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Season Preview 2017 – Part 5 11/08/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.


INS: None

OUTS: Kyle Walker (Manchester City, £45,000,000), Federico Fazio (AS Roma, Undisclosed), Clinton N’Jie (Marseille, Undisclosed), Connor Ogilvie (Gillingham, Season Loan), Josh Onomah (Aston Villa, Season Loan), Pau (Espanyol, End of Loan)

OUR EX-SPURS: Étienne Capoue, Heurelho Gomes, Younès Kaboul


RECENT ENCOUNTERS: Two maulings, the first with the emphasis on us being bad and the second rather more a function of Spurs being good.  Painful as that is to say.


2016-17  1-4
2015-16  1-2
2011-12 0-1
2008-09 1-2
1999-00 1-1 0-4
1998-99 2-5
1994-95 3-6 / 3-2
1982-83 1-0


Trippier       Alderweireld      Vertonghen        Rose
Dembélé          Dier
Son                           Alli                     Eriksen

VERDICT: So.  Bridesmaids again, then.  Shame.

The headline this summer has been the lack of headlines, or rather the lack of incoming transfer activity.  You can look on this a couple of ways;  one, that Spurs already have one of the best sides in the country and whilst they’ve lost Kyle Walker they have a perfectly adequate replacement in Kieran Trippier.  Good kids coming through, a young and vibrant team, kudos to Spurs for being bold enough to say “we’re happy, we’re sticking with what we’ve got”.

The other way to look at is is that Walker has gone to a direct rival prepared to pay him much more money.  That’s got potential to be disruptive all on its own (EDIT: Helloooo Danny Rose), and Kieran Trippier’s pre-season injury, however serious or not it turns out to be, underlines why its not quite as simple as having a ready-made replacement for Walker.  There still isn’t proper cover for Harry Kane either, unless Vincent Janssen’s second season is significantly more impressive than his first.  And then there’s a new stadium to pay for, and a season at Wembley which will be… weird, surely, at best.  It’s soulless to visit, it’s not going to develop character and closeness by virtue of Spurs playing there every other week.

Spurs will be top six, obviously.  You can’t see them chasing the title again though.


INS: Jay Rodriguez (Southampton, £12,000,000), Yuning Zhang (Vitesse Arnhem, Undisclosed), Ahmed Hegazy (Al Ahli, Season Loan)

OUTS: Darren Fletcher (Stoke City, Free), Craig Gardner (Birmingham City, Free), Stéphan Pocognoli (Standard Liège, Free), Jack Rose, Jack Fitzwater (Forest Green, Season Loan), Yuning Zhang (Werder Bremen, Two Season Loan),  Brendan Galloway (Everton, End of Loan), Marc Wilson (AFC Bournemouth, End of Loan)

OUR EX-BAGGIES: Jerome Sinclair (youth)

THEIR EX-ORNS: Ben Foster, Allan Nyom

RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A stout performance undone by set piece calamities at the Hawthorns and a magnificent win under the lights at Vicarage Road.


2016-17 2-0 1-3
2015-16 1-0
2009-10 1-1
2007-08 0-3 1-1
2003-04 0-1 1-3
2002-03 1-0
2001-02 1-2 1-1
2000-01 3-3 0-3
1998-99 0-2 1-4
1995-96 4-4


Dawson         Evans       McAuley           Brunt
Phillips       Livermore         Morrison     Rodriguez

VERDICT: So this is familiar.  Another team from the bottom-half morass.  Another team who haven’t been able to strengthen much yet.  Another team who finished the season in stinking form (two points from the last nine games of the season), another team fretting about relegation.

You can kind of see the concern.  There are a lot of maybes at the attacking end of the pitch… Rondon’s great, maybe, if he recaptures the form of the first half of last season.  Chadli’s great, maybe, if he turns up. Rodriguez if he can recapture his pre-injury Saints form.  Not much in the way of bankers.  A solid defence is more Tony Pulis’ thing, but that failsafe has been called into question by that end of season run.  Albion’s answer has been to bring Gary Megson back to the club onto the coaching staff;  he still appears to be revered at the Hawthorns, though from the outside it looks a bit liking having Pulis twice.

