opponent, much more secure, much more bullish, and still making chances even if we could do with finding that clinical touch sooner rather than later. And the reality is that we don’t have to be “ready” next weekend. It’s unrealistic to expect the g-word within such a short time period… the gamble, the judgement is that that the ultimate benefit is worth the cost. That’s a decision that’s been made by people that have gotten us where we are, and haven’t got too much wrong so far. They’re entitled to expect a little trust. Either way, hold onto your hats…
AFC Wimbledon 2 Watford 2 (11/07/2015) 12/07/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
Actually that’s not strictly true. For those of us who enjoy these things, enjoy the gentle build up, however anodyne and irrelevant, to the resumption of the real stuff there will always be a place for a big curtain raiser against exotic opposition, whilst Paul on a couple of occasions during the day wistfully bemoans the disappearance of the traditional Northwood fixture. Nonetheless, you don’t have to have any particular affinity for AFC Wimbledon to enjoy standing outside a supporters’ lounge where the first annual AFC Wimbledon beer festival is in full swing holding a pint of something profoundly flavoursome in the sunshine whilst fans of the two clubs intermingle affably, onion-slathered Bratwurst are available from vendors and a brass band runs through an eclectic catalogue which for some reason features the theme from “Fame” set in a minor key. The only inconvenience is that it’s extraordinarily stuffy inside the lounge itself to the extent that by the time I work out the payment system I’m really rather desperate for anything wet at all and don’t even bother to feign interest in whatever it is that I end up drinking. That aside, it’s all more than agreeable, and since some of us do have an affinity for Wimbledon and without wishing to wander dangerously off down that well trodden path you can’t help but hope that this becomes something of a regular fixture.
2- Quique Sanchez Flores, for whom a briefer moniker must surely be arrived at pretty damn quickly, looks relaxed and thoroughly Mediterranean in a pale blue shirt. Actually he looks like a tanned Hugh Laurie, an image that I can’t shake and so will inflict upon you also. His approach to pre-season friendlies, of which there are an unprecedented-feeling-but-no-I-haven’t-checked eight, this the second, is interesting and doesn’t follow the template that we’re used to. For one thing, we’ve got competitive opposition four weeks before the start of the campaign; for another, whilst plenty of players get a run-out this afternoon there’s no mass turnaround at half time as anticipated. Three players – Troy, Capoue and Craig Cathcart – play the full ninety whilst the majority of changes occur in the last fifteen minutes despite the heat and the early stage of preparations. Also evident is what appears to be Flores’ preferred formation… 4-2-3-1, as at St. Albans, and with a very similar starting line-up for all the utterly sensible post-match insistence on this being a time to experiment. Most eye-catching pre-match is the presence of all four senior forwards in the starting eleven, Troy nominally the spearhead in front of Ighalo, Forestieri and Vydra. This means that Almen Abdi is nominally one of the two “holding” midfielders, and with Ikechi again starting at right-back we’re hardly keeping it tight.
3-The thing with that sort of formation is that you kinda need to get the ball in order for all the attacking players to do their damage but the home side are much the more aggressive and effective in the opening twenty minutes. Ade Akinfenwa is of course the headline act and if he’s not a Premier League striker then it’s not for lack of personality. Or physique, obviously, at thirteen and a half stone whilst just under six foot. Alongside him however it’s Tom Elliott, a former Leeds youngster newly recruited from Cambridge, who really catches the eye. At 6ft 4 himself he had, Dons boss Neal Ardley observed during the week, traditionally been used, and perhaps wasted, as a target man – certainly his speed and nimbleness cause us problems.
The heavyweight contest however is between Akinfenwa and Prödl, who has exactly the brick-outhouse physique that you’d want a centre-half charged with marking Akinfenwa to have. Simultaneously, with his centre-parting, kind of sort of mullet and kind of sort of goatee he may be the most Austrian looking man I’ve ever seen. After going down heavily early on – and later being seen to apply an ice pack to his leg on the bench – he doesn’t do badly against Akinfenwa but struggles more against Elliott’s pace, twice making optimistic looking offside calls having been caught for speed. By that point the home side are already ahead, Elliott having isolated Ikechi Anya at right back and earned a penalty from a nervous challenge that shrieked of an offensive player not quite used to dealing with such problems. Three years on, we’re no closer to quite knowing how to use Ikechi, and whilst one of the three roles behind the main striker might suit his ability to rattle into uncomfortable spaces, one wonders whether he’s quite disciplined enough a footballer to flourish there.
