Resident columnist Billy Hawkins discusses his thoughts on Watford’s prospects going into the 14/15 season
The closing of pre-season generally means one of two things to a person, dependent upon the mental inclination of the subject.
One either worries that one`s club is destined for relegation, or instead they overestimate their favoured team, affording them a kind of transcendental state of invincibility. As a Watford fan, the past two seasons have seen both mind-sets observed by even the most level-headed fan, with August 2012 hinting at relegation – and leading to near-promotion – and August 2013 hinting at guaranteed promotion – and leading to something of a relegation scrap.
For the third season under Pozzo family ownership, the average Watford fan (myself included) has shown an ability to remain both full of positivity, whilst also being completely unconvinced by the displays shown this pre-season – a mental state unlike any represented by a football fan.
However, there is a reason for this rather uncanny state – and that is because the general opinion of the team appears apt; there are a host of great players wearing the yellow shirt this season, although there is no apparent way that automatic promotion Is a likely end in the side’s current state.
Pre-season has been something of a mixed bag in terms of performances and score lines, with 10 games rewarded by 18 goals – although that tally is somewhat skewed by the seven goals netted against Feldkirchen. Despite a selection of defensive errors in the later games, head coach Beppe Sannino continued his preference for a strong unit – going four games before a goal was conceded.
It is well known that friendlies are more focused on the search for match fitness rather than a need for results, and Sannino has been set on manipulating the playing squad to fit all the needs he believes he will require for the duration of what promises to be a challenging season.
Every friendly has seen a fluid rotation between the recently favoured 3-5-2 and a more traditional 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid. With Troy Deeney leading the line, Matej Vydra and Lloyd Dyer flanked him to create a lopsided front three; Dyer regularly hugged the touchline, whilst Vydra played just off Deeney to reunite their fruitful striking partnership. The width provided by Dyer allowed the creation of space that the front two could exploit, although neither Deeney nor Vydra managed to hit a rich vein of form to capitalise upon this new system.
The other main tactical improvement to have come from the selection of pre-season games is the fluidity that the defence has shown, with a willingness to shift between a flat back-four and three-at-the-back when the play moves from the defensive to the attacking phase. When starting with a traditional flat back-four, the wing-backs were encouraged to push up and support the attacking play. However, this creates a defensive weakness with just two centre-backs covering in case of any potential counter attacks.
Thus, as has been seen, one of the two central midfielders would inevitably drop deep, creating the more stable three-man defence, protecting his teammates whilst more men are committed up-field. This stylistic change removes the limitations that the 3-5-2 displayed last system, with the squad incorporating the best traits from both systems when needed in the most appropriate situation.
The lack of a so-called ‘Plan B’ last season was the cause for a lot of concern amongst the fans at Vicarage Road, and, despite the results flattering to deceive against statistically weaker opposition this summer, the knowledge that Sannino is working on a solution to any problem he feels the Hornets may undergo is promising. Whilst it remains to be seen whether the incorporation into a competitive environment works well, if at all, being able to switch styles at will is a trait that few Championship clubs can boast.
The scattergun approach to this preview has been written almost as a reflection of much of the pre-season progress, with thoughts thrown together as and when they came to me. It is hard to express any concrete thoughts throughout the duration of friendlies, with the level of competition below that of the upcoming league fixtures. However, what has been seen this summer holds a lot of promise.
It may still be too early to talk about either promotion or relegation, but there is a good chance that style and results will come through the course of the season – one just hopes that it is sooner rather than later.
Billy Hawkins` Away From Home column is published weekly.