RR: There was another managerial change in the summer and it's still not particularly hindering The Hornets - what have you made of Walter Mazzarri so far?
MP: Quique Sanchez Flores was popular amongst Hornets fans, but there can be no denying that he was seemingly unable to halt an alarming dip in form after Christmas last term. One of the main complaints against the Spaniard was his inability or refusal to make changes or mix up his tactics; Walter Mazzarri has already shown himself to be adaptable.
He certainly has a favoured formation, but isn’t afraid to mix it up and to spring the occasional surprise. There have been a number of lacklustre displays which have lead to a few questions about the Head Coach and his ability to get consistent performances from an undeniably talented squad, but largely speaking he’s proving popular. His approval rating would skyrocket if he could see his way clear to speaking English in his interviews, but as a man with a limited Italian vocabulary, I’m not going to complain too much.
RR: It still breaks my heart that you have Younes Kaboul. I hope you're showing him the kind of love he deserves. How's he been getting on since his arrival?
MP: Sorry to hear that you’re still missing the big man, but hopefully it will be of some comfort to learn that he has settled in magnificently at his new home. He’s been in and out of the team as a result of injury, but when he’s taken to the field he’s performed admirably. Personally I like the fact that he is just as likely to pop up in the opposition half as he is in his own - some of his performances have been all action to say the least.
He has Premier League experience which in a squad as varied as Watford’s is important and it seems as though he is already established as an important member of the dressing room. Here’s hoping he is able to provide Walter Mazzarri and the boys with a few hints and tips regarding his former employers.
RR: How do you see your season going overall? You weren't in any relegation trouble last season so would another mid-table finish be okay or are you setting your sights a bit higher?
MP: Staying in the division is definitely the sole aim, but doing it with a bit more style would certainly be welcome. The plan at Vicarage Road is to ensure Watford establish themselves in the division before looking to kick on, and we’re definitely making sure we can walk before we attempt to run. We’re looking relatively comfortable in mid-table at the moment, but there have been plenty of average performances along the way and we’ve lost four of our last six. There’s still plenty to do.
If we were to finish in our current position of eleventh, the majority of those connected with Watford would, I think, be delighted.
RR: Any memories of past visits to The Stadium of Light/Roker Park?
MP: In terms of the Stadium of Light, the FA Cup 5th round tie in 2003 springs to mind, primarily because Watford’s sole goal came from a retaken Tommy Smith penalty. That was a good win at a time there wasn’t much to cheer as a fan of the Hornets.
My only visit to Roker Park was actually with my School who had progressed to the Final of the National Cup. The game ended up as a draw, but it sticks in the memory as a group of local supporters had congregated at the exit in an apparent bid to have a crack at us Southern softies! We were kept in the ground for half an hour afterwards whilst the angry mob was dispersed. We were fifteen and it was all rather exhilarating.
RR: Which Sunderland player(s) do you worry about the most as you head into the match?
MP: Defoe is the obvious answer and considering a number of our defenders love a rash challenge, his quick feet should mean that betting on a Sunderland penalty is a sensible move. In all honesty there aren’t many names amongst the Black Cats squad that will keep me awake with excitement, but it’s been good to see the development of Jordan Pickford.
RR: Who should Sunderland fans be worried about in the Watford side? Anyone in a nice run of form?
MP: Central defender Sebastian Prodl is in excellent form and is vital to our back line. It’s a definite case of "no Prodl, no party" at the moment. Etienne Capoue could play for anyone in the Premier League on his day, but sadly his day seems to roll round once a month. Isaac Success is as much fun as his name suggests, although he’s unlikely to feature from the start. Nordin Amrabat is continuing to go from strength to strength down the right flank, delighting Watford fans with his ability to beat most defenders. Unfortunately he also delights most opposition fans with his inability to put in a decent final ball, but he’s caught the eye nonetheless.
RR: How do you think Mazzarri will set you up and how will he approach the game?
MP: 3-5-2 is Mazzarri’s favoured formation, although it does tend to be a quite fluid approach. Jose Holebas and Daryl Janmaat operate as wing backs who love to get forward, with Valon Behrami doing the hard yards in midfield, allowing Capoue and Pereyra to flex their creative muscle. Everyone knows what you get from Troy Deeney, but it’s unclear who will partner him up front at the Stadium of Light.
RR: Let's have a score prediction...
MP: Watford will want to put a slightly disappointing performance at the Etihad behind them, whist Sunderland will undoubtedly have this one earmarked as a big opportunity for three points. There is pressure on both sides and I suspect it will show. Get your pocket money on a 1-1 draw.