4- One shouldn’t overstate the home side’s early successes; this was a pre-season friendly and we were hardly under the cosh if deservedly behind. Gradually we turned the screw and played ourselves back into control, and it was the hand of record signing Capoue doing the turning. Always available, always in control, simultaneously powerful and elegant he very much looked the part and was a worthy winner of our man of the match award – even if Sports Interactive supremo Miles Jacobson confessed that he’d picked Capoue for the honours “as it was his birthday”. Of the other new boys, Giedrius Arlauskis came on at half time and misjudged one right wing cross horribly, stretching forlornly for a ball he was never going to reach and leaving himself stranded, necessitating some urgent intervention on the goalline. Otherwise he looked competent, but didn’t have an awful lot to do. Jose Holebas meanwhile, German born to a Greek father and Spanish mother and therefore thoroughly suited to our cosmopolitan squad, came on for a cameo in shockingly scarlet boots that gave our kit some much needed redness but rather jarred otherwise. He was cajoling and pointing and talking from the off, guarding the back door on one occasion as the home side broke on us. He also gave possession away by standing on the ball at one point but such misdemeanours are best committed in pre-season friendlies after all.
5- By the time Arlauskis came floating out like a leaping ballerina in misjudging that cross we’d turned the game around. Odion Ighalo, who looked perhaps the sharpest of our forwards, was rewarded for chasing down the home side’s keeper when a rushed clearance rebounded off him and spooned over the custodian to level the scores before the break. Thereafter we threatened to throttle the home side creating a number of chances without converting… Fernando Forestieri, for all his “whatdoyoumeanfriendly?” enthusiasm culpable more than once of questionable decision making. He nonetheless gave us the lead following perhaps our best move of the match, Almen Abdi’s glorious right wing cross finding Troy at the far post early in the second half; his diving header bringing a fine stop from McDonnell in the Wimbledon goal but Fessi is sharper and more aggressive than the home side’s newly introduced defence whose tentativeness and nervousness should really have been punished by more than the one goal. That it wasn’t led to Juan Carlos Paredes’ silly tackle late, late in the game proving more decisive than it could have been, George Francomb sending Arlauskis the wrong way much as Kennedy had Gomes in the first half. Which was a bit irritating, but never threatened to spoil a splendid afternoon.
Two games into pre-season, then, and things are already beginning to take shape to a much greater extent than might have been expected at this stage. With Valon Behrami in the stand, Benjamin Stambouli and others still mooted there’s more shape to be taken over the next month. Thereafter… we will see.
The List. 10/07/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
You’ll all be painfully aware of this… but there’s no shortage of players being linked with the Orns as we prepare for life in the Premier League. Nobody of quite the status of Hristo Stoichkov or Lothar Matthäus as in 1999… but an exotic bunch of names nonetheless.
I’ve been maintaining this list over the summer, it seems less likely than it did a couple of weeks ago that we’ll hit the 100-mark but you never know. Qualification is of course entirely at my discretion but I’m trying to draw the line somewhere between “rumoured to be interesting” and “would be a good idea if”. Quite how many of these ever had any substance at all we can only speculate…
Will try to keep updated.
Running Total: 88
Marco Motta (unsigned) – RELEASED
Adlène Guedioura (Palace)
Sime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo)
Michael Essien (Milan) – (Joined Panathinaikos)
Paul Jose M’Poku (Al Arabi)
Giedrius Arlauskis (Steaua Bucharest) – SIGNED
Micah Richards (Manchester City) – (Joined Aston Villa)
Younes Kaboul (Tottenham Hotspur) – (Joined Sunderland)
Adnane Tighadouini (NAC Breda) – (Joined Malaga)
Derik Osede (Real Madrid) – (Joined Bolton)
Joe Bennett (Aston Villa)
