Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The story so far

Uniquely in my 46 years of supporting Watford, I’ve seen all eight games so far this season live – seven of them in person, while I watched Burnley on Sky Sports (and boy, I wish I hadn’t). So I feel as qualified as anyone to make a few observations on our season so far, as we head into the second international break.

Walter Mazzarri doesn’t like making team changes...
He really doesn’t. As far as I can work out, every single change he’s made to the starting line-up (omitting the League Cup game against Gillingham, obviously) has been enforced by an injury or a suspension, apart from those he made at West Ham. That was the first match after the transfer window closed, and he immediately selected his marquee signings; Janmaat came in for Amrabat and Pereyra for Guedioura. That aside, once you’re in the starting XI, it appears that you’re there for good.

... which is bad news for Isaac Success...
After a series of steadily longer and more impressive cameos, Success scored a fabulous first goal against Bournemouth. The clamour for him to be given the chance to show what he can do for the full 90 minutes is growing, but I suspect we may have to wait a while longer. Mazzarri has been making noises about Success needing to add defensive capabilities to his game, and what with that and the injury that’s caused him to pull out of the Nigeria squad this week, I wouldn’t put any money on him starting against Middlesbrough.

... but good news for Odion Ighalo
For what it’s worth, if he’s fit, I think Success should come in for Ighalo for the next match. We can all see that Iggy isn’t right, and hasn’t been for six months now. It’s not that he’s not trying his best, but there’s something missing, that crucial 10% that made him such a lethal striker for the first half of last season. His hold-up play is poor, every shot he takes is scuffed or misdirected (the goal at West Ham needed a deflection to go in), and he continues to fail to pass to better-placed teammates far too often.

You don’t have to be an amateur psychologist to hypothesise that this is all linked to the illness, and subsequent death, of his father. Grief affects people in different ways; in Iggy’s case, it seems to have robbed him of his spark. I’d suggest it would be better for all concerned if someone else led the line for a while, and he could try to rediscover that spark as an impact substitute.

Swings and roundabouts
This time last year, we were all worrying about how Watford were going to score enough goals to win matches, while congratulating Quique Flores on the defensive discipline he’d so quickly instilled. Then, when we did start scoring, we fretted about the fact that almost every goal was being scored by Deeney or Ighalo.

No worries on that front any more; eight games in and we’ve already had seven different scorers. We’ve scored in all but one of those games, too. What we haven’t managed is a clean sheet. In particular, our propensity to concede goals from crosses is worrying; I liked the line in the Guardian on Friday, to the effect that our wing-backs clearly haven’t got to grips with the ‘back’ part of their job description. Maybe Brice Dja Djédjé will help to remedy that, if we ever get to see him in action.

If nothing else, the gulf in approach between Flores and Mazzarri proves that the Pozzos don’t have a ‘type’ when it comes to Head Coaches. Given a choice, though, I’d opt for the Mazzarri way, as I suspect most Watford fans would. This already looks like being a lot more fun than last season was.

Whatever happened to nippy little strikers?
When it comes to signing forwards, one thing is clear: the Pozzos like ’em big. Since winning promotion we’ve signed Oularé, Success and Okaka, all of them huge, strapping blokes. (Watching Okaka’s entertaining cameo at West Ham, I was unavoidably reminded of Devon White.) The not particularly small Ighalo looks puny by comparison, and I suspect Jerome Sinclair won’t get near the first team until he beefs up a bit.

This all promises further entertainment for Watford fans, and I would love to see us field a three-man front line of Deeney, Success and Okaka, just for the looks on the opposition’s faces. Is there still a place for the small, speedy striker in the modern game? Not at Watford, on the face of it.

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