Attention turns to the midfielders in our End of Season Review
The next part of the Vital Watford end of season player review focuses on our midfielder players. And, after the 16 defenders we reviewed, mercifully we only used 11 midfield players this term!
Remember, the criteria for review is that a player must have got on the pitch for a first-team game in any competition for any amount of time. So in short, just about everyone…
4. John Eustace: 2 league starts + 3 substitute appearances (0 goals)
I don`t want to write what I`m about to write. Marco Cassetti is my new man-crush, but since the day he walked into Watford Football Club in January 2008 as an Aidy Boothroyd last-spin-of-the-dice signing, Eustace has been my favourite.
There`s something about rugged, beardy-types who aren`t afraid to roll their sleeves up and play dirty that does it for me, and John epitomises that. Unfortunately, after five years and over 150 appearances for the club, it looks like we might have seen the last of Eustace.
Plagued by a back injury which saw him withdrawn against Crystal Palace on the opening day of the npower Championship season, the 33 year-old skipper has featured rarely since. It`s not that he isn`t good enough, it`s just that when fit, he`s not as slick as Cristian Battocchio or Almen Abdi.
We`ve all seen the Eustace-patented ‘no-look sweeping pass` 10s of times previously and we all know that what England are really missing in midfielder is Eustace, but he just isn`t sexy enough to fit into the midfield nowadays. He does a job when you need a experience, gnarled midfield general to slow the game down, but he`s better than being a bit-part player here.
When we spoke for his Vital Interview he was adamant that he wanted to squeeze the last years of playing time out of his career, and when you consider the serious injuries he`s had, who can blame him?
As much as I`d personally love to see Super Johnny Eustace in a player-coach capacity next season, passing his wisdom onto Connor Smith whilst kicking Michael Brown halfway to Luton and back, his future lies elsewhere if he wants to prolong his career.
wfc123: Injury-plagued, impossible to score.
7. Mark Yeates: 18 + 11 (4)
Everyone`s favourite ugly duckling shone a little this year. He was by no means brilliant, but he did show a marked improvement on last term which owed everything to the fact he was moved from right midfield to central midfield.
In his own words, central midfield is his favoured position, which makes you wonder why every manager he`s played under his stuck him out on the right. Nonetheless, it has been something of a ‘coming out` season for the Dubliner.
BHaPPY`s end of season numbers say that Yeates helped himself to eight assists this term – no mean feat for a bit-part player. That, however, is the same number as last year when he was a regular, which begs the question ‘what the hell was he playing at last year?!`
It also suggests that there could be more to come from Yeates if he is to replicate the kind of performances he showed in patches this term, over a 46-game season. Whether or not Yeates will get the chance to prove that hypothesis at Watford is the real question in hand.
Yeates` contract is up and 28 this is probably his last chance for a ‘decent` contract. His opportunities at Watford look limited to being a bit-part player so a decision will have to be made in the coming weeks.
“To be fair to Yeates he had the better of his two seasons at the club this year in his more favoured position of centre midfield. He showed that he is a decent passer of the ball and ended up with four goals at an average of one every four matches. However, despite his passing ability his lack of pace is still a problem when playing in the key area of the pitch. However, he is a useful option on the bench at Championship level.”
8. Jonathan Hogg: 31 + 7 (0)
It came as something of a surprise to me that Hogg made as many starts as he did. In my head he had been a bit-part player, especially once Cristian Battocchio forced his way into the starting XI. However, the former Aston Villa man has put in another strong showing in the centre of midfield.
Sure, he doesn`t move the ball at quickly as Battocchio or Abdi, but neither man works quite as selflessly as Hogg. And if nothing else, switching between Hogg or Battocchio has given Gianfranco Zola options in terms of how he wants to set up the central midfield three.
Hogg did start the campaign slowly, but from March onwards he really came into his own and his ability on the ball has definitely benefitted from being part of a side keen on ball retention.
For all the guile we`ve had in midfield this season with Battocchio, Abdi and Nathaniel Chalobah, it`s been good to have a bit of steel too, especially with Eustace missing much of the campaign.