Jem Karacan (Reading) – (Joined Galatasaray)
Antonio di Natale (Udinese)
Mirko Pigliacelli (Frosinone)
Mauricio Isla (Juventus)
Mathieu Flamini (Arsenal)
Kieran Trippier (Burnley) – (Joined Spurs)
Anthony Mounier (Montpellier)
Adrian Mariappa (Crystal Palace)
Thomas Heurteaux (Udinese)
Rudy Gestede (Blackburn) – (Joined Aston Villa)
Daniele Dessena (Cagliari)
Luca Cigarini (Atalanta)
Sebastian Proedl (Werder Bremen) – SIGNED
Henri Bedimo (Lyon)
Benjamin Stambouli (Tottenham) – (Joined Paris SG)
Curtis Davies (Hull City)
Ali Adnan (Udinese)
Joey Barton (QPR)
Diego Perotti (Genoa)
John Guidetti (Manchester City) – (Joined Celta Vigo)
Scott Arfield (Burnley) – (signed new contract)
Pablo Sarabia (Getafe)
Etienne Capoue (Tottenham) – SIGNED
Gabriel Silva (Udinese) – (Joined Carpi on loan)
Kamil Wilczek (Piast Gliwice) – (Joined Carpi)
Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese)
Alex Geijo (Udinese)
Alvaro Vazquez (Getafe)
Sergio Escudero (Getafe) – (Joined Sevilla)
Oriol Romeu (Chelsea)
Marko Basa (Lille)
Abdisalam Ibrahim (Olympiakos)
Mohamed Salah (Chelsea)
Zdravko Kuzmanovic (Inter) – (Joined Basel)
Xavi Torres (Real Betis)
Alfred Finnbogason (Real Sociedad) – (Joined Olympiakos on loan)
Paulinho (Tottenham) – (Joined Guangzhou)
Vladimir Darida (SC Freiburg) – (Joined Hertha BSC)
Reece James (Manchester United) – (Joined Wigan)
Davide Santon (Inter)
Cristian Ledesma (Lazio)
Mattia Destro (Roma)
Jose Holebas (Roma) – SIGNED
Robbie Brady (Hull City) – (Joined Norwich)
Nene (Unattached – ex West Ham)
Moussa Konate (Sion)
Allan Nyom (Udinese) – SIGNED
Dries Mertens (Napoli)
Miguel Britos (Napoli) – SIGNED
Gokhan Inler (Napoli)
Max Gradel (Saint Etienne)
Davide Zappacosta (Atalanta) – (Joined Torino)
Cedric Bakambu (Bursaspor)
Seydou Doumbia (Roma)
Tranquillo Barnetta (Schalke) – (Joined Philadelphia)
Stefano Okaka (Sampdoria) – (Joined Anderlecht)
Valon Behrami (Hamburg) – SIGNED
Saphir Taider (Inter)
Paolo de Ceglie (Juventus)
Alessandro Diamanti (Guangzhou)
Issa Cissokho (Nantes) – (Joined Genoa)
Lex Immers (Feyenoord)
Zakarya Bergdich (Real Valladolid) – (Joined Charlton)
Steven Berghuis (AZ67 Alkmaar) – SIGNED
Garath McCleary (Reading)
Jean-Christophe Bahebeck (Paris SG)
Jose Manuel Jurado (Spartak Moscow) – SIGNED
Nathan Ake (Chelsea)
Jordan Veretout (Nantes) – (Joined Aston Villa)
Ismael Diomandé (St Etienne)
Felipe Avenatti (Ternana)
Mattias Johansson (AZ67 Alkmaar)
Ahmed Elmohamady (Hull City)
Achraf Lazaar (Palermo)
Fabio Daprela (Palermo)
Alessandro Cannataro (Inter)
End of Term Report Part 8 05/06/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
41- Marco Motta
You can read too much into a monicker like “ex-Juventus full back”. Consider, perhaps, hushed awed tones on foreign shores as a club brings in “ex-Liverpool full back” Stephen Warnock, or “ex-Manchester United midfielder” Chris Eagles. In any era, let alone those of huge top flight squads, “ex-Juventus full back” covers a multitude of realities. As it turns out, and given that we were never likely to have pulled in a peak-career Lilian Thuram on a short term contract, we did pretty well out of Marco. His debut against Fulham was enough to confirm that we’d signed a tough, energetic, competent full back who was at the very least capable of providing Juan Carlos Paredes with some serious competition, and if he occasionally got caught flat footed and reacted with too much instinct and gusto and too little thought it was often with entertainingly brutal consequences. It cost him – and us – at Derby, but only after an extremely harsh red card call, albeit one that he’d afforded the opportunity to be made. Going forward he was bullish and willing, perhaps his best attacking performance coming in stomping all over the right flank in the first half of the final day of the season. All told, not a bad showing at all…
Next Season: …but evidently not enough, despite Motta’s stated eagerness to stay with us into the top flight. Which is probably fair enough; if Motta was a good, tough stopgap he was scarcely less erratic than Juan Carlos Paredes and considerably less of a bully. Nonetheless, seeing his Watford career being quietly brought to an end with a “decided not to offer a contract to…” statement was a little odd.
