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End of Term Report – Part 6 14/06/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
6 comments

27- Christian Kabasele

I have to confess to finding Christian Kabasele hugely frustrating.

This isn’t a long-held belief, an ongoing bugbear.  Indeed, I only realised the depths of my aggravation on sitting down to write this piece and thinking about what to say.  But when you look at it…  at 28, whilst the youngest of our senior centre-half options, he should be at the peak of his powers.  And he is brilliant.  Powerful, dominant, decisive, defiant.  Except…  and here’s the problem…  except when he isn’t.

And the “isn’t” bits are the problem.  Not in that they’re imperfections – heaven knows we’ve all got those.  It’s that they’re seemingly avoidable.  Just bloody brainfarts when he seems to lose focus and do something really stupid.  That’s not lack of ability, a deficiency in terms of acceleration or physical strength or touch that he’s never quite going to overcome.  That’s mental resilience, concentration…  the sending off against Bournemouth one obvious example this season, there have been others.  Avoidable.

Despite which…  to scroll back a few lines…  yes.  He’s great.  Most of the time.  But it’s the fact that it’s only most of the time that means he’s merely spent the last season swapping in and out with Mapps instead of nailing down a starting spot.  But he’s great.  Sorry, Christian. I’ve had a bad day…

Next Season:  With Britos gone and Prödl a strong candidate to follow Kabs will surely face new competition for a starting spot.  If he irons out his lapses in concentration he’ll see such challenges off with ease.  If he doesn’t, he won’t.

29- Étienne Capoue

And as the perfect follow up to that Kabasele piece, here’s Étienne Capoue.  A player who for several years of his Watford career was arguably even more frustrating in his inability to maintain his best form.  Not in quite the same way as Kabs…  his failing a fluctuating intensity rather than wayward concentration.  But frustrating in that when he was good he was so good….

And this season, finally, at the age of 30, we’ve seen Capoue deliver that form not just on a consistent basis but virtually unbroken all through the season.  His monstrous form seemed to develop a momentum all of its own, independent of the rest of the side.  At times when the rest of the team was wobbling Capoue himself seemed propelled along on the crest of a ferocious wave that he wasn’t in control of and was unable to resist even if he’d wanted to.

Part of it is finding his role in the midfield.  Sitting deeper, not breaking into the box as I’d mistakenly believed was his strongest card.  No longer the bloke who’s asked to do whatever job needs doing.  But an absolute monster of a defensive midfielder, simultaneously a rock for opponents to break on, a dynamo howling after possession and a nimble, elegant footballer.  Johnno, Hessie and Micah rolled into one.  For those that remember. Sigh.

Next Season:  Capoue professes to have had the best season of his life.  Can only hope that this continues… there are certainly plenty snapping at his heels if it fails to do so.

37- Roberto Pereyra

The thing with Roberto is that he looks the part.  The Matador gleam in his eye.  The ridiculously showy haircut. The disdainful look.  He’s exactly what an Argentine winger ought to look like.

And a lot of the time he plays like the classic Argentine midfielder in your head.  The times when he floats past opponents like they’re not there.  When he can dummy you off your seat from the other end of the pitch with a drop of the shoulder.  When he flicks the ball over Rui Patricio with the outside of his boot, yawns, stretches, scratches the back of his neck.

A consequence of this is that the times when this doesn’t happen contrast markedly.  The time when he’s merely digging in.  Providing an option. “Being normal”.  It looks… a bit lame in comparison.  Stands out for its mundaneness.

Which isn’t to say that he hasn’t had hot and cold streaks.  It’s rather that his cold streaks aren’t quite as cold as has been suggested in some quarters.  A side like ours doesn’t thrive in mid table with a passenger in midfield.

Next Season:  Persistent rumours of returns to Italy do seem to focus around Torino and that bundle of joy and light Walter Mazzarri.  You rather suspect that if there was truth in the “wanting to be back in Italy” thing it would be more than just Torino that the stories would be discussing.  Assuming he stays, the further competition for wide positions that has been suggested will be no bad thing, but his staying will be no bad thing either.

Javi Gracia

It’s difficult not to simply eulogise at this point, and eulogies do tend to be rather dull so I’ll try to restrain myself.  There’s just so little not to like about this man based on what we see of him.  Humility, but confidence.  A gentle manner, but steel in his eye.  Most of all, an ability to encourage the best out of his players and mould a likeable, effective team that made a mockery of the annual portents of our relegation.  Which will no doubt rock up again come August based on, you know, the cup final and everything.  And be wrong again.

It’s not been perfect, obviously.  The ability to mastermind eye-catching results against the bigger clubs foretold by a track record of such at Málaga was not in evidence for one thing;  three points against the big six, albeit a very fun three points, plus that rather cruelly unrewarded League Cup exit “away” at Spurs was all we managed.  The performances, it could be argued, were better than that though and until the wheels came off a bit at the very end of the season, only at Anfield had we been properly stuffed.

Meanwhile our record against everyone else was by some distance the best of the everyone else.  This isn’t to be taken lightly, even if we did slip into the bottom half at the end.  Much is made of Wolves’ fine record against the big six, “surely relatively straightforward for them to improve their record against the weaker sides, watch them push on”.  Wolves are a very decent team.  But the other side of that coin is that replicating the points they did earn from the same sources is a much taller challenge than our equivalent.

And then there’s the cup, of course.  And yes, we could have had a tougher draw.  Could have played Man City sooner, say.  But there’s a deceptiveness in how easy we made it look.  Winning at St James’ Park, say, is not to be taken for granted.  Standing up to a robust QPR side.  Having the edge over Palace.  Holding our collective nerve against Wolves.  The unfussy shuffling of the pack that made so much of it possible.

We’re lucky to have him.

Next Season:  Javi has made it clear that he’ll return to Spain at some point, but it seems fairly clear that this won’t happen this summer.  He’s linked with the Chelsea job repeatedly (to howls of complaint from those too daft to know a good thing when they see one).  In reality he’s only likely to be offered that job if it becomes too hamstrung by circumstances to attract a flashier name, in which case he’d be stupid to take it and probably wouldn’t.  This gem is surely ours to enjoy for a while yet.  Hurrah.

