While the Hornets are happy to be back in the Premier League after a one-year absence, their early-season struggles have led to the sacking of their previous boss, Xisco Munoz, in favor of the famed Italian, Claudio Ranieri. For Everton, despite lingering injury issues with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Abdoulaye Doucoure and now Yerry MIna, it will be important, even with the new coaching innovation that the visitors have recently received, to play their game, just the way they know how to under Rafa Benitez.
RBM: First off, Watford sit just above relegation, after just finding their way back into the Premier League following a one-season absence; what needs to be shored up to make sure that the club does not find itself back in the Championship next campaign?
Firstly, Watford needed a Head Coach that could compete at the top table tactically. Xisco Munoz never looked like he could, and he should have been replaced earlier, but in Claudio Ranieri we now have somebody who at least has some pedigree. The Liverpool hammering wasn’t a great start, but if there were going to be some teething problems, I’d rather they came in a game we were likely to lose regardless.
It’s now about building a team that looks competitive. Settling on a style of play that suits this squad and its pedigree, and gets the best out of key players Moussa Sissoko and Ismaila Sarr. I think that looks something like becoming a much more compact, awkward team that uses its strengths on the counter-attack.
RBM: For those Toffees who are not so well-versed with this Watford outfit, Troy Deeney is gone; who are the bright spots on this team, other than, of course, Ismaila Sarr?
You’re right, Sarr is the star, and his performance is generally directly related to how Watford perform in a game.
There are one or two other recognisable names who have started promisingly. Danny Rose had a shocker against Liverpool, but was rather hung out to dry by being fielded in an unfamiliar left centre-back position up against Mo Salah. He had been previously been standing out at left-back, which is where he should play here.
As mentioned above, Sissoko’s potential is yet to be unlocked, but he has looked dangerous in patches. I’d also give an honorary mention to Josh King, who was improving before his injury and should have a point to prove on his return to Everton.
RBM: How do you think the famous Italian boss Claudio Ranieri will do with this group now that he has been charged with elevating their play after the recent dismissal of Xisco Munoz?
He’s certainly an upgrade on Munoz, who just wasn’t cut out for this level. The concern, naturally, is that he is at the back end of his career and probably past his peak. What he traditionally brings to his teams - compactness, energy, a great spirit - are clearly the things that Watford need, it’s just a case of whether he still has it in him to make that happen.
It’s tough to say how it’ll go, but the impressive job he did in his last gig at Sampdoria offers some hope.
RBM: It feels, by the actions of the club anyway, like returning to the Championship is, indeed, untenable; is it reasonable to believe that this team can make strides moving forward to secure themselves at least another year of Premier League capital and participation?
At the moment it looks a big ask, but all hope is not lost. As I’ve said, it really depends on whether Ranieri has the ability and time to mould the playing style and improve the players in the way that he has in previous successful jobs.
At the moment, Watford are far too easy to play through, and don’t create enough going forward. That’s clearly, partly, a quality issue, but I do believe that the squad is capable of better than we’ve seen so far.
You’re right to say that it would probably be harder to bounce back from this relegation than it was the last one, considering that Sarr would inevitably depart and that we would have to budget for missing out on Premier League revenue for the second time in three seasons. That said, the club chose not to overspend this summer in case the worst does happen, so hopefully there’s a plan in place.
RBM: Who else, other than the aforementioned Sarr, do you think could really cause Everton some problems, and how do you think Watford will line up when they come to Goodison Park?
King looked fit and motivated in the weeks before he got injured at Leeds, and I expect to see him return to the line-up here. Hopefully Sissoko can get a grip on the game, while likely full-backs Jeremy Ngakia and Rose are very capable.
If he starts, Ozan Tufan looks a good player, too.
I expect the Watford team to look something like: Foster; Ngakia, Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Rose; Kucka, Sissoko, Tufan; Sarr, King, Pedro.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
Considering Everton’s injury issues, it’s difficult to see there being too many goals. Abdoulaye Doucoure is very familiar to Watford fans, and he would’ve been exactly the type of player that could exploit the holes we’ve been leaving in our midfield all season.
I think it could go 1-0 either way, but I’ll be typically dull and opt for a 0-0 draw.
Our thanks to Adam for his time.