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Watford 0 Sevilla 1 (31/07/2015) 01/08/2015

Posted 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…


1. Nick Corble - 01/08/2015

Spot on Matt. Patience will be key, it won’t all happen at once. Rather be taking a proactive gamble than sitting back and awaiting the inevitable drop.

2. Smudger jnr - 01/08/2015

I don’t want to sound impatient, but my main worry is everyone knowing the system we are looking to play. Pick one and fill it with specialist players. So Anya is not a fullback. Paredes is not a right mid. Ighalo is not an attacking mid. And I still haven’t nt got a clue what position layun occupies at any time.

Clearly we are now going for 4 at the back which I prefer personally. And that selection seems set now with nyom, Cathcart, prodil and holebas.

Then we have troy at the other end as first on the team sheet. If we are, as rumoured, looking to play 4-2-3-1 then I’m afraid ighalo can’t be starting. Very clearly missing an architect yesterday. The link between Capoue and troy. So Etienne was looking to go too directly when under pressure. With not enough open options otherwise. Including berhami who was never looking for possession (Watson far better in my opinion). Gladly we have two notable absentees that can fill that architect role. I’d like to see both of them playing along side either Anya or berghuis in a triumvate.

Matt, what formation do you think we played last night just out of interest?

Matt Rowson - 01/08/2015

I thought we were playing 4-2-3-1 with Ighalo behind Deeney, but really with a striker in that role the difference between that and 4-4-2 is moot…

3. Smudger jnr - 01/08/2015

…those notable absentees being abdi and Jurado of course

4. Lou W - 01/08/2015

Patience indeed. I think it will come together. The danger of the season is the fixture list is set up in such a way that a ready team has some real chances to pick up points early on, as compared to the much-discussed Christmas season when we might be more on the same page but the opposition is intense. My hope is that this is a reason we will finish 16th, as opposed to 13th or whatever, and not a reason why we will end up going down. But we need to take whatever points we can, even early when things are coming together.

Got to see a lot of Layun in the Gold Cup. He impressed me much more than I thought he would. One of the calmer options on the Mexican side. Which I will admit is not saying much. Maybe he was like that last year for us and it just didn’t come through over the radio, but I went from assuming he would not be involved this year to hoping he plays a part.

Fun times…

5. Hunsbury Hornet4 - 03/08/2015

Too much pessimism. Top half of the table, starting with a 2 – 2 draw at Everton….

6. JohnF - 04/08/2015

Thanks for this Matt. It certainly looks like a team in transition but as Smudger jnr points out, we do have two more important players to come in. I do worry about Abdi’s injury record though. The biggest concern for me is the level of expectation from fans, which is unrealistic. The objective is to stay in the division and to build but this will not be helped if the fans get frustrated and do not support the side. We will need to be strong supporters home and away and not just when we are winning. We will not be playing Sevilla every week but we will need to convert out goal chances and we will need a bit of luck.

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