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End of Term Report – Part 5 10/06/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
2 comments

20- Domingos Quina

There was something slightly nostalgic about the doziness of the League Cup trip to Reading.  Not that we didn’t play well, not that our largely second string side didn’t acquit themselves but… the half-empty low-keyness of it all.  This is what football used to be like.

Then Domingos Quina pings one in from half a mile out and you’re stunned out of your reverie.  What the hell was that?  And such has been Quina’s Vicarage Road career in essence, from the much-told story involving him turning up with his agent an hour before the transfer deadline a year ago to pretty much every appearance since….  where did that come from.

He’s a terrific footballer.  Low centre of gravity, tight control, combative and assertive.  And that shot, obviously, showcased at Reading and also for Portugal’s U20 side. If he has occasionally gotten lost in a congested midfield then he’s just as often wriggled his way out of them.  There’s little doubt we’ve got a gem on our hands.

Next Season:  The only question really is quite what to do with him.  He’s a lot of fun, but he’s added competition to an already congested area of the squad and doesn’t quite have the physicality to operate as one of two at the moment.  Nor, as his arrival from West Ham demonstrates, is he one to sit around and bide his time.  Will be interesting to watch, in more ways than one.

21- Kiko Femenía

Another full back who doesn’t smile terribly often…  Kiko looks pretty much nailed on as first choice as it stands.  He’s still a natural wing-back playing full back for me, still much better bombing on that he is defending but he is great at the bombing on thing and that’s a fun thing to be.

Part of the reason that he won out over Janmaat in the end, I think, is the impact his presence has on the way the team plays.  Gerry makes a difference here but… we’re not over-blessed with pace in attacking positions, not really.  Kiko gives us that, makes us harder to defend against – even when pushing on from right back.

Next Season: With the persistent suggestion that Daryl Janmaat will return to the Netherlands and a couple of right backs in the list of players linked this summer, it’s possible that Kiko will have a new rival for his spot come August.  A great option to have, whether first or second choice.

25- Jose Holebas

It’s a story that doesn’t really need telling to anyone who’s been watching…  but what a turnaround in status under Javi Gracia.  In January 2018 he was mouthing off at supporters having got stick following a cup exit at Southampton.  A season and a half on he’s a cult hero, recognised as a vital component of the side but celebrated above and beyond that for his character, for the competitiveness that saw him fronting up to the supporters in the first place.

That competitiveness comes at a cost of course, specifically 35 yellow cards and two reds over the last three seasons.  Critically, as we know, one of those was rescinded.  Critically because for a club like Watford – and a player like Holebas – simply getting there, simply being there was an achievement, even if much of the subsequent coverage was too vapid to look beyond the scoreline.

Jose’s grumpiness is the stuff of legend, captured by the club in the marvellous “Antisocial Media” skit in the build up to the final.  Beyond that though, Jose is a winner, a ferocious left back, as good a crosser of the ball as we’ve had for a while, and one whose legend will live on once he’s departed.

Next Season:   He will, however, turn 35 in just over a fortnight.  As long as he can keep this level up he’ll be in the team… but you kind of suspect that Adam Masina might see a bit more action this term.

26- Ben Foster

Another thing that you won’t need telling, but given the tired old stuff about our revolving doors of players and head coaches it’s a source of quiet satisfaction that (if only for another few weeks perhaps) we have eight previous/current winners of the Player of the Season award in the squad.

So much for lack of stability, even if that’s not quite the whole story.  The whole story includes another Nice Thing, the fact that we’ve got to the point where we can attract previous winners Tom Cleverley and Ben Foster, winners of the award when they were Manchester United’s rough diamonds on loan for a season or two, to join us permanently.  That says something for us then as now;  neither would have returned had their first spells been miserable.

Ben Foster was in with a shout of a second such award twelve years after the first;  that he lost out to Étienne Capoue does nothing to downplay the magnificent season we’ve enjoyed from him, far more than we had any right to expect from someone who, by his own account, had fallen out of love with the game a little bit.  And it does matter that he’s such a good bloke.  You want him to do well for his own sake, as much as for ours, as betrayed by that episode at Huddersfield when his concern for a youngster struck by a stray ball went above and beyond professional norms.  As fine a (re) signing now as he seemed a year ago.

Next Season:  Ostensibly a bridging signing between Gomes and Dahlberg, interesting that we still seem to be in the market for a goalkeeper.  Nonetheless you’d expect that we have at least another season with Ben as first choice.  Hurrah for that.

End of Term Report – Part 4 06/06/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
3 comments

15- Craig Cathcart

The thing about centre-back being a priority for strengthening is kinda beyond dispute.  Sometimes people get carried away though.  Sometimes the difficulty folk have in perceiving shades of grey, of more complex evaluation than merely “good” or “bad” raises its head.

Craig Cathcart is a very good centre back.  He’s our best centre back.  Best in the sense that he’s the calming force in the back four, the one who makes it all kind of hold together.  The one who always seems to find the ball drawn to his foot, who doesn’t have to dive into recovery tackles because he’s always in the right place to start with.  The one who, increasingly, has developed an aptitude for contributing at the other end too, that outrageous touch in the build up to the winner over Everton all the more extraordinary because it came from a centre back.  So… he’s not Virgil van Dijk.  But he’s still excellent, still a keeper.

He had a stinking couple of games towards the end of the season mind.  That howler against Southampton threw him entirely and he was poor at Stamford Bridge, a brief dip in form that was all the more remarkable for being so unusual.  Nonetheless, quietly a lynchpin of the side.

Next Season:  More of the same.  Please.

16- Abdoulaye Doucouré

The difficulty when you hit a high point, whether “you” is a team or a player, is that it’s treated as a new norm.  You put pressure on yourself straight away… something that might have required all of your fortitude – and perhaps a bit of luck, other circumstances being favourable – becomes treated as expectation rather than the achievement that it was.

Nonetheless it’s beyond dispute that Abdoulaye Doucouré, erstwhile Player of the Season and the swaggering magnificence of perhaps our greatest ever midfield engine isn’t being linked with the big guns quite as roundly this summer as he was last.  Arsenal are still sniffing around, allegedly, but you know, Arsenal.  Kinda downwardly mobile.  A year ago you’d have had him in any midfield in the country.

He’s been tremendous, nonetheless.  Dynamic but elegant, powerful but subtle, focused but languid.  A tremendous footballer.  But not one, this season, who screamed through the entire campaign without a dip in form.  Which… is fine.  Harsh to use his best ever season as a stick to beat him with.  Except…  well.  We know what he’s capable of.

Next Season:  In a competitive area of the pitch, pre-seasons for Cleverley and particularly Chalobah and the continuing development of Quina should keep Doucs on his toes.  It’s questionable whether we’ll get an offer of a magnitude that would compel us to sell him.

18- Andre Gray

Another popular line is that we desperately need to strengthen up front.  Problem with that of course is that everyone wants a striker, there aren’t many of them about and they cost a bomb, particularly if a top flight English club is the buyer.

Me?  I’m not convinced it’s a priority.  Our preferred approach seems to be to sign them young, certainly João Pedro, “Cucho” Hernandez and Filip Stuparević not to mention Isaac Success and Adalberto Peñaranda feels like a pool of names with high potential.  We could do with another senior forward, particularly if Stefano’s on his way.  But it could well come from this group rather than by bringing in an established name.

Andre Gray’s role at the club benefits from his transfer fee no longer being a stick to beat him with. Up to £18m is a huge transfer fee by our standards but not by the standards of the day, not for a striker like Andre Gray.  He’s a competitive option, a good partner for Troy if he starts, a snapping, snarling, mobile threat off the bench if he doesn’t.  His focus and application have seen the crowd warm to him this year.  So much the better.

Next Season:  A very decent option.

19- Will Hughes

It’s easy to forget how old you have suddenly become.  In my mind’s eye I’m still a young man, only left university a year or two ago.  This is bollocks, unfortunately, brought into sharp focus by the Twitter reaction to the club’s creative commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the play off win over Bolton, tweeting real time updates as if we were twenty years in the past.  Generalising hugely, those of us who remembered loved it.  Those who were too young didn’t so much.

Twitter is a miserable, joyless, spiteful place.  It’s odd that anyone should object to a bit of happiness but nonetheless… on reflection anyone younger than 30 (there are, I believe, such people, though I doubt any of them read this blog) won’t remember.  So they won’t remember Nicky Wright.

Will Hughes isn’t the same sort of player as Nicky Wright, not really.  Defter, cleverer.  Perhaps less intense, less explosive.  But he captures some of the spirit of Nicky Wright.  The wholeheartedness, the willingness to run yourself into the ground before leaving the pitch on 80 minutes barely able to walk.

It’s a fine thing, whether or not you remember Nicky Wright.

Next Season:  A real asset.  A joy.

End of Term Report – Part 3 03/06/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

10- Isaac Success

It’s easily forgotten, but Isaac had a strong start to the season.  He started seven out of eight Premier League games in a two month run from mid October to mid December, impressing as a lone striker in the wins at Molineux and against Huddersfield, and in the draw at Southampton.  He looked strong in Cup games too.

But there’s a fragility there… inappropriate word for such a big guy but… it’s as if he needs to have faith expressed in him via team selection to let rip.  He impressed at Manchester City too but that was his only League start in 2019 and coming off the bench there have been too many ineffectual perfomances, performances where you want him to bully and impose himself and he’s struggled to do so.

There’s a very very good player in there, and we catch glimpses of him occasionally – the deft touch to set up a consolation goal at Old Trafford one such example.  We just need to see them a little more often.

Next Season:  Competition for attacking positions will be more intense next season, with Peñaranda having a pre-season behind him and a number of the foreign-based legion of young forwards possibly coming into consideration.  Isaac will turn 24 during the season, not a kid any more.  Now or never, you suspect.

11- Adam Masina

Adam Masina is decent.    He’s had some really good games (Old Trafford) and some less good ones (Anfield).  He kicks the ball really hard, and I like that.  He’s not nearly aggressive enough for such a big guy, doesn’t throw his weight around.  Less keen on that.

He’s been as good as we’ve needed him to be, simply because his most significant impact has been on the performances of our first choice left back.  Surely no coincidence that for the first time since Nathan Aké was keeping him out three years ago José has serious competition and has put in his best season in a yellow shirt.

Next Season:  We’re going to need to see Adam’s A-game more regularly if he’s the long term replacement for Holebas who, 35 later this month, is ten years his senior.  We’ve been able to afford him an easing in season, adapting to a new country isn’t trivial.  Let’s hope he can crack on.

12- Ken Sema

There’s a real skill to picking up squad players.  Ability is important, certainly.  Mentality, too though.  You want someone who is going to be on it, who’s going to push for involvement, who’s not going to throw a paddy and disrupt the dressing room because they’re behind Hughes/Pereyra/Deulofeu in the pecking order but who is going to, at the very least, “do a job” as needed.

And Kenzema has done that.  His performances, his impact has sometimes been criticised but… he’s been a bit part player for the most part, in and out of the side.  Difficult to get a run of form going when you’re doing that job and that’s probably his biggest problem.  Again, there’s a player in there and we’ve seen frequent glimpses… Bournemouth away springs to mind but elsewhere too.  Notably we’ve only lost one game that he’s started – that the competitive defeat to Chelsea on Boxing Day – whilst of his sub appearances the only defeats came versus Liverpool and Arsenal, where he played less than ten minutes in total.

You can argue that we only choose to use him in lower risk situations, the stats are inherently biased.  Nonetheless, he’s been part of a successful side on a regular basis, and invariably with a physicality and enthusiasm that suggests there’s more to come.

Next Season:  Rather depends on what Ken wants.  He’s perfectly capable of doing the regular stand-in job that he’s done this season but is unlikely – barring injury disasters – to get the sustained run that he probably needs to show us whether he can push on.

14- Nathaniel Chalobah

There aren’t many players who two injury-hit seasons after signing, two seasons that for various reasons have only afforded eight League starts, would still be talked about in reverential terms.  There aren’t, admittedly, many such signings who would have come in with the benefit of a startlingly precocious loan season as a teenager five years earlier.

Nonetheless, it’s more than that.  It’s the memory of Nate’s extraordinary start to last season, before the freak knee injury struck.  The outrageous ability to snap into a yard of space and prize a counterattack, the control like silk.  There’s the faith shown in him by Gareth Southgate;  a token outing against Spain, and an expensive one, but a statement.  Echoed by Troy Deeney late this season, by Javí Gracia after Chalobah’s gently encouraging outing at Stamford Bridge – the latter countering concerns that the boss didn’t fancy him, Chalobah having seemingly slipped behind Domingos Quina in the ferocious competition for midfield places earlier in the season.

