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Everton vs Watford: The Opposition View

We spoke to writer and Hornets fan Adam Drury prior to Saturday’s Goodison clash

Everton FC v Watford FC - Premier League
Lucas Digne’s late free-kick rescued a point for Everton in this fixture last season
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Everton will take on Watford FC in their first home game of the season on Saturday as manager Marco Silva faces his previous club.

Silva was sacked by the Hornets in January 2018 after just seven months in charge, as a superb start to the season was supposedly derailed by Everton’s interest in replacing the sacked Ronald Koeman with him.

Since taking over at Goodison Park the following May, Silva has yet to beat his former employers, drawing 2-2 at home and losing 1-0 away.

Watford, who finished 11th last term, suffered a terrible start to the new campaign as they lost 3-0 at home to Brighton & Hove Albion.

Ahead of Saturday’s match, we spoke to sports writer for Betway and Hornets fan, Adam Drury:

RBM: Firstly, where do you stand on Marco Silva after he supposedly downed tools at Watford after an approach from Everton in late 2017? Do you think he will always be in for a hostile reception from Hornets fans?

Adam: I really like Silva as a coach. Albeit briefly, his team produced what I would still rate as the best football Watford have ever played in the Premier League. I wasn’t entirely comfortable when he was sacked - admittedly after a run of results and performances that were well below the bar that had initially been set - because of a nagging doubt that we were letting somebody go who was capable of massive things.

Everton FC v Watford FC - Premier League
Gracia replaced Silva in January 2018
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

I’m sceptical of the ‘downed tools’ theory; I don’t believe somebody can turn it on and off like that, and we picked up some good results around the time that Everton were most interested. But his demeanour at Watford was never good. He was remarkably unsmiling, regularly vented at the very popular board in press conferences, and was stubborn tactically when results turned for the worse, appearing to try and shift the blame onto the players he believed he had been lumbered with rather than search for a solution himself.

If that is your manner, you have little credit in the bank when circumstances and results change. It was frustrating that he wanted to abandon what seemed to be solid progress just three months into the season, but had somebody else done the same - the affable Javi Gracia, say - it wouldn’t have prompted the same outrage. I believe that is why he’s so unpopular and can expect another hostile reception on Saturday.

Watford v Everton - Premier League - Vicarage Road
Silva is not remembered fondly at Vicarage Road
Photo by Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

RBM: Having already signed Richarlison from Watford last summer, Everton also tried to take Abdoulaye Doucouré this year, but had two bids rejected for the midfielder. Would you have accepted the reported £36 million offer, or is he too important to let go?

Adam: I don’t believe £36 million would ever have been enough, but I do think there is a chance that Doucouré would have been sold for a larger fee had an approach been made earlier in the summer.

Chairman Scott Duxbury is on record stating that he likes it when Watford sell their best players for big money because it proves that the club’s long-term strategy is working. Given that Doucouré has been retained despite lots of interest in the last three transfer windows, it would not surprise me if the club were very willing to cash in this summer, while his peak sell-on value still existed.

As it was, the bid was made too late for us to sign for a replacement. I wouldn’t rule it out in the future, though.

RBM: Since moving from a winger to a forward at Watford, former Everton man Gerard Deulofeu seems to have thrived. How crucial a player has he become?

Adam: Deulofeu is the kind of player you want on the pitch all the time, because he is capable of winning matches for you even when the team under-performs. In last season’s FA Cup semi-final against Wolves, he came off the bench and scored one of the greatest goals in Watford’s history to help rescue a game that was otherwise getting away. He then scored another good one in extra time to get us into the final.

He was only dropped to the bench for that match after an anonymous performance against Fulham the week before earlier, and days like those are his biggest weakness. But having not featured until October, a return of 12 goals probably marked the most consistent season of his career, so I’m expecting even bigger things from him this year.

