The second installment of our defensive review of the campaign
Owing to the sheer number of defensive player to represent the club this season, we split the defenders` article into two parts, here`s part two, though it`s part three of the series. Do keep up…
Anyone who made a first-team appearance this season gets reviewed – yes we`ve made a lot of work for ourselves – so here we go…
18. Daniel Pudil: 35 + 2 (1)
The Czech Republic international is an enigma for me. He is certainly an upgrade on Dickinson at left-back or left wing-back, but does he really provide any greater defensive cover than the much maligned skinhead?
I`ve seen Pudil ripped to shreds on a handful of occasions this season – think Wilf Zaha in the Play-off Final or James Milner at the Etihad Stadium (admittedly very good players) – and I`ve seen him made to look foolish by lesser players too.
Good going forward, of that there is no question, but always leaving something to be desired from a defensive point of view, there is a sense of ‘more to come` from the Granada loanee.
That is quite clearly the view taken by Technical Director Gian Luca Nani too, with offers for Jeremy Helan, Robbie Brady and Nathan Redmond all made during the January Transfer Window.
Pudil has taken affirmative action in nailing his colours to the mast regarding his future, and if there was one loanee that I would stake my mortgage (student loan) on signing permanently, it`s him.
“Became a permanent fixture in the left wing back position immediately after his arrival and was one of the few loan players to start the season. Very accomplished left footed player who adds a nice balance to the side. Good defensively with enough pace to cope with most wingers in the division. Defensively minded with one criticism being that he could go forward more often than he does and gamble making more forward runs. Nonetheless a very good addition to the team this season.”
21. Ikechi Anya: 18 + 7 (3)
Anya`s league numbers alone do not make desperately impressive reading, so when I say that he has been our most improved player from August through to May, it speaks volumes about just how good he has been in the second half of the season.
The Anya that made his Hornet`s bow against Bradford City split opinions. I gave the diminutive Scot our ‘Man of the Match` tag for that defeat, but most people on Twitter were less than impressed by his contribution, despite looking like the only player on the field likely to make something happen for Watford.
Fast-forward 10 months and there will be little if any debate surrounding the 25 year-old Glaswegian, who has established himself as a regular in Zola`s side at right wing-back – a position he would not have expected to thrive in when he signed as a winger.
His defensive qualities have made him a perfect candidate for the right wing-back slot, taking over from Marco Cassetti since February time. Equally, his ariel ability has improved tremendously too – largely due to the number of high balls his team-mates insist on sending in his direction!
As nippy as a greyhound and as hard-working as anyone else in the squad, Anya has come on leaps and bounds and seems to fit the system perfectly. Prior to February, I would have been nonplussed if he didn`t return; now I`m adamant he must.
“Took a while to break into the team with a few appearances in November, but didn’t become a first team regular until February. When he did he added his raw pace to the right hand side of our team which adds a nice balance. Capable of scoring a couple of goals too and has improved his final ball since we first saw him this season. Also improving in the air and has won his fair share against opposition players.”
27. Marco Cassetti: 36 + 2 (0)
Another to have improved immeasurably since the beginning of the season, no-one can have been expecting to get 36 starts from a 35 year-old playing in a league much more draining that his native Serie ‘A`.
When we signed a 35 year-old full-back, I wondered what on earth was going on. Did we really need an over-the-hill, one-paced right-back? His early performances backed up my fears as he got torn to shreds and looked a defensive liability, but since the switch to 3-5-2 he has proven himself to be the ideal player at right wing-back.
Even switching to centre-half – a position he had played sparingly at Roma in his final season – he has excelled. Cassetti is quite clearly a player with such intelligence and understanding of the game that he can play anywhere and still be totally dependable.
In short, Cassetti is a cut above. In the same echelons as Almen Abdi in terms of his awareness and reading of the game, it is not hard to see why in his pomp, Cassetti won five full caps for the Italian national team. Quite frankly, it would be scary to try and imagine quite how good he would have been 10 years ago.
It was also extremely refreshing to see how a player with his experience – Serie ‘A` runner up, Champions League quarter-finalist, etc, was so eager to add another feather to his cap by winning promotion. He was, by all accounts, distraught after the Leeds United defeat – what an attitude to show and example to set to the young players.
Talking of younger players, it is clear Cassetti is revered by those around the club, particularly the youngsters, as someone who has been there, done that and got the t-shirt. During his Vital Interview he made clear that he wanted to give something back in terms of helping pass his wisdom onto the young players and that is just another facet to a fantastic man.
Unlike any of the other loanees, there is no danger of him being required in Udine, but the one drawback is that his young family still live in Italy. Can he manage another season away from his wife and children? If so I see no reason why he will not be back next season.
“Made an interesting start to his career by looking out of place at right back against some tricky wingers but the switch to wing back brought his attacking game to the fore. Added a nice balance to the right side of our team and became a key player. His reading of the game was also crucial when he was needed as a centre back at the end of the season to solve our centre back crisis. Always comfortable on the ball, showcased in his pass for Vydra in the playoff second leg against Leicester.”