It’s also the player’s maturity.  OK, he’ll be 25 before the end of the year, not the sixteen year-old kid we signed on loan in 2012.  Nonetheless.  Intelligent.  Calm.  Measured.  “Can’t complain while Doucs and Caps are playing so well” was the gist of his comment on his limited game time later in the season.

Next Season:  Chalobah is special.  He needs a proper pre-season, and chance to prove it.  If he gets both he will surely put pressure even on our exalted first choice pairing.

End of Term Report – Part 2 30/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
2 comments

6- Adrian Mariappa

There’s a popular line of argument which goes something along the lines of “if Aidy Mariappa’s our first choice centre back, there’s something wrong”.  It was expressed vociferously and at some length in a pub in Brighton. Not by me. You know who you are. There’s the curio about Mapps and Cathcart having been our centre back partnership ten years ago against Scunthorpe in the second tier and so surely there’s a problem, how can they still be our first choice pairing in the top flight?  This misses several points of course, principally that they were then 23 and 20 respectively, one of them on loan from Manchester United, the other already having captained the side and embarking on his record-breaking run of consecutive starts.  They were good young defenders then, they’re good defenders now with ten years more experience.

Nonetheless.  If there’s an area of the side that needs re-enforcing…  bearing in mind that we had the oldest side in the Premier League last season and all four of our five senior centre backs were over 30 (the other, Christian Kabasele, a youngster at 28)… it’s the middle of the defence.

You’d still have Mapps tho.  You’d always have Mapps, as an option.  Versatile, a leader, he rejoined the club nominally sixth choice and worked his way up… but isn’t one who’d throw a paddy about not starting. Defensively he’s one of those who’s better when he’s busy, better when he doesn’t have time to think.  A David James of his generation.  Kinda.  But nonetheless. A Watford legend.

Next Season:  There or thereabouts, thirteen years after his Premier League debut.

7- Gerard Deulofeu

I think I’ve probably been unfair on Gerard Deulofeu.

After all, he’s our leading scorer despite only kind of being a striker but not really.  He’s extravagantly talented, and a big game player – that semi final performance was the stuff of legend.  Frighteningly quick but… more than that.  Gone are the days when we couldn’t attract or retain players that were quick and something else useful too.

Then there’s the fact that he’s here at all.  This is a guy who was brought up in the rare surroundings of Barcelona, who has played and impressed for Milan.  OK, so he’s slummed it at Everton for a bit but… nonetheless.  This isn’t the sort of player we should expect to be signing for Watford.  That he chose to, that he wanted to play for us rather than, probably, not play for Barcelona say speaks volumes for his lack of pretension and level headedness.

So what’s the problem?  Perhaps it’s years of conditioning to appreciate the grafter, the trier.  And it’s not that Gerry doesn’t try, he’s not lazy.  But he has been guilty of not raising his game for every encounter.

Then there’s quite what you do with him.  He’s too good not to be involved but… the end product isn’t quite there as a winger despite his pace, and yet he’s not really a striker either.  In a sense he reminds you of Tommy Smith – albeit of a more refined standard – in that Smith was never obviously one or the other for different reasons.

Next Season:  Such is his ability that clubs with deeper pockets would be remiss not to be testing the water.  That’s why there are four years left on his contract (well done Gino/Scott.  Again.).  Meanwhile, just as Smith became a better player as he got older and cleverer there are signs of the same from Gerry.  He’s a privilege for as long as we have him.

8- Tom Cleverley

It was always going to be a tough season for Tom.  All but a year out through injury is enough on its own… then you’ve got to come back into a high intensity area of the team, an area where we are arguably most overladen with talent and work your way back into contention despite lack of pre-season, despite a year’s rustiness.

Despite which – and bearing in mind that for obvious reasons, as well as an unfortunate calf injury late on, he only started four Premier League games – he did well.  Always a force for good – ten minutes just calming everything down against Everton case in point – the undoubted highlight was that special winner at Selhurst Park in a fixture that had seen him sent off the previous season.

Next Season:   On the back of a pre-season, and despite the competition in the middle of the park, you’d hope and expect to see a lot more of Tom.  Like Ben Foster and Aidy Mariappa, old hands brought back to the club since promotion, he’s a leader, a bloke you root for, and a good guy to have around. The only concern is whether the need to create space for Chalobah, Quina, Wilmot might count against him… nonetheless, you’d be loathe to give hm up.

9- Troy Deeney

Kevin Affleck has made this point more eloquently than I could… but that penalty.  That penalty.  Goal of the Season for me, despite the outrageous impudence that preceded it and the flowing, cathartic, decisive finish that was to follow.  That penalty.  So much that is good about Troy Deeney in the space of five minutes… showing for something, fighting for something and then… leadership.  Single mindedness.  Just breathtaking nerve, even in hindsight, even knowing how it would shake up.  Then…  the ability to kick the ball really hard and celebrate like your head’s going to explode.

There are less good things, obvs.  The whole Arsenal thing is getting a little bit tiresome, the occasional inability to contain his intensity, the occasional silly decision.

Not the candour.  Not the saying what he thinks thing.  Heaven knows if any of us said everything we thought we’d be in trouble, without being under the spotlight like Troy but… you can’t take that out of him and still have Troy.  And frankly I’d rather have Troy.

Next Season:  In what is surely a testimonial season (?) Troy will take some shifting.  He’s not the best player in the team, but as the miserable run without him demonstrated he’s the least disposable.

End of Term Report – Part 1 27/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

1- Heurelho Gomes

Heurelho Gomes, baby.

I enjoy the routine of the twice-weekly general football podcasts.  The tendency of the one to cover the same anecdotes and curios as the other can get a bit wearing, but they pass the time.

Aggravating, though, how little attention they pay.  Really.  Shouldn’t be a surprise perhaps but… you know.  We’ve been in the top flight for four years, you’d hope that we’re worth more than a cursory glance.  One of the two managed to preview the Cup Final for a good ten minutes whilst mentioning the team that weren’t City only once.

