Watford enjoyed a solid return to the top flight last season under Quique Sanchez Flores, finishing in a very respectable 13th position. And they’ve made a decent start this time around, sitting just outside of the top ten on goal difference under new manager Walter Mazzarri. The Hornets are still adapting to the Italian’s style of play but have shown signs of their quality on numerous occasions this season. Elton John’s favourite team lost to Manchester City last time out, but the result could have been a whole lot different had Odion Ighalo converted a great close-range opportunity. They’re not great away from home, but are likely to view this as the perfect fixture to remedy that. Sunderland, meanwhile, will also be targeting this game to pick up a much-needed win.
Mazzarri has mostly favoured multiple variations of a three man defence system this season but chose to play with a 4-3-3 against Manchester City on Wednesday. Watford were toothless for the most part but are likely to see more chances come their way against Sunderland, so sticking with a 4-3-3 wouldn’t be surprising.
Like many 4-3-3 systems, the ideas are pretty simple. Starting from the front, Troy Deeney will likely be employed as a target man; expected to hold the ball up for the supporting wingers, likely to be Nordin Amrabat and Isaac Success, and the marauding midfielder Etienne Capoue. Amrabat tends to be an ‘outside’ kind of winger, looking to hit the byline and get the ball into the middle. Success, on the other hand, tends to look to cut inside onto his stronger right foot and link with Deeney to create more favourable attacking angles. This opens up space for left back Jose Holebas to run into. The Greek international needs no invitation to get forward and has been a consistent source of creativity for Watford, registering two goals and three assists. On the other wing, Daryl Janmaat will also look to support Amrabat and drive inwards.
Watford’s midfield is more workmanlike than creative, particularly with Roberto Pereyra out through injury. The trio of Capoue, Ben Watson and Adlene Guediora are all handy on the ball and tough in the tackle, but they’re really set up to protect the defence rather than affect the game offensively. Of course, Capoue has registered five goals this season (two more than any other Watford player) and looks to get forward to support the attackers often, but 80% of his goals came at the beginning of the season and his effectiveness in that regard has dwindled recently.
Watford tend to play on the counter-attack, sitting deeper and looking to turn defence into attack quickly with their pace on the wings.
Watford are a combative and physical side. They concede a league high 14.7 fouls per game, but are also fouled 12.6 times per game. They also make 16.9 tackles and 14.6 interceptions per game. They’re busy and not afraid to get stuck in.
Watford are pretty efficient when it comes to taking their chances, scoring 20 goals (plus one own goal) from just 61 shots on target - or 33% of their shots on target. 18 of those have come from inside of the penalty area - they’re definitely a threat in that regard, especially considering that 23 of the 28 goals conceded by Sunderland have come from inside the area.
They’re also one of the better dribbling teams in the league, completing 64% of those attempted.
Conceding goals. Watford have allowed 28 so far this season - only four teams have allowed more. 24 of those have come inside the penalty area. Oddly, just 49% of the shots faced by Watford are allowed in their penalty area (only three teams fare better in that regard), which suggests that their 18-yard-box defending isn’t great at all. Jermain Defoe comes alive in the opposition box - this could be a great opportunity for him to add to his tally.
Watford have conceded ten headed goals despite winning an impressive 19 aerial duels per game. They’ve also conceded ten goals from set pieces. Although Jan Kirchhoff got lucky against Leicester, Sunderland need that kind of delivery and movement to capitalise upon this on Saturday.
They’re also not great on their travels, conceding 16 goals away from Vicarage Road. And it’s not much of a surprise considering that they give up 16 shots per game on the road.
Key Player - Nordin Amrabat
The Moroccan international has played all over for Watford this season, but he’s undoubtedly looked his best on the right wing and will fancy his chances against Patrick van Aanholt. He’s yet to score for Watford in the Premier League, but has registered three assists this season and remains a consistent attacking threat - it was his inch-perfect ball that Ighalo smashed over the bar against City on Wednesday. Amrabat leads the Hornets in dribbles (2.6) and key passes (1.3) per game while being fouled 1.9 times per game. He can be a tricky customer.
How Can Sunderland Beat Them?
It sounds obvious, but Sunderland need to get the ball in and around the Watford box - that’s where they concede the majority of their goals. Defoe is a master of finding space - if Sunderland can get the ball to him in this area then he has a great chance of scoring, particularly against Watford’s strong but lumbering centre backs.
Watford’s attackers are struggling to score goals. Deeney, in particular, is experiencing a lean spell. Diego Costa was largely kept at bay on Wednesday - Sunderland need to keep Deeney isolated from his supporting players. Watford are strong at attacking down the wings - it’s important for Sunderland’s forwards to restrict Watford’s full backs from advancing, therefore forcing them into the middle of the pitch where they lack creativity.
- Sunderland have only failed to score in three of their previous 36 league meetings with Watford
- Watford have lost three of their last four games at the Stadium of Light
- Jermain Defoe has never scored against Watford in the Premier League
- Watford took 33 shots against Sunderland last season - more than they did against any other team
- Watford have lost their last three league away games