In the mid-eighties, looking back four managers would have meant looking back comfortably twenty years. Now, given the seemingly inevitable but as yet unconfirmed departure of Slav, we’re looking back scarcely nine months to Beppe Sannino, a period that seems like twenty years in your mind’s eye but actually wasn’t. As we’ve suggested before on these pages, the real surprise was not that Sannino resigned when he did but that he hadn’t gone during the summer; signed to do a job – to rescue the Hornets from their nosedive and bring some discipline and defensive shape to a side lacking much of either – he did that job quickly and effectively. Gregarious, emotional and popular with the supporters, there was never any great clamour for his dismissal from the stands. I’ve rarely seen as shameful a capitulation as that against Huddersfield on the last day of 2013/14 though, everything about that day reeked and even if players bear a lot of the responsibility for that you had to wonder where the united way forward was going to come from on the back of it. When Sannino was still ostensibly at the centre of a dressing room storm at the start of this campaign despite a reasonably strong start resultswise, it was only a matter of time.
Next Season: Beppe was Catania’s new boss within a fortnight of leaving Vicarage Road. He lasted three months, with Wikipedia currently citing a run of poor results and “a strained relationship with the club’s board”. It was good to see Beppe send his wishes on our promotion; one imagines that wherever this unusual character’s next position is, it won’t be undertaken quietly.
In all honesty there’s not a lot to say here. García had one match in charge, properly, before being put on medical leave and ultimately resigning altogether… we lost the match but I didn’t see it. All you can really reflect on is that those who questioned the job he’d done at Brighton as a commendation might want to reflect on Brighton’s season this time round, for all that they’d lost players in the interim. García and Watford were unlucky… the Hornets recovered, we hope that he will too.
Next Season: García reportedly turned down the Barcelona Sporting Director role in January in favour of searching for a management job in the UK. Not happened yet, but you wouldn’t rule it out.
I don’t really have a problem with Billy McKinlay’s services being disposed of, if I’m honest. Yes, it was only eight days (or whatever), but I don’t doubt that we paid him more than he was due (given that he never signed a contract), and it’s easy to sympathise with an anxious response to Brighton (H), when he sat up defensively against a moderate side and declared himself happy with a draw. To dispose of McKinlay at that stage took some balls, and will not have been done lightly… knee-jerk erratic behaviour has been characteristic of many other owners both at Watford and elsewhere, but not this lot. Some were anxious, most prepared to trust the Pozzo’s judgement. So what was really unfortunate was the decision to appoint McKinlay in the first place… given that something obviously happened quickly to cause Pozzo to revise that judgement. A difficult position for the owners, a new manager having just unexpectedly quit in such circumstances… but not our finest hour all told.
Next Season: McKinlay has joined David Moyes’ Real Sociedad coaching staff in November, his new side finishing twelfth in La Liga.
Inevitably, there are several versions of The Facts doing the rounds. Very loosely, at one extreme Slav has chosen to follow up his overseeing of promotion with an extraordinarily bold demand for a long, lucrative contract. At the other, such contract discussions as there have been have been brief, Slav was offered a token increase and when he didn’t accept it all negotiations ceased. The real real real truth, if there is such a thing, is probably somewhere on a sliding axis between the two. Assuming the first extreme for the moment… one can only support the Pozzos’ stance, however well Slav did last year (and we’ll get to that). As when they threatened to play hardball with Matej Vydra in the summer of 2013, the Pozzos’ model only stands a chance of working if you make the difficult decisions when the time comes. Bringing in players, building the squad, that’s the fun bit. Refusing to compromise on salary structure and contract format has to be part of that too. If the Pozzos made a habit of caving in to salary demands neither they nor Udinese would have lasted – and that’s the key thing, I thing, prolonged viability – as long or as well as they have. The other extreme, the Slav as disposable extreme… seems incredibly harsh, if true. But then, it’s their money and their decisions. What is absolutely clear, and has been clear throughout all of the managerial comings and goings of the season – is that we are doing more than paying mere lip service to the “continental structure” of the way the team is managed. The Head Coach is a vital role, but that’s all it is… it doesn’t define the whole club. Were that not so we would never have gotten ourselves promoted in such a perversely unsettled season. So… if Pozzo genuinely doubts whether Slav is the man for the next bit then my inclination is, with a heavy heart, to trust his judgement. It’s not like we have a choice for one thing. It’s not like he hasn’t earned a bit of slack for another.