So Heurelho Gomes still wears the mantle awarded during the tail end of his first team career at Spurs nearly eight years ago, still a slight intake of breath before mentioning his name.  This despite his since being part of a promotion-winning side, a squad that is about to go into its fifth season in the top flight, winning Player of the Season in that first, unlikeliest mid-table campaign. All of this in the shadow of his White Hart Lane career.

Whatever.  Gomes has been tremendous during his time at Vicarage Road, even if not enough people have been paying attention.  What looks likely to prove his final season has seen him step backwards into a backup/cup ties role.  It speaks volumes for him that not only has he done so with good grace, but he has clearly been hugely supportive of the man signed to take his place in what has been a tightly-knit goalkeeping sub-team of three.

Next Season:  It would be a shame if Gomes’ career was concluded with a 6-0 mauling in the Cup Final, and the club clearly hope to persuade him to stay on… even if the number of goalkeepers in The List suggests that we’re not counting on succeeding.

2- Daryl Janmaat

It seems slightly peculiar that not so long ago right back was deemed a problem position.  That we were convinced that Daryl was a wingback, that he wasn’t solid enough to be a proper defender.

Now… you might consider right back as a position where we could realistically upgrade but nonetheless, the real question is how we’ve managed to get away with keeping Daryl and Kiko in tandem for so long. Both probably better going forward, Daryl’s approach is the rhinoceros to Kiko’s fleet sidewinder… but similarly capable options in defence, the days when Daryl wasn’t solid enough all but forgotten.

Nonetheless, it’s been clear as the season has progressed that Daryl is the second in line of the two as it stands. Unreasonable to expect him to be happy at much especially since, like his teammate on the other side of the defence, he rarely looks happy about anything much.

Next Season:  Stories throughout the season have had Daryl first suggesting that he’d want to return to Feyenoord “at some stage”, and then that he’d be heading back this summer.  The cup final, in which he was confined to the sub’s bench, may have been a tipping point.

3- Miguel Britos

The funny thing about Miguel is that he’s always been on the way out.  Sent off on his debut against Preston three and a half years ago, a Uruguayan centre half is certainly a reputation to play down…  then the violent assault on Anthony Knockaert, the absolute skinning he took at Anfield in the stuffing-before-last up there.  Those are probably the things that stand out if you saw them live.

The latter particularly harsh of course.  Plenty of defenders have been skinned at Anfield without going into the game on the back of four months out of the side.  And yet if opinion didn’t turn against Britos he was certainly relegated to the role of backup pretty damn sharpish, despite what had been a solid enough career as a left-sided option to that point.

To the extent that Miguel’s thoroughly competent performances in his outings this season were viewed with some surprise… and indeed, made you wonder whether he’d perhaps been too quickly discarded.  Injuries have contributed, but he has made only three League starts since getting injured in the 3-0 win at Newcastle in November 2017: away to Liverpool, City and United, which is hardly an easy brief.  Otherwise he excelled in three away trips in the cup, each of which yielding a clean sheet and reminded you how brutally but unflashily effective he has been for much of his senior Watford career.

Next Season:  Which would now seem to be over, with Miguel’s contract about to end and him having been quoted as expressing a desire to return to Uruguay for family barbecues.  Which paints a picture of a regular down-to-earth guy;  best of luck to him.  It’s probably the right time, but we’re still the weaker for his departure.

5- Sebastian Prödl

Completing the opening quartet is another who could conceivably be on his way out.  It’s not his age – Seb will turn 32 over the summer.  It’s probably not the knee injury either, much as that seems to have kept him out for most of the season (or not, depending on who you believe) – his senior outings this term the win at Reading, plus 13 aborted minutes at Molineux, this in October his last action of any kind.

The real problem with Seb is that, much as he’s a strong centre-half he’s not much bloody use to you unless he’s a first choice.  Whilst he’s had some very strong spells at Vicarage Road – indeed, a very strong 2016/17 that saw him named Player of the Season – these very strong spells have exclusively been when he’s established in the side.  Almost without exception he’s looked a cumbersome mess coming off the bench, or stepping in after a long spell out.  As such, and pending any changes over the summer, it seems unlikely that he’ll work his way back into contention.

Next Season:  Not difficult to see Seb returning either to Austria or the Bundesliga over the summer.

Helping Hands 2018/2019 23/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
6 comments

In the wake of Saturday it doesn’t hurt to look back on what has been a very decent season by any reasonable standards.  As in the previous eleven years of this article it’s an entirely selfish pursuit;  I enjoy watching all the goals again and compiling it, you probably know this stuff already if it’s your Sort Of Thing.  Nonetheless…  pausing only briefly to reiterate the generous definitions that I apply to an “assist” (the last pass, obviously, but also the shot that was parried for a follow-up, being taken down for a penalty, both the flick-on to a cross AND the cross itself, and so on) we continue….

The first name to pick out is of course the one at the top of the table, the magificent José Holebas.  Whilst the quality of our set piece deliveries is occasionally grumbled about there’s little doubt that a left back who can provide seven assists, “proper” assists mind… crosses and that…  not to mention three goals, a lot of charging up and down the flank like a loon and a whole load of yellow cards at the age of 34 is a fine, fine thing.

Just behind him Abdoulaye Doucouré is at a healthy 6, up from only 3 last season.  Significant, perhaps, that last season’s 3 came at the very end of the campaign under Javi Gracia, who has tended to field Capoue rather than Doucouré as the deeper sitting of the two central midfielders.

Gerard Deulofeu comes in at 5 having missed the first two and a half months of the season, despite which three of the five came before the turn of the year. Also on five Roberto Pereyra; all but one of his assists (and all of his goals) came in 2018 but while his goals were largely at Vicarage Road, all but one of his assists came away from home.

Further down the list, Étienne Capoue had his best assist tally of his four seasons at Vicarage Road despite holding down a deeper midfield role; his three assists compare to four in his first three seasons here.  Kiko Femenía meanwhile yielded a slightly disappointing two after none last year, a slightly disappointing return for his furious overlapping.

Otherwise, most notable are curios in the appearance list.  It astonishes me that Stefano Okaka made as many as three sub appearances before his return to Italy.  Tom Cleverley had his injury problems, but it’s still a little startling that he made fewer starts than Domingos Quina, similarly that backup left back Adam Masina managed practically as many starts as first teamer Andre Gray.