“It was another good season for the hardest man in the Watford squad. Hogg in many respects benefitted from John Eustace’s long absence through injury, and made 41 league appearances this season including 33 starts. He became a key player in front of the back four during the November/December period when our results really started to peak. He did lose his way a but in February/March after the emergence of Cristian Battocchio. Not playing week in, week out seemed to throw his battle hardened style of play out of kilter but he returned to his best towards the end of the season. Hogg is another whose passing ability has improved this season as he has slotted seamlessly into the new style of play.”
14. Ross Jenkins: 0 + 0 (0)
So not one league appearance for Jenkins this term, but the 22 did appear for Zola`s side in the Capital One Cup defeat by Bradford City back in August.
Gradually Jenkins has become less and less a part of the first-team picture and although he is very comfortable on the ball, on gets the feeling that Jenkins has now been waiting for his breakthrough a year too long and that a move away is best for his career.
28, 21, 13, 4, 0: the number of Championship starts per season that Jenkins has made since breaking into the side under Brendan Rodgers. The question is, why hasn`t he kicked on?
He is by no means a bad footballer, but he needs to be playing regularly, wherever that is. A loan move to Barnet saw him score a stunning overhead kick, yet he was far from a regular during his month there – that in a side relegated into the Conference.
In this day and age of financial austerity, clubs are shopping in the lower leagues increasingly regularly as they look for a bargain. If Jenkins does drop down into League One or League Two, as long as he shows the ability he showed at 18 or 19, he`ll bounce back in the future.
16. Sean Murray: 8 + 7 (1)
A season of regression for the young man and whilst there are plenty of rumours circulating on social media platforms as to why that is, let`s try and deal in facts.
Despite playing wide right last season in Sean Dyche`s 4-4-2 system, Murray came through the academy as a central midfielder/attacking midfielder but has scarcely been afforded the opportunity to play there.
Learning a brand new system and for that matter, position, is quite an ask of a young player such as Murray. When you consider the extra defensive responsibility that comes with playing wing-back, it`s a big ask for a youngster with half a season`s professional football under his belt.
It`s also worth considering that one of the ownership`s first acts after taking over was to award Murray a brand new five-year contract. Murray is a very good player and the club believe in him; in that environment, you`d expect him to kick-on in the near future.
“This was a disappointing second season for Murray for a number of reasons. He initially found himself a regular starter in the wide right position in the 4-3-3 formation but the move to 3-5-2 in late September saw Murray suffer with having to learn a new position. Questions over his attitude kept arising at various points during the season, he also looked liked he had bulked up far too much over the summer, but time is on his side and no doubt he will recapture the form he showed in the second half of the 2011/12 campaign.”
19. Prince Buaben: 0 + 1 (0)
Just one substitute appearance in the Championship for the most baffling Watford player on Twitter, Buaben`s Hornet`s career has been one injury niggle after another.
Beset by injury last term and this, Buaben made his long-awaited comeback as a substitute at Hull City and the Ghanaian is another who, on paper, would be comfortable as a ball-playing central midfielder in Zola`s side.
Unfortunately the reality is that the former Dundee United man has yet to put together a run of games and with his contract up, his future is away from Vicarage Road.
wfc123: Injury is hardly his fault; no score.
22. Almen Abdi: 36 + 2 (12)
Deservedly the recipient of the club`s Player of the Season award, Abdi has been a revelation in the centre of midfield. Clearly a cut above most of his peers since day one, his fitness levels held him back early on but since then, he has reached a level which suggests he can play at a much higher level.
And no way too, this is a man who has played in the Champions League and Europa League for Udinese. There`s little else we can say about him that hasn`t been said already, but the Swiss genuinely does glide through matches with grace and calm, steering the Hornet`s midfield like the captain of a vast ship.
With 13 assists to his name as well as the 12 goals – some of which were absolutely sublime – he has set high standards for himself going forward. Hopefully those are standards he will aim to re-produce in WD18 next term.
One last thing: how on earth does he not get in the Swiss international side more frequently? Former Zebrette teammate Gokhan Inler aside, are there seriously any finer central midfielders eligible for the nation of chocolate and cheese?!
“Voted the fans` Player of the Season and my personal choice too. When Abdi plays well Watford play well, that is perhaps the best way to showcase his ability and importance to the side. Can count on one hand the number of times he has played badly this season and also the number of times he has cheaply surrendered possession.”