The thing about Pulis is that, wherever he is, the football his sides play means he’s not going to have a huge amount of credit in the bank when results go against his side.  There would appear to be teams worse off than the Baggies, which is a good thing cos it’s a great away trip, but yet another side who could struggle if the odd thing goes against them.


INS: Marko Arnautović (Stoke City, £24,000,000), Javier Hernández (Bayer Leverkusen, £16,000,000), Sead Hakšabanović (Halmstads, £3,000,000), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City, Free), Joe Hart (Manchester City, Season Loan)

OUTS: Ashley Fletcher (Middlesbrough, £6,500,000), Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough, £5,000,000), George Dobson (Sparta Rotterdam, Undisclosed), Sam Howes (Watford, Undisclosed), Håvard Nordtveit (Hoffenheim, Undisclosed), Enner Valencia (Tigres UANL, Undisclosed), Kevin Knoyle (Swindon Town, Free), Alvaro Arbeloa, Reece Burke (Bolton Wanderers, Six Month Loan), Reece Oxford (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Season Loan), Jonathan Calleri (Deportivo Maldonado, End of Loan), Josh Cullen (Bolton Wanderers, Six Month Loan), Gökhan Töre (Beşiktaş, End of Loan)

OUR EX-HAMMERS: Valon Behrami, Sam Howes, Hayden Mullins, Mauro Zárate


RECENT ENCOUNTERS: A gloriously scripted overturning of a prematurely celebrated West Ham lead at their chilling new ground, and a less memorable 1-1 draw at the Vic that interrupted Mauro Zárate’s fledgling Watford career.


2016-17 1-1 4-2
2015-16 2-0
2011-12 0-4 1-1
2008-09 1-0
2006-07 1-1
2004-05 1-2 2-3
2003-04 0-0 0-4
1999-00 1-2 0-1


Zabaleta       Ogbonna        Reid          Cresswell
Obiang           Noble

Antonio                 Lanzini            Arnautović

VERDICT: A rare thing in this pre-season, a mid-table side with no real danger of going down.  West Ham have recruited ambitiously and, given the age and experience of their signings, probably expensively in wages as well as fees, but that ballast ought to given them the security of residence in the Premier League that ostensibly similar sized clubs can’t quite rely on.   Spending that much money on older players – Arnautović is 28, Hernandez 29 – feels a bit short-termist and you’d be worried perhaps about the robustness of that midfield but that’s being picky.  West Ham will be fine and look a reasonable bet for an inconsequential top half place.

The stadium is shit though.  Just dreadful.  Take all the most negative misgivings about modern stadia, add a questionable backstory and stands so far from the pitch that they’re in a different postcode and you’ve got something that many of those who Did It Once last season won’t be prioritising a second time.  Ninth.


INS: André Gray (Burnley, £11, 500,000 rising to £18,000,000), Richarlison (Fluminense, £11,200,000), Tom Cleverley (Everton, £8,000,000), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea, £5,000,000), Will Hughes (Derby County, £4,500,000), Daniel Bachmann (Stoke City, Undisclosed), Harvey Bradbury (Portsmouth, Undisclosed), Sam Howes (West Ham United, Undisclosed), Kiko Femenía (Alavés, Free)

OUTS: Uche Agbo (Standard Liège, £2,000,000), Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord, Undisclosed), Sven Kums (Anderlecht, Undisclosed), Aly Mallé (Udinese, Undisclosed), Mario Suárez (Guizhou Zhicheng, Undisclosed), Rene Gilmartin (Colchester United, Free), Juan Carlos Paredes (Emelec, Free), Mathias Ranégie, Pervis Estupiñán (UD Almería, Season Loan), Juan Camilo Hernández (Huesca, Season Loan), Dennon Lewis (Crawley Town, Six Month Loan), Sulayman Marreh (Real Valladolid, Season Loan), Obbi Oularé (Royal Antwerp, Season Loan), M’baye Niang (Milan, End of Loan), Juan Camilo Zúñiga (Napoli, End of Loan)


Janmaat          Kaboul          Britos            Holebas
Chalobah      Doucouré
Pereyra                         Deeney                   Richarlison

VERDICT: Let’s begin by acknowledging that this would have been a very different piece if written a few days ago.  The Arsenal bit must have been composed at the beginning of last week, a long time at this time of the pre-season, a long time when you make two startling signings in the interim that make significant steps towards addressing the most striking limitations of the side in warm up games.

