Journalism student Billy Hawkins discusses Beppe Sannino’s rising stock after breaking Watford’s away hoodoo
Considering the less than smooth approach last season`s Championship took – with automatic promotion and the playoffs in a state of flux until the final game – one could be forgiven for wanting a less heart-pounding season this time around.
Watford clearly have no intentions of sticking to this Sunday drive through the remaining games, as the 4-1 victory away at Sheffield Wednesday reclaims the playoff hope that was lost when Blackburn Rovers equalised in injury time last week.
Not only was the need for Beppe Sannino`s first away victory satiated, the fans were given a performance of remarkable quality, which saw a preference to cede possession and counter work wonders with the aid of the attacking quality of Lewis McGugan, Troy Deeney and Mathias Ranégie.
Lewis McGugan answered all the criticism thrown at him by the majority of Watford fans since his arrival with a performance that proves the need for attacking quality. Ikechi Anya, who had been performing admirably in the free role in the absence of the suspended Ranégie, was reverted back to the right side of midfield, with McGugan taking up the attacking role in the midfield to support the striking partnership. For all the belief in his refusal to try, being allowed to roam the attacking third culminated in a brilliant offensive and defensive performance – he attempted four shots, culminating in a goal, assisted Deeney`s first goal, but also won three tackles and two interceptions.
The midfield trio of McGugan, Daniel Tözsér, and Cristian Battocchio offered a brilliant contribution to Sannino`s pressing-based set up – creating a perfect outlet for the forwards to work off the ball. Between them, the midfielders completed 16 tackles, allowing Anya and Daniel Pudil – both sitting higher up the pitch than usual – to focus upon pressing high rather than sitting deep. Rather than focus upon holding possession, Sannino preferred to let the opposition hold the ball – a style becoming more and more prevalent in each passing game – whilst compressing the space between the attackers and the defence to prevent any incisive attacking movement. Whilst Wednesday had 61% possession and completed 78% of their passes – both higher than Watford`s totals – 44% of the play was focused in the middle third of the pitch, creating the biggest façade in modern football – possession without goals.
These themes seem to be recurring styles within Sannino`s tactical set-up; a compactness between deepest and most offensive players, intense pressing from the midfield and wide players, and a cohesive team-as-unit mentality. Whilst Arrigo Sacchi – tactical, and fashion, inspiration to Beppe Sannino – was never fond of the specialist player in his double European Cup winning AC Milan side, he still had the Dutch brilliance of Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten to exceed the quality of other sides. Sannino has instilled a similar belief, although he still applies distinct roles to certain players; Troy Deeney is still an out-and-out forward who offers the main creative output, and Daniel Tözsér has slotted into the side as the deep-lying playmaker. It is the work horses around these players – and in no way is that a derogatory term – who fulfil the needs of the team to allow the talents of the individuals to be expressed.
I wrote last week expressing my desire for Sannino to be in charge next season, and seeing as how his negative away record has been broken, there is no need for people to complain about him. Whilst mathematically possible, the playoffs are a distant dream which should be reserved for next season. If certain players are retained, and a select few are brought in, there is no reason to deny any chance for promotion next season.