To reflect, there can be no doubt that Slav did / has done, an extraordinary job; the suggestion that he was a leftfield appointment, someone with a track record based in leagues that we knew nothing about and therefore unqualified seems an awfully long time ago. He picked up a strong squad of players and blended it into something that we’d only glimpsed previously, or pictured in our mind’s eye. In the second half of the season the team was relentless, it was almost as if we wouldn’t lose a game without a mitigating circumstance – a dodgy decision, a freak late goal too late to overturn. Through it all, Slav’s rotation – something that Zola and Sannino had both been criticised for when thing went wrong – seemed like the easiest thing in the world. Hurdles were overcome, tactical surgery invariably produced improved second half performances and through his aggressively deadpan, monotone delivery he was on his way to becoming a cult figure…
Next Season: …so it’s a real shame that it ends as it appears to have ended. It’s not just about being successful as a supporter, you want to be part of something and associate with the people too, you want something tangible and consistent to be a part of. It doesn’t look like Slav will be part of that constant going forward, but will have plenty of options and however it’s been playing out, he’ll remain one of the most successful bosses in Watford’s history.
That’s it for the looking backward stuff (finally….). Enjoy the summer, we’ll be back before the fun starts again.
End of Term Report Part 7 02/06/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
30- Jonathan Bond
More of the same from Bondy… still a decent looking prospect, still you’d like to see a bit more of him before giving him a shot at being first choice. His half a dozen games this time around only included one victory – at Stevenage in the League Cup – but were free of high profile goalkeeping errors. “Nothing to see here”. Which is all well and good, but at 22, “young for a goalkeeper” or otherwise, Bond needs to be getting more regular games.
Next Season: A competitive season long loan has been mooted, and assuming we bring in decent cover could only be a good thing.
31- Tommie Hoban
To build on the theme of last season’s corresponding entry, how utterly splendid to have Tommie not only back and fit following the ankle injury that kept him out for so much of the previous campaign… but returning to his previous trajectory, a prize asset, a rising star. Mark Warburton’s rather smutty attempts to undermine Hoban with articles in Brentford’s local press suggesting that the defender was set for a move to Griffin Park were made to look ever more fanciful as the season progressed, and Tommie imposed himself on the Watford first team. Not just an elegant, robust, fleet-footed centre back but, when needed, a left-back or even a galloping wing-back too, Hoban has sometimes suffered from having to cover the entire left side behind a galloping Ikechi Anya… but as at Millwall in particular this appeared to be less a case of Hoban having to accommodate defensive indiscipline from Anya than a deliberate strategy, a statement that Hoban could cover the entire left side (at a push) giving Anya the licence to create both goals in that game. That’s a hell of a statement of faith in a 22 year-old defender.
Next Season: An upping of the bar for Hoban. You wouldn’t back against him clearing it comfortably, and we’ll all be cheering when he does.
39 (#1) – Sebastian Bassong
You can kinda understand Norwich fans’ frustrations. The Canaries were always among the favourites to go up this season and we were outsiders at worst. Whatever the personal conflicts and clashes going on, lending an experienced stopper to a rival club to get them out of a hole always felt like an odd one. Actually, Bassong’s loan wasn’t hugely successful in terms of results… debuting on Slav’s first game in charge, the 3-0 win at Hillsborough, his loan spell included those four consecutive defeats and concluded with the desperate Boxing Day defeat to Wolves. Nonetheless, he looked a much more credible solution to the Physical, Experienced Centre-back problem than Gabriel Tamas had, and was ultimately one of the cornerstones on which our recovery was based. By the time he returned to Carrow Road a new boss was in charge in Norfolk, a development echoing Neil Warnock’s appointment at QPR during Heidar Helguson’s loan in 2009/10 in scotching our chances of holding onto him for longer.
Next Season: Famously, Sebastian ends the season with TWO promotion medals… had Norwich stayed down, you could see us going back in for him this summer. This would seem unlikely now, the more so given the recruitment of Sebastian Prödl.
39 (#2) – Matthew Connolly
Matt Connolly came in from Cardiff with a decent pedigree… however many promotions from the Championship in various circumstances, the decision to bring him in was instantly justified by the unfortunate injury suffered by Joel Ekstrand. He only started four games but was a significant, assertive presence for the most part… not totally flawless, he had a rash tackle in him, a rush of blood to the head, but generally a force for good who was able to step into a key role seamlessly and provide a sticking plaster to our promotion bid. And of course, that chest-thumpingly magnificent goal at Nottingham Forest was a thing of pure joy.
Next Season: Promoted to the Premier League three times previously, it’s nonetheless perhaps instructive that Matt has only made nine starts in the top flight. A Hatfield lad, you get the impression he’d be keen to extend his Hornets career and we could do worse – you’d not find me objecting. We might do better though.
