Journalism student Billy Hawkins dissects Watford’s 3-0 victory over Barnsley, offering his thoughts on Anya’s unselfishness and Sannino’s ‘cohesive unit’
To see Beppe Sannino screaming on the touchline, one could be forgiven for thinking that Watford suffered a humiliating defeat to Barnsley at Vicarage Road on Saturday. His actions – never changing with either victory or defeat – suggests a man who is totally entrenched in his task, and – with the recent record setting home run of clean sheets – his task seems to be an incredible success.
In previous games, Sannino had shown a desire to move back to the possession game that characterised Gianfranco Zola`s reign, although – with the inconsistent results this provided – the style has fallen into the deep lying counter-attacking style which cedes possession, but creates more offensive opportunities. Having only 48% possession at home to the team sitting bottom of the division is frowned upon in this current age, with the en vogue styles of stylish anti-football. But, as I argued in a previous column – in relation to Jose Mourinho`s Chelsea side, and the opening games of Sannino`s tenure – sometimes the best coaches compete differently to win.
Due to the availability of only one recognised striker, rather than line up in the 4-4-2 which has become the norm, Sannino took a 3-4-3 and deployed Ikechi Anya in a free-role – much like that in which he impressed against Doncaster – whilst pulling Troy Deeney and the returning Lewis McGugan deeper to support him. The return to only two distinct wide players resulted in the need for Daniel Pudil and Marco Davide Faraoni to contribute in a manner concurrent with the wing-back role used under Zola. Both performed with extreme success, with Pudil contributing six defensive and three offensive events, and Faraoni contributing eight defensive and three offensive events – including two promising attempts on goal. With Deeney and McGugan dropping deep, the space they found in the ‘red zone` allowed them to not only create chances for themselves – seven of the 12 Watford shots were by the two ersatz trequartistas – but also draw the markers away from Anya.
It was Anya – playing in the free role in the space between the Barnsley midfield and defence – who caused the most noticeable impact upon the game. Assisting two goals – one with a clever pass across goal to Deeney, and the other with a skilful run which drew three defenders out the game for Alexander Merkel to score his first Watford goal – he played four key passes in total, without taking a shot himself. This generosity suggests a renewed belief in the teamwork emphasised in my previous comparison between Sannino and renowned Soviet Union and Dynamo Kyiv coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi. For a team who relied so heavily upon individual brilliance under Zola, it has been Sannino`s task to create a cohesive unit with a squad struggling to recreate the flair of last season.
Anya`s free role is the combination of both schools of thought, with ludic individual brilliance – his run for the third goal – and latent teamwork – his pass for the second – both on show. The second goal is the epitome of the combination goal, with Anya`s pass across goal – when he could have so easily shot himself – all working for the benefit of the team. That the ball fell to Anya from a mishit Lewis McGugan shot from an angle he was unlikely to score from suggests that not everyone has found the movement to cohesive unit as easily as Anya has.
It was by no means a brilliant performance – although it once again fulfilled all the traits that one has come to expect from a Sannino managed side – and as the old adage goes; ‘you can only beat what`s put in front of you.`
Following some remarkably fortunate results on Tuesday evening, Watford are nine points off the play-offs, with a game in hand over sixth placed Nottingham Forest. Considering the pessimism that surrounds the Watford supporting depths of the internet, for every bad result that is recorded, a rival suffers just as much. Is it really too late to write this season off yet?
And is it time to start suggesting Sannino`s candidacy for the permanent role of first team manager?