Will return soon with the End of Term Report.  Enjoy the summer…

 

Assists Apps Gls Assists vs
Holebas 7 31+1 3 BHA (H), BHA (H), TOT (H), TOT (H), CHE (H), CPA (A), TOT (A)
Doucouré 6 37+3 5 BUR (A), MAU (H), WOL (A), WOL (A), CAR (H), CAR (A)
Deulofeu 5 28+5 12 SOT (A), MAC (H), CAR (H), CAR (A), LEI (H)
Pereyra 5 36+0 6 EVE (A), EVE (A), WHU (A), WHU (A), CPA (H – FAC)
Hughes 5 37+3 3 FUL (A), NEW (A – FAC), EVE (H), CAR (A), FUL (H)
Deeney 4 32+5 11 BUR (A), CAR (A), LEI (H), MAC (A)
Sema 3 12+10 1 CAR (H), BOU (A), WOK (A – FAC)
Masina 3 15+5 0 REA (A – LC), HUD (H), WOK (A – FAC)
Gray 3 16+18 9 FUL (H), FUL (H), WOL (N – FAC)
Capoue 3 37+2 4 CPA (H), HUD (H), CAR (A)
Janmaat 2 20+2 0 CPA (H), SOU (H)
Femenía 2 27+7 1 TOT (A – LC), HUD (H)
Cleverley 1 6+11 1 QPR (A – FAC)
Quina 1 7+6 2 NEW (A – FAC)
Success 1 13+22 4 MAU (A)
Mariappa 1 25+7 0 TOT (A – LC)
Cathcart 1 40+1 3 CP (H – FAC)
Okaka 0 0+3 0
Peñaranda 0 1+1 0
Prödl 0 1+1 0
Navarro 0 3+2 0
Wilmot 0 4+2 0
Britos 0 5+1 0
Chalobah 0 7+6 0
Gomes 0 8 0
Kabasele 0 20+3 0
Foster 0 38 0

Check out the 2017-18, 2016-172015-162014-152013-142012-132011-12, 2010-112009-102008-09 and 2007-08 equivalents by clicking on the links.

The List 2019. 21/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
2 comments

The List.  Your summer record of players linked with the Hornets since the close of the January window, a list that will be kept up to date throughout the summer so bookmark if you Like This Sort Of Thing.  A very low bar of credibility is employed, but a mere “I think Watford should sign…” falls below it.  Previous windows’ lists linked at foot of article.

* Indicates player linked in previous windows

Running Total: 57

IN

Yacine Brahimi (Porto)*
Marcus Thuram (Guingamp)*
Enock Kwateng (Nantes)
Gustavo (Corinthians)
Lincoln (Flamengo)
Martinelli (Ituaro)                                                 – joined Arsenal
Goncalo Cardoso (Boavista)
Robert Skov (Copenhagen)
Juan Cuadrado (Juventus)
Noel Törnqvist (Halmia)
Josh King (Bournemouth)
Robin Olsen (Roma)
Harvey White (QPR)                                                  – SIGNED
Vincenzo Grifo (Hoffenheim)
Marko Malenica (Osijek)
Joe Allen (Stoke)
Pawel Bochniewicz (Udinese)
Birger Verstraete (Gent)
Mady Camara (Olympiacos)
Sergi Enrich (Eibar)
Jack Butland (Stoke City)
Pape Gueye (Le Havre)
Joe Lolley (Nottingham Forest)
Gian Marco Ferrari (Sassuolo)
Pedro Rebocho (Guingamp)
Kenny Lala (Strasbourg)
Remi Oudin (Reims)
Victor Osimhen (Charleroi)
Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield)
Cristian Zapata (Milan)*
Matt Clarke (Portsmouth)*                                      – joined Brighton
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Juanpe Ramírez (Girona)
Dorukhan Toköz (Beşiktaş)
Cristian Pavón (Boca Juniors)
Ismaïla Sarr (Rennes)*
Miloš Veljković (Werder Bremen)
Marcus Tavernier (Middlesbrough)
Lebo Mothiba (Strasbourg)
Guillermo Ochoa (Standard Liège)
Alhassan Yusuf (IFK Göteborg)
William Saliba (Saint Étienne)
James Léa-Siliki (Rennes)
Jean-Clair Todibo (Barcelona)
Jean-Phillippe Mateta (FSV Mainz)
Amadou Diawara (Napoli)
Grégoire Defrel (AS Roma)*
Nathan Gassama (Nantes)
Adam Webster (Bristol City)
Craig Dawson (West Brom)*
Terence Kongolo (Huddersfield)
Gaston Pereiro (PSV)
Kim Min-Jae (Beijing Gouan)*
Anthony Briancon (Nimes)
Tom Heaton (Burnley)*
Emmanuel Adebayor (Free Agent)
Asmir Begović (Bournemouth)*

OUT
Roberto Pereyra (Torino*, Milan)
Gerard Deulofeu (Milan*, Dortmund, Napoli)
Tommie Hoban (Aberdeen)
Daniel Bachmann (Rangers, VfB Stuttgart, Hannover 96)
Jerome Sinclair (Oxford United)
Andre Gray (Rangers)
Dodi Lukebakio (Schalke, RB Leipzig, Lyon, Düsseldorf, Lille, Mönchengladbach)
Alex Jakubiak (Bristol Rovers)
Tom Leighton (Celtic)
Abdoulaye Doucouré (Arsenal*, Paris St Germain*, Tottenham*)
Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord)
Imaad Sankoh (Udinese)
Luis Suárez (Real Zaragoza, Cadiz, Gijon, Mallorca, Almería)
Marvin Zeegelaar (Aris)
Christian Kabasele (Fenerbahçe)
Pervis Estupiñán (Osasuna)

 

2019 January
2018 Summer January
2017 Summer January
2016 Summer January
2015 Summer

 

Something for the Weekend 16/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
4 comments

1- No, I didn’t do one for bloody West Ham.  Partly because it was Sunday and then Monday and stuff.  Partly because, well, you know.  Because it was a miserable end to the League season, a League season that deserved rather better than for us to slip into the bottom half at the death having spent most of it comfortably in the top.  One point ahead of Crystal Palace, I ask you.

I’d made two crucial errors beforehand, incidentally.  One was to venture the opinion that Chris Kavanagh was one of the best refs in the top flight, based on a handful of games’ exposure so far (I think I’d still stand by that, shoot me).  The other, when an ever more curious Daughter 1 enquired who the worst ref I’d ever seen was was to explain Roger Milford to her without a moment’s self consciousness or apprehension.

Goes without saying, largely because you’ve surely already said it, that the lifting of José’s suspension was the moment the mood turned.  That it suddenly felt as if fate wasn’t loading the bases against us. That’s great, that José can play, the mad bastard. Whatever happens. Then when the Tube strike was cancelled the stars really began to align.  Now we all believe again, wholeheartedly.

2- So, 1984 then.  I remember some stuff.  Granddad queuing up for tickets while we waited in Germany.  Some lads pushing in in front of him, he missed out.  Don’t know whether I remember that, or whether I remember remembering it.  Anyway… Tom Walley called round to apologise on behalf of the club.  Granddad stayed affronted.  Don’t know what happened to that stubborn gene by the way.

We got tickets in the end, I was with my mate Andrew behind one goal.  Eating very salty crisps that had been mashed to smithereens in transit.  On the way, the tube had been yellow, obviously.  Then an Everton fan, a lone Everton fan, got on somewhere and in self-deprecating fashion started an Everton chant to predictable but good-natured response.  No twitter in those days to polarise opinions, no keyboard warriors.  If you had a barney with someone you didn’t send him a pithy or abusive message, you punched him in the face.  Probably.

There was some very odd pre-match entertainment that involved two remote controlled planes, one yellow, one blue, each trying to knock the aerial off the other.  The blue plane won.  And I remember both goals being down in front of us but…  that can’t be right…

And since?  Well.  Mum and Dad would use the day’s starting eleven as a gauge of quite how bad my diabetic hypoglycemia was.  Not sure why.  I could get as far as Paul Atkinson (on for Price, 58 minutes) while my arms shook and my legs gave way.  And the digits “1984” have been in stock use as go-to components of low security passwords and access codes since, well, 1984 I guess.

But not any more, I guess.  The day after tomorrow.  Blimey.

3- The quite magnificent From the Rookery End pondered this week what would happen if we, you know, actually win? What is there left to play for, to aim at, once you’ve realised perhaps the peak of your ambition… Cup winners, Europe?

There’s the midweek trip to Cluj or Helsingborgs or Salzburg of course. There’s that. But beyond that… and here’s the thing, and I’ve banged on about this before so please indulge me… I think the old chestnut, the Radio 5 favourite, “fans just want to watch their team win” is utter nonsense. Fans do want to watch their teams win, of course they do, but more than that…

Fans just want to watch their team. Period.  Has watching Watford suffered from the fact that we’ve not won a major trophy?  Sure, we all want that but… if it was all about the winning we’d have packed this in long ago.  If watching football was all about the football, well…   a lot of it has been crap, frankly.  Less so over the last few years, sure.  But…  folk watch lower division football, non-league football.  There are fewer of them per team, in general, sure.  But they don’t care any less.

So the things that we cherish about Watford will still be there (“including Z-cars, hopefully”, he mutters under his breath).  People, places, smells, sights, sounds.  Feelings, memories. “Watfordness”…  Dad relates how, stranded at university in 1970 he wrote to Ron Rollitt pleading poverty and asking for help in getting to the Semi against Chelsea.  Rollitt sent him a ticket.  “Pay me back when you can, son”. That. That’s what we return to, win or lose.  Hurrah for that.

4- Manchester City, though.  They’re a bit good.  Having said all of the above, my word of course we want to win, of course the very possibility is thrilling.  But, you know, Manchester City.  Retained the league title with a stupid number of points.  An almost balletic team at times, so in sync that their goals are calibrated to be on the very edge of offside, timed to perfection.

Here’s one thing.  There have always been good teams, and there have always been teams that have had more money than other teams.  No, not always this good.  No, not always this much money.  But in general terms it was ever thus.  City are the 1980s Liverpool, the 1990s United.  And, you know.  Wimbledon.  Southampton, grey kits and that.

Here’s another thing.  In life there’s stuff you can do something about.  There’s stuff you can’t do something about.  So…  and here’s the trick….  the things you can’t do anything about, you don’t worry about.  So City are good.  Fine, whatever.  The things you can affect, you affect, and then you stop worrying.  Back to Troy’s maxim in this magnificent club compilation – and yes it really is worth half an hour of your time, even if it’s got Dave in it – that what upset him about Palace 2013 was not the losing, not really.  It was the not turning up.

So let’s turn up.

5- Because, you know.  What if we win?  Yes, we’re underdogs.  But at least we’re that.  Any club in the country would love to be that right now, certainly Wolves who, whatever your attitude after three eventful games will be watching on nervously, telling themselves that this is something they can’t affect, because they can’t affect it, but worrying anyway.

It’s in our hands.  We can affect it. And if we win.  If we win.  Where will you be?  Me?  Near the front of the top tier.  With daughters 1 and 2.  Dad.  My brother Will.  ig, Loz, Paul, the Irish mob.  Bacon, Sarah, John, Lowenna, Fuzz.

Going absolutely mental.  Shouting my head off.  Making new memories.

Bring it on.

 

 

Watford 2 Crystal Palace 1 (16/03/2019) 18/03/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports, Thoughts about things.
9 comments

1- I was in Copenhagen this week. First time in Denmark. A conference though so a busy schedule, and most of it spent in a hotel. Nice hotel but… a shame to visit a new country and not see any of it.

So. Tuesday evening I set out to find the damned mermaid. A bloody-minded mission in defiance of a 50-minute walk each way in the cold, biting rain borne of the need to get out and walk somewhere with purpose.

I knew that the statue itself was famously underwhelming. Not big, not dramatic, not something to write home about. So my expectations weren’t high. In consequence perhaps I found the unassuming, unpretentious mermaid quite charming. No grandstanding. No ticket vendors, no tat-stalls, no queuing. Just…there, minding its own business as the world carried on quietly around it.

Which led me to wonder… if something unheralded and uncelebrated could leave me pleasantly surprised, what should, could be expected from something, contrastingly, overburdened with expectation? Would it be possible, conceivable, to be anything but disappointed?

2- Nobody disappointed. Nobody short-changed.

The tide of confidence was rolling by 11.15. That’s when “it’s bloody Palace, isn’t it?” was swept over and crushed. But in effect the build up to that wave, the little ripples, started at least a week earlier as Palace lost to Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle earned unlikely wins and the Eagles started looking over their shoulders again. So when Zaha pulled a calf muscle in training it was never going to be risked.

It may not have been significant, certainly not decisive in determining the outcome of the game. We’ve beaten Palace twice this season with the gravitationally challenged one in tow after all. But your opponent losing a key man doesn’t hurt, and the timing was significant. Nervous energy rippled through the V-Bar as confirmation of the previous evening’s rumour set grins grinning and bellows bellowing.

Out in the stands it was no less raucous. High fives were exchanged, knowing looks traded. The ferocious wind carried the multitude of flags and the tremendous 1881’s cannons fired slugs of streamers and confetti into a whirlwind of bedlam. “Is that all you take away?” was roared at an away end, some of whose members had been vocally demanding more than their ticket entitlement. Then the football started.

3- And what followed was a quite herculean first half. Made better, more impressive if anything by the fact that Palace took the early initiative, moving the ball neatly and just about retaining possession as we hurtled about after it, Étienne Capoue blown along by a wind commanded by the Gods. It didn’t last though, the penetration wasn’t there and much as Michy Batshuayi provided a focal point he was getting nothing.

Meanwhile at the Rookery end more significant headway was being made, and Gerard Deulofeu was at the heart of it. He cut through first and forced Guaita – a supposed one time target for us, but a nervous looking individual here – into a save. By the time the goal came we were hammering on the door increasingly insistently; the latest in a succession of corners was flung across by Holebas, the keeper lunged at it ambitiously before it was knocked back to Capoue and into the net before Palace’s defence, or the support behind the goal, had time to react.

Voices were hoarse and limbs being disentangled by the time focus returned to the pitch. For the rest of the half we had our foot on their throats. Deulofeu roared through on the right and hammered a drive towards Guaita’s unguarded near top corner. As so often there might have been better options… but churlish to criticise, it almost came off and was denied only by a fine stop. Kevin Friend, who has made a pig’s ear of far less challenging games but did a good job here awarded us a free kick, Deulofeu did well to get it on target, but a comfortable save for Guaita. The half ended with Palace breaking after some rare slack possession from the Hornets, and Deulofeu screaming back in pursuit of possession, eventually obstructing the attack by the corner flag. Heroic stuff. Meanwhile Andros Townsend was in a right old strop, remonstrating with officials as Holebas lay prone with a knock that would force him off at one end, then repeating the trick at the Rookery end shortly afterwards. We were all over this. There was just one problem.

4- Which lurched into view with the second half. Being worth more than a one goal lead is fine, as long as you capitalise on it. The visitors were out significantly earlier than us… I normally think of this as a good thing, time spent hanging around and so forth. Instead they took control from the start of the half, piling bodies down the flanks to bypass the surrendered centreground.

Again, they failed to convert their possession into chances. The one save that Gomes made at 1-0 was a fine one to deny a Meyer header as it bounced through the box… on review this may have been our biggest break during the game, a flick off Cheick Kouyaté might have wrong-footed the keeper. Instead he pulled out a stunning reflex save.

When the goal came and much as it felt like it had been coming, it was our own doing. Mariappa at fault, certainly, but not entirely. If we’re honest, and much as it goes against the prevailing sentiment, Gomes’ sliced clearance to Femenía created a situation that could have been avoided, much as Mariappa, who otherwise did a decent job of subduing Batshuayi, had the chance to remedy decisively. As it was the Belgian took his chance with aplomb, as he’s wont to do in games against us. Five in four games well publicised, five in 221 minutes – less than 2.5 games of active play – less so. He celebrated blowing kisses to the Rookery, no doubt in response to generous congratulations offered by the home end.

5- And here’s where Javi’s genius shone through like sunlight through a gap in the clouds. Could so easily have gone wrong here in so many ways and of course good decisions don’t guarantee good outcomes and vice versa. But the whole of the home end must have been willing a change in personnel, something to stiffen up a midfield that was suddenly losing the battle. For me, something that involved Tom Cleverley giving us an extra body, settling things down, scurrying around after things, perhaps in place of the still listless Pereyra.

And yet Javi, as my co-editor energetically pointed out at the final whistle, held his nerve. Instead of hooking Pereyra he withdrew the tiring Will Hughes, who continues to echo Nick Wright in his willingness to charge around for 70 minutes before leaving the pitch barely able to walk. On comes Andre Gray to add his snarling, snapping menace to the proceedings.

You know the rest. Pereyra justified his place on the pitch with the most magnificent piece of football of the second half, simultaneously bloody minded and beautiful, burrowing his way out of tight attention and then clipping a perfect pass into Gray’s stride. You can criticise the defending, but it took an awful lot for that to be relevant… between them they unpeeled the defence and Gray capitalised sharply, his third winner off the bench in consecutive home games.

6- It wasn’t done. The remaining ten minutes contained plenty of hair wringing and angst…. Deeney drove in a shot, Guaita fumbled and the excellent Wan-Bissaka beat Deulofeu to the rebound. The same player snatched at Palace’s best chance at the other end, dragging a shot across the face of goal. And that was it, the last flailings of this particularly odious opponent before they descended into irrelevance and – we can hope – a relegation scrap.

Roars, bellows at the final whistle. Then loud, long salutes to the many heroes of the hour. To Javi. To Andre Gray. To Gomes. The last two clearly emotional. By the time you read this you’ll know who we’ll face in the semi in only three weeks time… that’s to come. Whoever we’ve drawn, it’s a Cup Semi at Wembley (yes, me too) and a chance to take a step closer to something quite historic for our ever more wonderful club.

Bring it on. Yoooorns.

Gomes 4, Femenía 5, Holebas 4, Cathcart 4, Mariappa 4, Hughes 4, Capoue 5, Doucouré 4, Pereyra 3, *Deulofeu 5*, Deeney 4
Subs: Masina (for Holebas, 45) 3, Gray (for Hughes, 77) 0, Cleverley (for Deulofeu, 89) 0, Janmaat, Kabasele, Success, Dahlberg