Ciao! Italian owners, an Italian manager, a classic Italian counter-attacking 5-3-2 formation, on Saturday we play a Watford team in a new-look Italian style. In fact, to say we’re playing Watford would be slightly misleading. We’re essentially playing the Udinese Calcio B team, because no less than 7 of Watford’s current playing staff have arrived on loan from the Italian club, who the new Watford owners also have control of. The imports have certainly worked for the Hornet’s though, because with the team just 3pts off the automatic promotion places, Premier League football at Vicarage Road next season seems a genuine possibility, so I think we may have our work cut out in this one.
My starting XI
At the time of writing, we’ve not got any new injury troubles to worry about, although I’m anxious to the see the return of ex-Man United trainees Jonathan Spector and Ravel Morrison to midfield. I think they’ll give us a boost, but thankfully in the last few games we’ve managed well enough without them.
Jack Butland is certainly showing no lack of desire to play for the club. After his arranged transfer to Stoke, to his credit, he’s put in 3 committed performances in a row, in all of which he has pulled off some fantastic saves. I’m sure Clark will stick with Butland and a back four of Caddis, Davies, Caldwell and Robinson. I do think the defence is gradually becoming more organised, and although I was calling for Caldwell’s removal a few weeks ago, maybe Clark keeping the same defence in place has played a part in it becoming more of a unit.
Wade Elliott seems to be flourishing in his new role in central midfield. Although it wasn’t necessarily a move I would have taken, I reckon Clark did the right thing moving him inside from the left. Elliott has a lot of experience to offer at the heart of this team, and the switch allows us to field another wide man, which is an area of the squad that we are strong in.
What I would be inclined to do though, is field a couple of midfielders alongside him that will provide more of a physical presence, and use a 4-5-1. I know it seems like a negative, McLeish-esque tactic to employ, but Watford have a lot of pace and movement in their team, they can be very effective when they are given time and space. My strategy would be to play Gomis and Reilly with Elliott, and cram the midfield. Those two will provide us with some tenacity, and I’d instruct them to always lay the ball off for Elliott, who can use his range of vision and passing ability to spray balls to the wing for Burke and Hall, to cause Watford some damage out wide.
I say this because one of the disadvantages of Zola’s 5-3-2 wingback system, is that they only have one wide man on each side, who is forced to do all of the running. I reckon we can exploit that. They’ll have three central midfielders, so if we can match them man for man in the centre of the park and deny them the space, and then get the ball to the wide areas, then we may see some joy. My thinking is that Burke and Hall/Redmond if he comes on, would need only beat one man, who may be tired from running up and down the pitch all afternoon, to have an unchallenged cross into the area. Also, if Caddis keeps making his attacking runs forward, which he is doing well at the moment, we may be able to manoeuvre a 2-on-1 situation down the right. In short, the plan has to be to try and isolate their wingbacks, in my opinion.
Marlon King would be the obvious choice to lead the line, because he holds the ball up quite well and provides a potent goal threat. If we were losing with 25 minutes to go, my strategy would be to take off Reilly and put on Nikola Zigic, who has become the new Geoff Horsefield or Kevin Phillips for us- a supersub you can always rely on for a goal. Because Watford’s right wingback, Marco Cassetti is 35, he could struggle against Redmond’s pace as a fresh substitute. I’d definitely want to stick Redmond on and try to give him as many one-on-one situations down the left against Cassetti as possible, because I’d always fancy him to beat his man for speed.
A summary of Watford’s season
Although there may be flaws in Zola’s system that we can potentially exploit, thus far it has certainly proved an effective one. After a midtable season in their last campaign under Sean Dyche, the Hornets are now up 3rd in the Championship and are on a great run of form, having won 6 of their last 8 league games.
What we should also be wary of, is that Watford have by far the best ‘goals for’ record in the league when playing away from home. They hit teams on the counter attack with a frenetic pace and energy, and they are always looking for opportunities to feed poacher Matej Vydra, who provides their main goal threat. The Czech Republican, amongst those on loan at Watford from Udinese, has already scored a fantastic 19 goals from 27 league games this season. He’s one to watch out for.
I think I’m going to go for a fairly high-scoring draw here. Vydra seems to score in more matches than he fails to at the moment, so although we’re beginning to look more resolute at the back, I would fear for Caldwell against his pace. However, I think the fact that Watford are playing with wingbacks will work in our favour, because we have some quality players out wide, who I could see flourishing in the one-on-one situations. Watford probably need the points more in their automatic promotion race, but with the game at St Andrews, I think it’s within our capability to hold them to a draw. I’ll say 2-2. Arrivederci.