Following a protracted takeover in the summer, Watford have new owners, 14 new players and a new manager (sound familiar?) — so far it’s clicking in to place. David Cameron Walker of the We Are Going Up! podcast tells us what to expect from the home side…
What are your expectations for 2012-13 after the Pozzo takeover in the summer?
Expectation: a word that strikes fear into my heart. Whenever there is the slightest hint of expectation at Watford we invariably implode. With that in mind I’m pleased to report that many fans allowed themselves only the most cautious notion of optimism this summer as the turbulent winds of change blew through Vicarage Road.
These sentiments are echoed by the hierarchy themselves, with both owners and manager alike stressing that instant gratification is not the order of the day. Gianfranco Zola has said that this will be a season of discovery as the Pozzo Project learns to swim in unchartered waters but next year he expects to be challenging for the title.
A clever way of taking pressure off himself and his players that masks a greater ambition? Perhaps. Recent form suggests play-offs aren’t necessarily, albeit along with more than half the division, beyond us, but we’ve learnt the hard way more than once that you can be promoted too soon. A top 10 finish, or perhaps even a character building failure in the play-offs, will do just fine for now.
What’s the fans’ general opinion of Gianfranco Zola?
After initial trepidation surrounding his arrival, Gianfranco has since endeared himself to the Vicarage Road faithful. Finding himself in the unusual position of replacing a manager, in Sean Dyche, who had achieved our highest league finish for four years and was popular with the fans, Zola showed admirable humility upon his arrival and acknowledged that it may take time to gain the trust of the supporters. As it happens it hasn’t taken that long at all to gain said trust; a healthy relationship with the fans has developed, helped in no small part by steady progression on the field that culminated in an unbeaten November. The fans can see that Zola is trying to play an attractive brand of possession-based football without being naive to the physical demands of the Championship and, perhaps the biggest sign of his progress, no one is mentioning him in the same breath as the disastrous Gianluca Vialli anymore.
Have there been many changes since last season?
Where to begin? The Pozzo family bought the club from the largely mistrusted and since discredited Laurence Bassini; memories of the Vialli Experiment came flooding back when a famous Italian manager replaced a popular incumbent; a decidedly cosmopolitan bunch of loan players jetted in from sibling clubs Udinese and Granada; and, of course, no summer would be complete as a Watford fan without seeing our best player leave in search of bigger and better things – Adrian Mariappa being the latest home grown talent to fly from the Hornet’s nest as he completed a £2.5 million move to Premier League newboys Reading.
Make no mistake, the summer saw the entire club change from top to bottom. For some the speed and nature of the changes were, initially at least, too much to bear. Others, however, happily bought into the optimistic words of the Pozzos – who said that they were here to deliver long-term financial stability, a continued focus on producing youth players for the first team, a club that knows its place is at the heart of the community and, well, a shed load of players that haven’t played that many games for Udinese or Granada; 14 to be precise.
One cannot talk about the Pozzos without confronting the scepticism by some fans and those in the media (step forward, Martin Samuel) who have said that the club is in danger of losing its soul. A legitimate concern at the outset, however, anyone who was present at the recent fans forum — where Zola, chief executive Scott Duxbury, director of football Gianluca Nani and club captain John Eustace displayed impressive levels of empathy for the fans concerns — will be left in no doubt that those in charge are committed to keeping the family club ethos at the heart of everything it does.
What can we expect tactically?
Watford’s recent run of good form has coincided with Zola finally finding a system that suits his players and philosophy – namely a 3-5-2 with wing-backs Daniel Pudil and Marco Casetti providing width and defensive cover in equal measure.
Zola wants his team to retain the ball whilst moving the opposing team out of position with a quick-tempo to our passing. When we click we can be unplayable, as many people in Yorkshire will testify after we plundered a combined 14 goals against Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley this season, the latter of which saw Keith Hill declare as us the best side he’s come up against this term.
The central midfield trio of the tenacious Jonathan Hogg, the mature-beyond-his-17-years Nathaniel Chalobah (on loan from Chelsea) and stylish Swiss playmaker Almen Abdi will likely be the three tasked with controlling the play from the middle of the park, and sliding through passes for accomplished finishers such as Matej Vydra or Alex Geijo to latch on to.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
A man bang in form at the moment is Troy Deeney, repentant and full of renewed vigour following his release from prison, he provides tireless hard work and a poachers instinct. Nine goals, including seven in his last eight, have strengthened his case for an automatic starting spot.
Italian-Argentine Fernando Forestieri has proved something of an enigma thus far; he’s used his lightning quick feet to devastating effect at times but, sadly, has also displayed a frustrating penchant for hitting the deck when he could easily use his skill to bamboozle opponents instead — the low point of such behaviour resulting in an early bath at Charlton. He’s sat out the last two games with an injury but if he’s fit I expect him to be recalled as we’ve missed a creative spark in his absence, particularly in the home defeat against Hull two weeks ago.
A more than honourable mention should also go to Mark Yeates who has ably deputised in recent weeks for Abdi. Yeates is a player that found himself out of favour under Dyche towards the end of last season but this term he’s been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the focus on a more technical approach from the new regime. Though he may not start this weekend, the confidence he’s shown whenever called upon this season could mean he has something to offer from the bench.
What’s going to happen on Saturday?
It will be interesting to see how Zola’s bunch of passing-merchants fare against a man in Sean O’Driscoll who has built his reputation on being a purveyor of the beautiful game. Not having seen Forest play this season, I don’t know just how far SOD has gone in transforming the style to the men from the City Ground, but nevertheless a clash of styles this is unlikely to be.
Beware Watford taking the lead as we’ve taken 76% of our points this season from winning positions. Forest’s defence is sure to be in for a busy afternoon as we’ve taken on average 15.4 shots per home game, the second highest in the league.
This attacking verve has also proved the best form of defence for the Hornets as we have the third tightest home defence in the league – it takes on average 11.6 shots to score against us at the Vic, so bring your shooting boots lads! (More where those stats came from in the excellent 20-game report from Experimental361.com)
However, Forest have scored more equalisers than any other Football League side this season, and somewhat unusually have a more potent attack away from home. With six draws on the road this season, they may fancy their chances of making that seven and returning up the M1 with a valuable point.
The optimist in me hopes for a performance reminiscent of when Tom Cleverley, Danny Graham and Tommy Smith ran riot at the City Ground in August 2009. If Forestieri is fit enough to start, he along with Abdi and Deeney could do just that. Come On You ‘Orns!
Follow David on Twitter: @D_C_W
Image: By Brakspear at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons