Watford’s losing blip is spiralling into an alarming trend

Updated: 25/11/2023

Watford have made a touching habit of not waiting for a crisis to force their hand when it comes to managerial changes, easing a clutch of competent, likable bosses quietly out the door for sometimes no more apparent reason than shaking the dust.

Slavisa Jokanovic steered the club into the Premier League after an eight-year absence in 2015 – the only thing the Hornets’ Italian owners asked of him during his brief tenure – but was dispensed with before the champagne had dried on the Vicarage Road pitch. Since then, Quique Sanchez Flores, Walter Mazzarri and Marco Silva have been chucked whilst the going was good, but each time the infusion of new blood seemed to galvanise, refreshing the football, steadying the club in the top flight and ratcheting up expectations.

Perhaps that has contributed to the wretched start to the new season that has left the club anchored to the bottom of the Premier League – winless, point-less and before Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to West Ham goalless – and with manager Javi Gracia, who took the club to its first FA Cup final in 34 years just months ago, facing a compromised future if things don’t improve.

Those three losses haven’t been spectacular. Results aside, they haven’t even been particularly bad. Against West Ham they had more of the ball, passed it better and out-tackled their opponents. They did not look afraid to shoot, registering more efforts on goal than in their previous two games combined, though they were mostly off target. And until a nine-minute spell in the second half when they were undone by two goals from the Hammers’ £45m man Sebastien Haller they looked suitably comfortable to have had designs on beating West Ham.

Alarming winless run

It’s just that some of the numbers are becoming alarming. The team have now lost four in a row at home for the first time since 2013. They have not won at all since 20 April when they were seventh, during which time they have lost six out of seven in the league and let Manchester City wipe the floor with them in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

Watford’s last eight results

Watford 1-1 Southampton

Watford 1-2 Wolves

Chelsea 3-0 Watford

Watford 1-4 West Ham

Manchester City 6-0 Watford (FA Cup final)

Watford 0-3 Brighton

Everton 1-0 Watford

Watford 1-3 West Ham

Qualitatively, not much has changed from they heady days of spring 2019 when the team flirted with the top half. On Saturday, Gerard Deulofeu was spritely and showed interest – even though his wild, ballooned finish over the bar at 1-0 down was axiomatic of the Hornets’ wastefulness in the penalty area – and their goal when it came from Andre Gray, gifted to him by a weighted through ball by Will Hughes, was a sweet reminder that Watford can pass, move and finish with the best of them. Yet when Gray looked to return the favour to his teammate in the second half, Hughes thumped over the bar from barely a yard out. Gracia couldn’t watch, staring down at the ground with a grimace.

Sebastien Haller’s two goals at Vicarage Road for West Ham left Watford bottom of the league

“We had 23 shots (against West Ham) and we only put three on target,” said Gracia. “We need to improve and be more precise and more clinical. But we need to defend better from set pieces and in all the different phases of play we need to improve.”

Maybe they just expect more at Watford these days. What they do not expect, is for usually reliable performers like Abdoulaye Doucoure to be caught standing and watching inside his own penalty area, as he was when Haller stole in front to give the visitors the lead at 2-1. Teams have passed the ball more beautifully than Watford and still gone down, and talented but distracted players like Doucoure not doing their defensive box-ticking is usually why.

Against West Ham, the Hornets simply got more wrong than they did right, but it is a blip that is spiraling into a trend and Gino Pozzo is unlikely to allow it to continue. There is talk that defeat to Coventry City in the EFL Cup on Tuesday night will trigger crisis talks in the Vicarage Road board room.

This post first appeared here

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