Everything you need to know about Middlesbrough's upcoming opponent Watford
Just two days have lapsed since Middlesbrough were defeated by Bournemouth and they are set to face another difficult fixture as they host Watford. Neil Warnock recognised the difficulty of the fixture during the Bournemouth post-match interview as he stated he was going to find ’10 defenders’ in an attempt to get anything out of the game. Middlesbrough could certainly do with gaining something out of the upcoming fixture but the fans primary focus will be on seeing if the side can improve on their far from ideal performance last time out as even the most optimistic fans recognise the uphill battle that the side is going to face when they lineup against the Hornets.
Lining up against the Boro, Watford come into the game on very impressive form as their most recent run has made them the bookies favourite for the second automatic promotion position. Understandably too, as the sides promotion sits solely within their hands and their recent form indicates that they won’t let up and allow Swansea or Brentford to stake a claim for the position. It is hardly a surprise that Watford have found themselves in this position after the side managed to retain many of their premier league level players including Ismalia Sarr, João Pedro and Will Hughes. This was a massive risk as the financial outlay to retain such players, particularly in the midst of a pandemic, is considerable and failure to get promoted at the first time of asking may position the side in a more problematic position than that they found themselves in shortly after relegation. This should prove to be extra motivation for Watford and their players as the future of a number of these players will be cast into doubt if they do not get promoted.
Season So Far:
Second place is not a bad position to be in with just 7 fixtures to go as it puts the side in poll position for automatic promotion even though the sides beneath them hold a game in hand as it will take a Hornet’s slip up to allow either side the opportunity to stake a claim for promotion. Watford has 72 points from 39 fixtures, or 1.8 ppg (points per game) and if the side is to continue in this fashion then the Hornets are set to end the season on 84 points, one point more than West Brom’s point haul that saw them promoted into the Premier League; setting the side in good stead coming into the final stretch of the season.
Positivity for the side does not end here though as the London based side also has the best goal difference in the league amassing +30 goals that may prove to be vital should the race for 2nd place become a tight one. This success was largely due to a impressive defence that has seem the side concede just 26 goals in 39 appearances, a very impressive 0.66 goals per game, to put this into perspective, Swansea City, who have been highly praised for their defensive displays, has performed at an average of 0.78 goals conceded per game showing that Watford’s defence is superior. This is supported by the sides offensive talents too as they have managed to coup 56 goals in 39 appearances or 1.4 goals per game. This gives Watford a positive goal difference of 0.77 per game. This indicates that Watford is in good stead to maintain and even improve this goal difference which may prove to be key in the latter stages of the game.
Form: W W W W W
To make matters worse for Middlesbrough, Watford are currently in impressive form as they won all of their last 5 fixtures. This return of maximum points and three points per game on average proves that this is currently a bad time to face the Hornets. Yet there may be a slight chink in this impressive armour that Middlesbrough may be able to exploit.
These last 5 victories did come against weaker opponents with Cardiff City (2-1) being the most difficult fixture in recent weeks as they have convincingly beaten 16th placed Nottingham Forest, 22nd placed Rotherham United, 20th placed Birmingham City, 23rd placed Sheffield United; as such it would be interesting to see how they may fair against stronger opposition. Yet you can only beat the side that is put in front of you and Watford has done this time and again in recent fixtures.
The Hornets have been particularly prolific during this period too finding the net a total of 11 times over these last 5 games, or 2.2 goals per game, showing that Middlesbrough should expect to face a side that has been capable of finding the back of the net in recent weeks. Likewise, the side has only conceded 2 goals during this period, or 0.4 goals per game showing that their defence has been going through a particularly impressive stint in recent weeks.
A chink in the armour? You have to go back to the 27th February to find the sides last defeat; a 1-0 loss away at Bournemouth. There were to important lessons that can be taken away from this fixture that can be applied to the upcoming fixture.
The game was held away from home: Watford’s home form has been nothing short of impressive as they sit top of the home form table but the same cannot be said for their form away from home. This table places them in 7th place, beneath the playoffs and in a position where they would be competing for a playoff position rather than an automatic spot. This gap between their home and away from was emphasised against Bournemouth as once again it was a fixture away from home that lead to a temporary interruption in their impressive run of form. Middlesbrough will be looking towards Watford’s limited form away from home as motivation to overturn the result as the underdogs.