End of Term Report Part 6 30/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
22- Almen Abdi
An injury-hit second season had many of us fearing that Almen Abdi would join the likes of Nick Wright in being remembered for one glorious year before injury stole him from us. Twelve months on those fears have receded and we look forward to the Professor performing at the level he was surely destined to. His injury record is still a concern, as is reflected by three separate if mercifully brief spells out with injury -a shoulder and two hamstring – that restricted him to 28 league starts, but his relatively limited gametime didn’t prevent him from playing a huge role in our promotion. None of our wealth of midfield options offer the same combination of awareness, control, aggression, personality and composure as Almen; his relatively unsung nine goals last term included some absolute pearlers and he remains an absolute joy to watch, his name in the starting line-up a reason to approach to any game with anticipation.
Next Season: Little doubt about his ability to make the step up, we just need him to stay fit.
23 (#1) – Lloyd Dyer
There was a version of this bit forming in my head which, whilst falling I think some way short of pillorying Lloyd Dyer was nonetheless a little more aggressive than what follows. Troy’s recent and typically candid pronouncements on the subject prompted a bit of a mental rewrite… given that much of whatever one writes about Dyer’s Watford career, such as it’s been, must inevitably concern his attitude off the pitch as much as his performances on it, Troy is really rather better qualified to comment than I am. He’s better qualified in any event, thinking about it. Anyway, it’s beyond dispute that said Watford career has been a disappointment on any number of levels, “not a bad egg” or otherwise. Recruited last summer as part of a strategy of bringing in experienced and successful British Championship players he felt like a bit of a coup, even if the length of the contract offered was transparently his motivation for joining from newly promoted Leicester. Part of the role, therefore, was leadership and whilst there was clearly something afoot in the dressing room under Beppe earlier in the season, Dyer’s leadership was notoriously misdirected at Rotherham… not what he was brought in for. More fundamentally he didn’t set the left flank alight on the pitch either, and whilst left wing-back might not be his best position it’s one (along with full back) that he’s fielded before in his career. For all that he nicked a couple of significant goals you were left feeling rather short-changed by an increasingly peevish and frustrating figure.
Next Season: Lloyd spent the second half of the season on loan at Birmingham City; he has two years left on his Watford contract, but it’s difficult to envisage him forcing his way back into consideration.
23 (#2) – Ben Watson
See, what I thought we needed was something predominantly destructive. A Jonathan Hogg type… someone to hare around, win the ball, lay it off simple, carry on. Instead… instead we got a different type of destructive. Ben Watson was hardly an unknown quantity… breaking through in a Crystal Palace side that we seemed to play four times a season at the time he’d then spent four and a bit seasons playing for Wigan in the top flight culminating, famously, in that Cup Final winning goal. His low-key longevity was tacit testimony to his ability, but Cup Final goals aside his isn’t an eye-catching contribution. So it’s only with the benefit of watching him glue our midfield together, the ultimate continuity player, “destructive” in the sense that more destructive than taking the ball off the other lot is not letting them have it in the first place. Despite all of which, Ben has on a couple of occasions given possession away conspicuously and expensively… at home to Ipswich, and so very nearly at Brighton. These, however, are unrepresentative aberrations borne of taking responsibility. Overall, Watson has been the season’s unlikeliest success story.
Next Season: Ben Watson’s Watford career began at half time at home to Blackpool. We were two down, but ended up 7-2 on top. It would be overstating matters to claim that this was an allegory for his impact on our season… but he started every game from then on in. With pushing 100 Prem starts already, he’s nailed on for a starting berth next season.
24- Odion Ighalo
You may disagree, but I’d argue that Odion Ighalo looked like a decent signing from the very start. Ostensibly signed as a fourth option rather than a starter, he looked more assertive than Alex Geijo, more willing and positive than Mathias Ranégie. What he didn’t look was particularly prolific… I remember commenting to my co-editor during an early game that it was easy to see how at Granada he had developed a reputedly cult following despite not scoring many goals. I was wrong, badly wrong, on one count… suggested early in the season when he scored three goals in three consecutive starts. This was, of course, to be followed up with a particularly prolific two-month spell after Christmas in which he scored 14 goals, fired yet more vim into our forward line and propelled us towards the top two. Ostensibly made of rubber, capable of bouncing up off the deck and ricocheting between challenges whilst staying on his feet he became yet another problem for opponents to think about and laid down a challenge to his colleagues in the forward line. Note the player of the season, but ultimately as key as anyone.
Next Season: He might not feature as frequently… but a positive, willing and relentless pain in the arse off the bench.