29. Adam Thompson: 0 + 4 (0)
With four substitute appearances in the league between loan stints at Wycombe Wanderers and Barnet, it`s been a stop-start season for young Thompson.
Purely on the basis that Zola has kept him around the squad when fit and available, one gets the feeling that he is now slightly ahead of Hodson in the pecking order of young defenders, if only because he can play at centre-half too.
Next season is a big one for the 20 year-old and you sense that if he doesn`t make his breakthrough he will be on his way.
Verdict: Too few games to judge.
31. Tommie Hoban: 19 + 0 (2)
In just 19 npower Championship starts, Hoban gave us a glimpse at the future, and it looked good.
Highly regarded as he made it through the club`s academy set-up, captaining Nick Cox`s Under-18s the season before last, Hoban had pedigree having previously been at Arsenal.
Thrust in at Huddersfield as part of a back three for the first time, it was sink or swim for the Ireland Under-19`s skipper, and not only did he swim, he looked comfortable doing it too.
Good on the ball, good off it and never intimidated, Hoban will undoubtedly go on to be a key player next season if he can get a good pre-season under his belt building his fitness back up following an injury which has severely hampered his first season.
And they say we don`t give kids a chance at this club anymore.
“A very good season for the 19-year-old who had a real breakthrough season during this campaign. Broke into the team in October due to others injuries but played well enough to hold down his position and was given the opportunity to do so. Very calm on the ball, technically very good, and also a very solid defender that reads the game very well for a player of his years. Able to cope against pace too which we saw against Crystal Palace in February.”
33. Nyron Nosworthy: 18 + 1 (0)
The comeback kid. When Zola took over, I felt Nyron`s days would be numbered; that he would not cope with the expectation of passing the ball out of defence. How wrong I was.
Injured during the middle of the season before being re-introduced up at Manchester City – where he slotted in seamlessly – Nosworthy`s season was cut short by an injury suffered on international duty with Jamaica.
In terms of his standing within the squad, it`s good to have the option of an out-and-out brick outhouse to call upon, but whilst he is good on the ball, he isn`t necessarily as composed as those mentioned previously.
At 32 and with long-haul flights to the Caribbean at awkward times in the season, something will have to give eventually, but for now it`s good to have that experienced, re-assuring, physical presence at the heart of the defence.
“Another defender whose season has been defined by injury. Has not adapted as well to the passing style as some others and still looks a little uncomfortable on the ball when passing in tight spaces. However his defensive ability has remained and looked like the good defender he is in the matches that he played. A solid alternative to Hall in the middle of the back three.”
40. Joel Ekstrand: 29 + 3 (1)
Ekstrand is another to have shown notable improvement throughout the course of the season. At first, he looked a little hap-hazard and prone to the odd concentrational slip, but now he is arguably one of the first names on the team-sheet.
He has shown versatility in playing in each of the three central defensive roles only injury cruelly robbed him of the chance to win a second cap for Sweden against Argentina in February. If he keeps up the promise he has shown, there is no reason that other such opportunities will not present themselves further down the line.
Strong, aggressive, good in the air and a good reader of the game, he is the next most all-round centre-half at the club after Hall but with a good few years in his favour.
Assuming he signs over the summer – and bigger clubs could do a lot worse than taking a look at him – he will surely be the mainstay in the centre of the defence with the two places either side of him up for grabs.
“A good first season for the Swede who ended up starting in 32 league matches despite the first of those not being until November. Gave away a couple of silly goals against Leeds and Barnsley in his early appearances but has settled down to become the mainstay of the defence during the seasons run in. He does all of the British things very well, although he can still be a little careless in possession. Joins in with play very well and isn’t afraid of getting forward when we have good possession of the ball.”
41. Jean-Alain Fanchone: 1 + 0 (0)
Despite making just one first-team appearance up at Blackburn and by all accounts, doing quite well, Fanchone will go down in the same bracket as Peo Ljung, Umaru Bangura, Sietes, Martin Devaney, Junior or Calum Davenport – the mythical Watford player.
His solitary appearance up at Ewood Park was witnessed by just 584 Hornets and was the only time he even made the matchday XVIII – and that was only due to Pudil`s suspension following a red card at Cardiff.
Indeed, you could sum up Fanchone`s Watford stay with the following indictment from Richard Walker, co-commentating with Hornets Player`s Jon Marks on the Cardiff game. When Marks suggested that following Pudil`s red we would get to see Fanchone in Lancashire, Walker immediately replied, “I think there are others ways of doing it.”
Whether Fanchone didn`t fit in, didn`t apply himself to the situation or just wasn`t good enough is anyone`s guess, but it`s unlikely he will be forgotten, if only for the obscurity of his brief stay in WD18.
wfc123: As I wasn`t at Blackburn, it`s kind of hard to score him…
Agree? Disagree? See Fanchone in the flesh? Let us know by commenting below!