In this week’s Away From Home Column, Billy Hawkins discusses the change Garcia has implemented at the back, and analyses where it is going right and wrong so far
If there is one word that could be used to describe the so-called ‘honeymoon period` at football clubs, it would surely be something positive.
The appointment of a new manager generally brings a short spell of success, with off-pitch joy reflected in an upturn in on-pitch performances.
However, as always, Watford have done things in reverse.
Since removing a man who was reportedly universally loathed by the entire playing squad, and hiring a man who offers little in the way of aggressive spirit, Watford have won just one of three games – with the lone victory fortuitously coming against a spiritless Blackpool side.
In preparation for the home tie against Bournemouth, to be watched with intense eyes by those Sky Sports viewers who find a mid-table Championship clash their cup of tea, still-hospital-bound Oscar Garcia requested the switch to a flat back-four, with a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid used at the opening of the game. (Despite naming conventions, it is nigh-on impossible to define the distinction between the two formations with on-pitch movement.)
The switch to a four-at-the-back system has been called for by large numbers in recent history, with fans – myself included – urging Beppe Sannino to adopt his favoured 4-4-2 in favour of the 3-5-2 that has come to characterise the Pozzo family across all three of their clubs.
In theory, a flat back-four offers increased security, with an extra man available in both defence and midfield. Unless a 3-5-2 is set-up as exclusively defensive, with five defenders, the wing-backs offer no support to either the midfield or the back line, being tasked with their own job of patrolling the entire flanks. The set-up then becomes a 3-3-2, with the two wing-backs independently working for the good of the team, but with no specific position to aid.
Four-at-the-back increases the man mass in defence, having two men over when faced with a strike partnership, or having one man to sweep if facing three attackers. However, the short term change to four out-and-out defenders only wounded Watford, with the full-backs playing as if they were wing-backs – their roaming and creative freedom begetting mistakes.
So whilst in theory it should provide extra defensive security, the Hornets’ attempt at a 4-3-3 became something like a 2-2-3-3, leaving the central defenders completely exposed early in the game.
And it was from being exposed that resulted in the third-minute penalty conceded by Gabriel Tamas. Having been drawn out of the back-line, Tamas was always going to struggle to catch up with Callum Wilson, and the only way to prevent a clear goalscoring opportunity was to take the forward down in the box.
Tamas`s clumsiness was avoidable, but the Romanian should not take all the blame for the foul – with a combination of bad teamwork and delusional positioning leading to the chance.
It was a game of few highlights at Vicarage Road, with Harry Arter`s long-range strike and Craig Cathcart`s volleyed equaliser standing out as much for their rarity as their quality.
A questionable start to Garcia`s career in Hertfordshire, even if he cannot be judged until he is back on the touchline. Making such drastic moves as changing formation seems unwise whilst he is unavailable to oversee the shift, although I for one am impressed by his confidence.
Both Gianfranco Zola and Sannino seemed afraid to revert from what the team knew, placing their opinions below those of a team who were successful in one formation – having played it more than any other. With Garcia making changes so early in his career, despite not even being able to see the outcome, shows an incredible desire to change the team to his view – and his return to the touchline cannot come soon enough for this Watford fan.