End of Term Report Part 5 27/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
18- Daniel Pudil
An odd season for Daniel. For a while there’s been talk of us looking for left-sided competition; with the exception of Albert Riera’s brief and slouchy loan in 2013/14 it never really arrived. And yet despite featuring as regularly as ever earlier in the season Daniel has gradually slipped into the role of squad player under Slav with Ikechi Anya and Tommie Hoban often preferred on the left flank roles in our various and varying formations. Daniel appears to offer what he always did… bags of stamina and willingness, decent (but not infallible) going forward, decent (but not infallible) defending. His form earlier in this season had arguably been more dependable than ever… and yet it’s suddenly, particularly at this higher level, difficult to see him as part of the regular first team picture.
Next Season: Daniel struggled to hold down a place in the absence of a like-for-like left-footed competitor in the Championship – it’s inconceivable that we won’t be looking to strengthen down that side. You’d like to see Daniel hang around though; decent left-sided players shouldn’t be taken for granted. We’ve had some uncomfortable experiences there in the past…
19- Diego Fabbrini
Another character who feels like a long time ago, Fabbrini is perhaps the best example of the sort of by-product of the Pozzo system that sees players nominally still on the books of the club whilst long since having had little to do with the first team. Diego started two league games this season, and hasn’t been anything like a regular in the squad for eighteen months. Since that time he has been loaned out three times, twice this season to Championship clubs and it’s difficult to see him forcing his way back into the picture at Vicarage Road. The bigger picture remains a bit of a puzzle… a player with obvious natural ability, ability that got him into the Italian national squad, who in other ways seems ill-equipped to be a footballer with the result that he flatters to deceive in a succession of loans with moderate second-tier clubs. Ian Holloway’s treatment of Fabbrini at Millwall was instructive, publicly bigging him up, cooing over his talent and praising his application suggesting a sensitive character who needs a confidence boost. It seems unlikely that, in the longer term, we’ll see him make the most of his ability at Vicarage Road.
Next Season: Two years left on his contract, but even with the 2014/15 squad you’d struggle to see him in a squad of 25. Another loan – or a permanent departure – seems likely.
20- Matěj Vydra
In a season yielding all sorts of superlative statistics, you’d have to wonder how often our third highest scoring player managed as many of 16 goals in a season. Similarly easy to overlook the contribution of Vydra whose profile has been much lower than it was two years ago when, as an unknown quantity, he was voted the division’s Player of the Year. To do so would do him a disservice… he’s had to recover mentally from a season at West Brom where, having reached the top flight, things didn’t quite work for him. Then, back at Watford, he’s no longer an automatic start but tagging in and out with Odion Ighalo for the most part… and yet he’s always been positive, his movement is tremendous and if you’re in any doubt as to his value sitting on the shoulder of the last defender or scampering into a space that nobody else anticipated think back to 2013/14 and how, despite Troy’s best efforts, we were so much easier to defend against. The problem then, if there’s been one, is that Matěj hasn’t always appeared to be enjoying himself very much. Whilst his play has been positive, his demeanour has occasionally been peevish, even sulky. Occasionally this can be put down to high standards, others not seeing his run and allowing what might have been brilliant to disappear, forgotten, into an unchecked ledger of missed opportunities. Sometimes, disappointment… such as when he left the field within an instant of the final whistle against Sheffield Wednesday. And ultimately it’s not a problem… no law saying he has to play with a smile on his face. As long as he’s happy.
Next Season: There can be no doubt as to the value of his team, witness his marvellous breaking with Troy at Leeds, the professional unfussy composure with which he dispatched the clinching goal at Brighton. Part of the armoury… one would hope that he will return from Udinese once again in some capacity.
21- Ikechi Anya
In some ways, Ikechi is quite a crude weapon. You know what you’re going to get, for one thing… lots of energy, lots of aggression, relatively little craft actually but buckets of personality. His international profile would appear to be higher than his domestic success would justify but there are any number of reasons for that… his style, or rather the value of a player who will chase relentlessly and with the pace to fly beyond a high line is perhaps better suited to playing for a side that will counter-attack rather than dominating possession. Our formation at Watford asks more of him as a defensive player, typically, which he performs doggedly enough even if his instincts aren’t particularly defensive and even if, as we’ve already discussed in this review, the wing-back’s task can be a thankless one. When Ikechi has received criticism it’s perhaps fuelled by the expectation of more from Ikechi’s raw talent, but it’s clearly nonsense to suggest that there is no end product… two wonderful assists at Millwall bear testimony to that, even if he will have been disappointed to end the season without a goal.
Next Season: A prominent character for the last three seasons, the Celtic rumours have been too persistent to be completely without foundation and as others have pointed out it would not be inconsistent with the Pozzo approach to cash in on a player when at the peak of his value. You’d kinda hope he stays though… apart from anything else, we’re still going to need as wide an array of weapons as we can get.