28. Connor Smith: 2 + 5 (0)
Yet another sign that Watford have not given up on their academy since the Pozzo family`s takeover, it`s been a bitter-sweet season for Smith, who broke into the side before spending the second half of the campaign injured.
A surprise inclusion in Zola`s matchday squads early in the campaign, Smith looked at home in the centre of the Hornet`s midfield before a knee problem spelled the end of his season.
Another play to be awarded a long-term deal, next season will be about picking up where he left off earlier in the season.
wfc123: 7/10 – based on his unexpected progress.
“His knee injury over Christmas really came at a bad time for Smith who in previous weeks had just broken regularly into first team squads and started a couple of matches. Looks to be an all action midfielder who isn’t afraid of a tackle. High hopes for him during the next campaign.”
37. Geoffrey Mujangi Bia: 0 + 3 (0)
Arrived on-loan from Belgian side Standard Liege to much hype and hope, but ultimately, that was all it was.
The former Wolves loanee made just one start in a thoroughly disappointing season – against Bradford in the Capital One Cup – where he looked decent, if not some way off the finished product.
Whether or not the system change did for the winger-cum-forward is one theory, but Anya certainly adapted and Yeates re-invented himself in the side as a central midfielder, so that excuse holds little water for me.
Watford hold the option to purchase Mujangi Bia permanently, but it looks like one they are highly unlikely to take up.
38. Cristian Battocchio: 15 + 7 (2)
Much like Anya, the diminutive Italian was scarcely involved in the matchday squad for the first half of the season and his league numbers alone don`t make desperately impressive reading. Nor do they tell the entire story.
The 21 year-old made just his second start at Middlesbrough in January and from there held his place in the starting XI through until virtually the end of the season when Hogg took his place in the side back.
Comfortable on the ball but tenacious off it, the Rosario-born midfielder shows all the fight and ‘street` attributes of a young player raised in a Latin country. Much like Fernando Forestieri, Battocchio uses his low centre of gravity to his advantage in weaving his way out of tricky situations.
If there`s one passage of play which exemplifies what Battocchio brings to the side it was the breakaway for the second goal at Nottingham Forest. Battocchio won the ball out on the touchline after a Forest attack, got up, spread the play and the Hornets scored.
A good alternative to Hogg in the centre of midfield, the Italy U20 cap moves the ball much quicker but has been known to have the odd off-day also. Hopefully someone we will see back next season.
“Took a while for Battocchio to establish himself in the first team but became a main fixture of the squad during the second half of the season. He stepped seamlessly into the defensive midfield position and immediately showcased the ability to succeed in the championship with the tenacity and ability to put pressure on the ball. Very comfortable on the ball and has a good ability to set off attacks and has chipped in with a couple of goals too.”
39: Nathaniel Chalobah: 34 + 4 (5)
Initially signed on-loan until the New Year, the highly-rated Chelsea youngster arrived with without a single professional appearance under his belt. That all changed very quickly at the stylish central midfielder quickly established himself as an integral component of the midfield.
At time early on during his loan stay it was easy to forget that Chalobah was just 17, but then he had always been an early bloomer, turning out for England`s U16s at just 14.
He was running on fumes in the final weeks of the season, but that`s forgivable and hardly surprising considering his relative age and experience. In spite of that, he still managed to provide one of the highlights of the season when he cracked home an instinctive first-time strike against Leicester City at the end of April.
Oh, and he tried to dye his hair yellow for the Watford supporters, what a thoroughly nice young man!
Gangly but graceful, languid but effective, the Sierra Leone-born England U21 cap is a Chelsea regular in the waiting; though his quest for first-team football at Stamford Bridge will not have been helped by Jose Mourinho`s re-appointment.
A loan move to a Premier League outfit beckons if Chalobah is to continue his development.
“Arrived initially on loan until January in September but immediately became a key cog in the midfield wheel showing himself to be equally adept at the defensive and attacking side of the game. Hit his best form over the Christmas period and early 2013 before time perhaps catching up with him, playing week in week out at such a young age. Formed a formidable midfield partnership with Jonathan Hogg and Almen Abdi and provided one of the goals of the season with his wonder strike at Leicester in April.”
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