Everton manager Marco Silva returns to Vicarage Road for the first time since being sacked by Watford when the Blues travel to the Hornets on Saturday.
Silva left Watford in January 2017 after just eight months at the club, with a statement saying Everton’s ‘unwarranted approach’ in attempting to make him Ronald Koeman’s successor the catalyst for the decision.
The two sides drew 2-2 at Goodison Park in December, during which Silva was taunted by Watford fans with rubber snakes, as Lucas Digne’s last-gasp free kick rescued a point for the Blues.
Under Silva’s replacement Javi Gracia, Watford are on course for their best season in the top-flight since promotion in 2015. They sit eighth, one place above Everton, who can overtake them with their first victory at Vicarage Road since 2007.
Ahead of Saturday’s match, we spoke to co-presenter of the award-winning Watford podcast From The Rookery End, Mike Parkin:
RBM: Firstly, how hostile do you expect the reception for Silva to be from Watford fans on Saturday?
Mike: It’s no secret that Watford supporters don’t hold Marco Silva in the highest of esteem, and the reaction to him on Saturday is likely to reflect that. The focus will quickly turn to the game itself; the Hornets are in need of a result after a steady but uninspiring run of results, but he can be assured of being made to feel pretty unwelcome.
I suspect he might actually relish being the centre of attention, but Watford supporters will be glad to see the back of him come 5pm on Saturday afternoon. Perhaps Everton supporters will be, too…
RBM: History seems to be repeating itself with Silva – he started start well at the Blues, but now finds himself in a dreadful slump, just as at Watford.
Were there any other reasons, aside from his flirting with Everton, that you felt caused his downfall at Vicarage Road?
Mike: Silva appeared to have a number of blind-spots at Watford and he’s not showing any signs of having successfully addressed them. The defending element, particularly at set pieces, is well documented, and this was an Achilles’ heel at Watford too.
Apart from his obvious defensive shortcomings, the biggest concern was his apparent lack of ability to motivate his team once things started going badly. After the wheels came off at Vicarage Road, he showed absolutely no sign of being able to reverse the teams’ fortunes, sticking to the same players and the same tactics with predictably grim and increasingly unpalatable results.
There’s no question that when things were going well, they were going really well, but at the first sign of a struggle, there didn’t seem to be any hope of turning it round. I believe there have to be serious questions over Silva’s man-management and motivational skills.
RBM: Do you expect Richarlison, who left Watford for Everton for £50 million last summer, will receive a similar reaction from Watford supporters as Silva?
Mike: I hope not. Richarlison did a great job for the majority of his short Watford career and it was a joy to see him in yellow. If he can stay focused and keep his head right, I firmly believe he has an opportunity to go on and be a genuine world-class performer.
You’ll have seen just how good he is; strong, skilful, fearless and deft. We enjoyed it when it lasted and fully accept that with the amount of money Everton offered, there was only one sensible and likely outcome.
No hard feelings, just try not to score this time please!
RBM: Watford have perhaps gone a little under the radar under Javi Gracia, yet have been in the top half for much of the season and are well clear of the relegation zone. How much have Watford progressed since he replaced Silva 13 months ago?
Mike: Since Silva’s departure, Gracia has turned Watford into a tight, cohesive and confident unit – everything that was missing under his predecessor. He inherited a squad bereft of any confidence or direction, so the turnaround has been as admirable as it is impressive.
Gracia clearly has the absolute respect of his players and I believe he’s worked hard to earn that since his arrival; the togetherness and never-say-die attitude of this squad has been a real hallmark of the season so far.
RBM: What should Watford be aiming for the rest of the season? Just four points off seventh-placed Wolves, is Europa League qualification a realistic aim?
Mike: Watford’s recent form suggests a tilt at Europa League qualification might be just out of reach, but it has to remain the aim. Thursday nights in Europe get a lot of bad press, but as a Watford supporter, if you can’t get excited about a potential European tour, then in my view you might as well give up.
Of course, the Hornets are still in the FA Cup and I think a decent run in that famous old competition might be a more realistic (and most welcome) outcome.
RBM: Watford midfielder Abdoulaye Doucouré could return this weekend, having been sidelined with a knee injury for nearly three weeks. Having not won a league game in his absence, how crucial is he to Gracia’s side?
Mike: I have to confess to thinking we’d cope better without Doucouré. It’s been a struggle in his absence; he’s so important to everything we do well. He breaks up opposition play, while providing a platform for our attackers to do their thing; without him it’s all felt a bit lethargic. He’s an absolutely integral cog in the Watford wheel.
The performances in his absence have been a bit of a wake-up call, to be honest, and I suspect the Vicarage Road hierarchy will be hoping that Nathaniel Chalobah can recapture his pre-injury form to help fill the void after Doucouré’s inevitable summer departure.
RBM: How do you expect Gracia to set Watford up on Monday?
Mike: Foster; Femenía, Cathcart, Mariappa, Holebas; Pereyra, Doucouré, Capoue, Hughes; Deulofeu, Deeney.
RBM: On current form, who looks the likeliest to cause Everton problems?
Mike: Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu are both hugely talented and the Hornets will need them to be firing if the home side are to pile the pressure on Silva with a win. Doucouré will be vital and it will be fascinating to see if he is fit enough to make a serious impact. If he’s back to his best then containing him will be important for Everton.
The other key performer for Watford this season has been Ben Foster; he’s kept his side in contention on more occasions than I (or he) would care to remember.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?
Mike: Away from all the Silva distractions, this is a game both teams will be desperate to take something from. I expect it to be a fractious affair with a draw the most likely outcome. I’ll stick my money on a 1-1.
Our thanks to Mike for his time.