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Match Preview: Watford (H) - Is This A Must Win Game?

This weekend sees Sunderland look to return to winning ways against an inconsistent Watford side at the Stadium of Light - after a difficult week both off and on the pitch, will Moyes' men jump-start their season with a victory?

Sunderland v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

It has been an interesting week on Wearside to say the least. A drubbing away to Swansea last weekend followed by news we have no money, followed by news that David Moyes had no idea that we had no money; followed by a battling defeat at home to the mightily impressive Chelsea, followed by being inspired and heartbroken at the bravery of young Bradley Lowery. A real assortment of emotions.

This weekend sees the club welcome 11th placed Watford to the Stadium of Light with the hope of securing three precious points and a return to winning ways.

Our visitors have had a decent season thus far and find themselves sitting pretty in mid-table, 9 points above the relegation zone. Recent victories against Leicester and Everton have aided the Hornets’ cause, but that’s not to say that the match is a foregone conclusion.

Watford’s form this season has been erratic to say the least with six wins, seven losses and three draws to their name. Big victories over teams like Manchester United, West Ham and most recently, Everton have been tempered by painful losses away to teams like Burnley, Liverpool and West Brom. Watford are inconsistent to say the least, and that is something Sunderland should look to exploit.

Predicting which Watford side will turn up to play is a difficult task, but if the Lads can emulate their opening spell of dominance seen in the recent Leicester victory then there may be an opportunity to gain a positive result, especially considering Watford have conceded 16 goals in the opening 45 minutes of games this season. That being said, Sunderland have managed a paltry 3 goals in the opening 45 minutes of games this season, so perhaps it’s best not to expect fireworks during the first half.

One piece of encouraging news is that Watford’s prime creative outlet, Roberto Pereyra, could miss the game with a knee injury picked up against Manchester City this week.

Watford v Hull City - Premier League
Pereyra (L) and Capoue (M) are serious threats. Sunderland may be fortunate in that Pereyra may miss the game through injury.
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

A recent upswing in form had provided a brief glimmer of hope among the Sunderland fans, but ultimately after 16 games Sunderland find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table 4 points from safety.

That’s not to say that the fat lady has finished her song, though. The fight and courage shown in recent weeks has certainly demonstrated that Sunderland have the capability to battle their way across the finish line. Barring the Swansea game, we have shown top-six form over recent weeks, so hope can be taken from that alone.

Watford are without a doubt going to be a tricky opposition to overcome, yet there are a few points worth noting about their style of play. The Hornets have conceded 10 headed goals this season - the highest in the league; if Victor Anichebe is available this weekend, it may be worth considering playing him slightly more centrally, or encouraging him to take up a more central position while we are on the front foot.

The performance at home to Chelsea was encouraging, especially considering how well we frustrated one of the league’s most prevalent attacks; yet it simply won’t be good enough to sit back at home and absorb pressure from an inconsistent Watford side. The fans simply won’t allow it. David Moyes must urge his men to come out swinging in order to get the fans on-side, and to rattle a fragile Watford defence - easier said than done with such a depleted squad.

With 28 goals shipped by both sides this season, there is no doubt in my mind that the men in yellow are there for the taking. Youngsters Josh Maja and Joel Asoro may yet get the opportunity to wreak havoc from the bench, and they too must be ready to seize their opportunity.

In all, it’s a grim scene on Wearside right now with serious financial concerns, an injury list rivalling that of a major trauma unit, and having to constantly look up at those above us from the bottom of the heap. Few could be blamed for being so pessimistic, yet somehow the fans remain hopeful that once more our club can pull off yet another great escape. It might seem like madness, but that’s just part and parcel of being a Mackem.

Team News

This weekend’s task will be made all the harder with what on paper looks an excruciatingly threadbare squad.

David Moyes noted in today’s press conference that Billy Jones, Javier Manquillo, Steven Pienaar and Victor Anichebe are all still doubtful - needing late fitness tests to decide their fate.

Ouch.

To further compound our misery, Jan Kirchhoff has also been ruled out indefinitely with a knee cartilage problem, leaving the club with three senior central midfielders available for this weekend’s game. Will Wahbi Khazri be recalled and asked to sit deeper, or will Moyes look to some of the club’s younger talent? Ethan Robson and Elliot Embleton have been the names on fan’s lips, and if they are given the chance then they must grab it with both hands. Now’s the time to shine.

Predictions

Predicted XI: Pickford, PVA, Djilobodji, Kone, Love, Denayer, Larsson, Ndong, Borini, Anichebe, Defoe.

Score Prediction: I’m going to go for an overly optimistic 3-0 thrashing with goals from Defoe (2) and Joel Asoro. What’s that saying about hell freezing over?