Cardiff City v Watford - Premier League - Cardiff City Stadium
Deulofeu scored 12 goals for Watford last season, including a hat-trick in a 5-1 win at Cardiff City
Photo by Simon Galloway/PA Images via Getty Images

RBM: Watford looked on course for a top ten place last season, but fell away towards the end and finished 11th. Should the top half be their aim this year?

Adam: Yeah, definitely, but that is the case for many more than ten Premier League teams. Ultimately, Watford have talked about finishing in the top half for the last two or three years, and never done it.

The signings of Danny Welbeck and Ismaïla Sarr appear to have taken the club to a new level in terms of status, but last weekend’s defeat to Brighton was a reminder that it would be premature and a bit arrogant to believe that we belong in the race for the top ten any more than several of the bottom half.

I’m always a bit cautious, I like to reach 40 points before thinking about much else. But there is lots of optimism about the long-term future of the club, and I’m pretty confident that, whether it be this season, next season or in another season to come, we will break into the top half and push for those European spots.

RBM: After their 3-0 home defeat to Brighton on the opening day, are you worried Watford might be suffering a hangover from last season’s late slump?

Adam: The performance against Brighton was one of the most alarming in a while. Not just because losing 3-0 at home to a bottom-half ‘rival’ is bad news, but because it was a continuation of the way Watford finished last season.

Fans happily put the bad end to the 2018-19 league campaign down to a lack of focus ahead of the FA Cup final, but last weekend’s match hints at a deeper issue. Our last five matches have finished in 1-2, 0-3, 1-4, 0-6 and 0-3 defeats, with performances progressively worsening.

Of course, Saturday might have been the wake-up call that everybody needed, but this weekend’s game at Everton is such a big one because we will find out whether the downward trajectory from last season really is spilling over.

Watford FC v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Watford were hammered by Brighton on Saturday
Photo by Matthew Impey/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

RBM: Which areas of the pitch should Everton look to exploit against Watford?

Adam: Watford have conceded more big chances than any other Premier League team since the start of last season, so you can tell where the frailties lie.

Étienne Capoue and Doucouré do an excellent job of protecting the centre-backs, but Everton should have some joy down the flanks, particularly if Gracia perseveres with his narrow 4-4-2 formation.

Will Hughes defends doggedly down our right-hand side in front of Kiko Femenía, but is not a natural wide player, while José Holebas and Roberto Pereyra struggle to block crosses from coming into our box from the other flank. All of our back four are prone to lapses in concentration and individual errors, too, so if Everton get the ball wide and deliver some decent balls in, they should create some opportunities.

RBM: How do you expect Watford to set up on Saturday?

Adam: It’s difficult to say, which is strange considering that Gracia has opted for that narrow 4-4-2 shape almost exclusively since the start of last season. While it is an effective system, and it seemed to catch several teams off guard initially, there are signs that it is going stale.

Hughes has done well in an unfamiliar position on the right-hand side, but his lack of pace and width is increasingly being exposed. He needs to be playing more centrally. The shape also means that there is no natural link-up player between midfield and attack.

Record signing Sarr could add fresh dynamism to one of the wide midfield positions, but he is unlikely to start here.

I suspect that the 4-4-2 will be persisted with - Pereyra will come into the side on the left and Deulofeu will probably partner Troy Deeney upfront - but if things turn ugly, you may be watching us play that way for the last time.

Watford v Wolverhampton Wanderers - FA Cup Semi Final
Deulofeu and Deeney will likely lead the line for Watford
Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

RBM: Who do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Adam: Deulofeu didn’t look fit enough to start last weekend after a pre-season injury, but he is the most likely to do the damage in attack.

As mentioned above (and as you already know), he has the ability to conjure something from nothing, but he has also shown a newfound consistency in the last few months.

Elsewhere, watch out for Femenía getting forward from right-back, while you could see debuts from the bench for Sarr and Welbeck.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Adam: Watford always seem to have entertaining games at Goodison, often featuring late goals going in at the wrong end.

I’ll go for another good one - a 2-2 draw, with one of our debutants doing the business as a substitute.

Our thanks to Adam for his time.