End of Term Report Part 4 24/05/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
14- Juan Carlos Paredes
Juan Carlos Paredes arrived to something of a fanfare. He’d played in the World Cup for starters, his conspicuous contributions from Ecuador’s right back slot coming at a time when our interest was merely rumoured and therefore offered him a lustre. This lustre was enhanced by his thunderous opening-day performance in the demolition of Bolton, a game that saw him on the front foot and at full throttle. All of which perhaps heightened expectations to a rather unreasonable level… leaving aside the transition he was making, playing wing-back in any side can be a bit of a thankless task. You are simultaneously expected to provide the side’s attacking width and the defensive security of a full-back and as such it’s hardly surprising that few have excelled in the role. Marco Cassetti, for example, offered more reliable and penetrative delivery from the right, but he couldn’t cover the turf half as effectively as Paredes. Ikechi Anya perhaps matches Paredes for pace and stamina, but not for brute strength. And if Juan Carlos has rather too often been guilty of watching balls drift over his head to an overlapping threat… he’s hardly alone in that. There have been games this season where Juan Carlos has looked out of place, awkward, uncomfortable. There have been others where he has rampaged down the right flank scattering opponents in his wake, utterly unplayable. At Middlesbrough in October we had roughly 45 minutes of each. Incredibly quick and built like an articulated truck, Paredes’ 32 league starts were bettered only Gomes, Deeney and Tözsér. A force for good, then, A force, at any rate.
Next Season: Seems inconceivable that we won’t strengthen in the wing-back positions so Juan Carlos may face competition, but likely to be a regular starter.
15- Craig Cathcart
If Paredes came in to a big reception, Craig Cathcart had something of a lower profile… from a Blackpool side that had just bombed the second half of the previous season and narrowly avoided the drop, and an underwhelming loan spell several years earlier Cathcart wasn’t a name that set pulses racing. Word from Bloomfield Road was that here was a decent enough defender… if we could keep him fit. Fair to say then that Craig exceeded all expectations. An unflappable, unflashy, utterly competent centre-back who contributed a couple of special and significant goals to boot, it’s difficult to bring to mind any weak performances… and easily forgotten that he had barely started a game before the trip to Fulham in early December, after which he was a fixture. His contribution is best summarised by the fact that in a terrific season full of eye-catching goalscoring contributions he was in many people’s top three for player of the season.
Next Season: Every inch a Premier League defender.
16- Sean Murray
Hard, despite oneself, for your heart not to sink when you read Sean’s name. You want to be in my place. Sean’s spectacular explosion into the first team under Sean Dyche had been preceded by a long, loud clarion call from the youth team but that building up and the half-season spell as the magic dust in the last pre-Pozzo side that yielded seven goals has been followed by three seasons in which for varying reasons and to varying degrees it hasn’t quite happened for Sean. His season this time around was ended by knee surgery in January, but prior to that he’d managed one full ninety minutes. Still hugely popular with the support, as evidenced by the rapturous response offered by an admittedly ready-to-be-rapturous crowd to his appearance in the away end at Brighton, his assessment is no different to what we wrote a year ago; he needs to find his place. Difference I guess is that he’s a year older (albeit still a young-looking 21) and now trying to break into a Premier League side. Nobody who remembers those opening months will be ready to give up on Sean just yet, but he’s got a job on.
Next Season: Get fit, get out on loan, get some games and become a star again.
17- Gabriel Tamaș
Yes, that was this season. Over the summer of 2014 we had a number of recruitment requirements. A goalkeeper was one. Some Championship experience was another. The third was probably a big brute of a centre-back, someone to beat up opposing strikers and get their head on crosses when such was the requirement. Gabriel Tamaș came in with a colourful reputation, and his performances for the Hornets were similarly eventful. Far from the steadying rock we were after the Romanian seemed throroughly erratic – up for a confrontation to the point of spoiling for a fight if he was great in a physical battle he was thoroughly uncomfortable being run at and brought an element of Keith Dublin’s misplaced excitability to our back line. Thrills and spills at the wrong end of the pitch. Nonetheless, he started every game until he was red carded for booting Huddersfield’s Harry Bunn up in the air at the end of August; on his first start after suspension, he fell like a giraffe with it’s foot caught in a snare, twisted his knee and wasn’t seen in a yellow shirt again joining the likes of Xavier Gravelaine on the page of Watford history headed “brief but memorable”.
Next Season: His contract cancelled in January, Tamaș is now with former European Cup winners Steaua Bucharest.