Constant attacking threat: Watford were also handicapped in the latter stages of this fixture as a frustrated João Pedro was sent off in the 90+6 minute, the only red card of Watford’s season so far. This is not to encourage Middlesbrough defenders in provoking Pedro as one of the few Watford players with a potential temperament issue, but to consider how Pedro was brought into a position where he was sent off. Bournemouth’s defence did an excellent job of marshalling the 9 goal forward and as such he barely mustered a shot frustrating him and blunting Watford’s attacking sword. If Middlesbrough can do a similar number on Watfords offensive trio then it would go a long way to some measure of success as much of the sides great defensive record is predicated on the attackers offering a constant threat.
Top Goalscorer: Ismalia Sarr, João Pedro (9)
Most Assists: Ismalia Sarr, Ken Sema (4)
Most Yellow Cards: Nathaniel Chalobah (10)
Most Red Cards: João Pedro (1)
One to Watch: Ismalia Sarr
It will come as a surprise to no one that a player that was once rumoured to be joining Liverpool has been highlighted for personal praise. The 23 year old has been phenomenal so far this season with 13 direct goal contributions so far this season, he always offers a threat and If he isn’t chipping in with a goal or an assist he is breaking the defensive lines and creating space for others to influence the game. Sarr is one of those players that just has something special.
He started his career in Senegal before moving to France in 2016. The free transfer saw him wear the Metz shirt for the 2016-2017 season. He made 33 appearances during his time in the North East of France, spread across 2,113 minutes or a total of 23 whole games. An impressive 2.3 games per goal contribution for Metz helped the youngster garner interest from State Rennais. The Ligue 1 side gave Metz £15m for his services which is an impressive return on a seasons worth of first team exposure.
The players upward trajectory continued during his two seasons at Rennais, becoming a key figure in the side playing a total of 6,098 minutes spread across 77 appearances, including 9 caps in the Europa League. His game per goal involvement statistics also improved during this period as he directly contributed to a goal every 2 games. This included his particularly impressive run in the Europa League where he contributed to a goal every 1.16 games and as such it is no surprise that he garnered interest from Watford.
Since arriving at Watford, Sarr has played 5,202 minutes spread across 65 appearances during this time he has had a direct goal contribution every 1.9 appearances. This is another improvement on his output in France but it is hard to consider this as a relative improvement due to the differences in league difficulty over this period whether it is from France to England or the Premier League to the Championship. Either way he has been impressive since his £27m move to the club and his potential for success in the future has certainly improved since his move to Watford.
Hot Prospect: João Pedro
Another serious young talent, João Pedro has recently burst onto the European scene for Watford and has shown that he is already a step above the Championship at just 19. The player has serious potential but only he can turn that potential into an impressive successful career and so far it appears as though he is willing to put in the work to make a success of himself.
Pedro started his career in Brazil playing one full season in Fluminese’s first team before his £3.6m move to Watford. During his time with Fluminese he played a total of 1,906 minutes spread across 28 appearances. His 0.42 direct goal contributions per game brought the interest of Watford who would bring the player to the UK for £3.6m.
Since his arrival in the UK, Pedro has played 2,611 minutes over 39 appearances, already eclipsing the amount of first team minutes he had in South America. While he has shown a slight decrease in his goal contributions, as he has made 0.41 goal contributions per game so far for Watford, this does include a period of resettlement and adjustment to a league that is foreign to the Brazilian Série A as such his time with Watford cannot be considered as anything less than a success and there is no doubt that he has every ability to continue and improve through his formative years.
Watford brought Xisco in following his run as manager of Dinamo Tbilisi. Middlesbrough will be his 21st game in charge and he broke into the double figures at Watford with a return of 2.2 points per game. He will need to maintain this form throughout the remainder of the season if he wishes to have a chance to manage in the Premier League with Watford as the hierarchy have no qualms about sacking managers. In fact, sacking managers is part of their philosophy as consider managers to be interchangeable as long as they share the same footballing philosophy as the club. So do not be surprised if the club ends up with a new manager in a not too distant future. In the meantime, Xisco is doing an impressive job for Watford and he is certainly staking a claim. to be one of Watford's few long term managers.
It is hard to see Middlesbrough succeeding, yet I am an optimist. Middlesbrough’s man-marking system may be the perfect antidote to Watfords impressive front line that may, in turn, make the opposition vulnerable. This could lead to the teams success but they will need to find a formula going forward to and a current identity crisis and Warnock’s insecurity in his offensive selections may prove to be the sides biggest sticking point going forward. If Middlesbrough are to win this then it will be thanks to a defensive masterclass and a stroke of genius from one of the talented attackers.