Such has been the theme of the summer’s recruitment.  We don’t know if they’ll work, of course… good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes.  Hell none of us had heard of Richarlison a fortnight ago (A young Brazilian attacker who looks like an olympic sprinter though – what’s not to like?). But it’s been almost surgical attention to the side’s deficiencies…  defensive midfielder, check.  Creativity, check.  Width, check.  Speed in attack. Check.

More than that.  Reducing the age of the squad, check.  Building a core of good young English players, check check check.  This seeks to address a popular criticism of the transient nature of the squad, that there’s little that defines  Watford, little to associate with… my co-editor turns up a few times a season now and has to be talked through the team.  I think this issue is slightly overstated… plenty of players in more stable eras have become icons very quickly, and/or only lasted a year or so and revelled despite brief Watford careers.  But there’s no question that a stable group will be of benefit to the club on the pitch, on the training ground and in maintaining an identity and relationship with the support, two things tarnished by last season’s experiences.  These English players might not work out, or might not hang around…  but on the face of it we’ve not half done well.  Just read this Nathaniel Chalobah interview if you have any doubts about the character of a pampered midfielder who’s grown up in the comfy surroundings of Stamford Bridge.

So what’s changed in a few days?  Rather than looking at the players brought in and thinking “so far so good” we’re now looking at the side and thinking “actually this looks rather good doesn’t it?”.  Comparing our side, the business we’ve done, with that of some of the apparent rivals that we’ve talked through this week, knowing that the club will be looking to bring in more signings from a strong position, augmenting a squad that already looks strong rather than desperately needing to bring in bodies, all feels rather good.

If there’s a question mark it’s about figures.  André Gray, in particular, seems to have cost us a big wedge, even if the details of quite how much for what will, as ever, remain hidden rendering the detail of “record signing” an ever vaguer notion.  The thing is, in the current climate, all notion of how much a player is “worth” is up in the air.  Is André Gray, a young English striker with a decent season in the top flight in a somewhat frugal team, “worth” £18m?  Or whatever?  Is he bollocks.  Is he worth a million?  These numbers don’t mean anything, if they ever did.

What matters is two things.  One, can we afford it.  Two, is he an asset.  The second, we’ll see.  The first… we have to trust those running the club and heaven knows that they’ve given us precious little reason not to.  Good decisions, almost every step of the way.

The exception, maybe, and only maybe, is in our appointment of head coaches.  The most generous interpretation is that each coach has been signed to do a job and by and large, with a couple of circumstantial exceptions, they’ve done them.  As I said, the generous interpretation.  Flores and Mazzarri both kept us up – you can argue about how much their role in each was, how much you credit the players, the recruitment vs their melding into a team.  In both cases their seasons tailed off and big chunks of the squad were alienated by the end of the season. Flores leaves, Holebas is back in the fold.  Mazzarri leaves and Ben Watson is suddenly a vice-captain. Even if your only aspiration is survival that pattern can’t be healthy.

And so the fact that this is Marco Silva inspires further confidence.  Anyone who was at Hull in April will be in no doubt about his ability to instil a common purpose amongst squad and support.  He’s a young manager, with limited experience in this country… but it wasn’t just us that was interested in him.  Like Chalobah, like Gray, like Hughes, like Ricarlison the fact that he chose us tells you something.

So, back to the beginning.  Timing is everything.  A week or so ago this would have been more cautious, less excited.  This is the honeymoon period between bringing in new stars and, you know, actually seeing them play when anything is possible.  A wonderful and essential part of being a fan but not best suited to objective preview pieces.

Screw it.  We’re going to be great.  Yoooorns…..


1. Roger Samways - 11/08/2017

Fantastic review, Matt. The Watford overview has succeeded in ratcheting up my excitedment level even further! COYHs!!

2. Simon Caldwell - 11/08/2017

You’ve convinced me that Watford +42 on the season handicap is a sure thing and that there’s worse 5/1 bets than you to beat Liverpool tomorrow…

Matt Rowson - 11/08/2017

Being wooed by your own teams chances pre-season is one thing. Being wooed by the optimism of the supporter of another club is the height of recklessness…

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