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Scout Report: Watford - Hornets lacking sting as they start to look over their shoulder

Watford's form has been miserable since the sides last met, but can a desperate Sunderland take advantage?

Sunderland v Watford - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

What Has Happened Since The Last Time They Met? (1-0, 17/12/2016)

If the season started on the day of the last meeting between the sides, Watford would find themselves in 18th place with just 10 points from 12 games. Thankfully for them, it didn't, and The Hornets find themselves on 31 points in 14th place.

But things are far from rosy at Vicarage Road, and many fans are beginning to look over their shoulder at the relegation zone. Former Napoli and Inter head coach Walter Mazzarri was brought in to build on Quique Sanchez Flores' 13th place finish, but things haven't really gone to plan for him. The fans are having a tough time warming to the Italian, with many hoping that he is relieved of his duties in the summer. Their feeble showing at Crystal Palace last time out appears to have been the straw that broke the camel's back for many supporters. But can Sunderland take advantage?


Tactics

It comes across on the pitch that The Hornets have little game plan. The players look lost and don’t know what to do and that is plainly obvious to those in the stands.

Bradley Hayden, Watford support in the Watford Observer

The main source of criticism from Watford supporters is that their team continually hoof the ball forwards and bypass the midfield. Sound familiar? Mazzarri appears to have done little to inspire change, so we'd expect them to do the same on Saturday. The Hornets hit 73 long balls per game, the league's 6th highest total, with one in every five pass attempts going long. Younes Kaboul, Miguel Britos and Sebastian Prodl all attempt more than seven per game.

Watford's midfield is set up prevent, rather than create. Etienne Capoue enjoyed initial success when pushed forward earlier in the season, but has been dropped deeper alongside Valon Behrami and Tom Cleverley. They all fulfill a similar function, with little creativity or attacking drive coming from the middle area. As a result, the ball is often returned to the defence who simply lump it forward - rinse and repeat.

Crystal Palace v Watford - Premier League Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

In attack, Troy Deeney often finds himself isolated. And while he relishes a physical challenge, winning an impressive 5.8 aerial duels per game, there's rarely enough support to take advantage. Abdoulaye Doucoure, who fans admit at least attempts to drive forward from midfield, has been relegated to the bench, while the speedy Isaac Success has been starved of game time. As a result, 46% of Watford's efforts have come from outside of the box, which represents the 2nd highest percentage in the league.

Watford's most likely chance of success is down the left hand side. 39% of their attacks, the highest amount in the league, come down the left, with full back Jose Holebas registering two goals and four assists from this area.

Mazzarri has seemed unsure of how to set his side up all season long, with the team switching from 4-4-2, to 4-3-3, to 3-5-2 and a whole host of variants. They've lined up in a 4-3-3 in four of their last five games however, so you'd assume that he views this as their best hope of achieving the results to ensure a third straight Premier League season. You never truly know with Watford though.


Strengths

Watford have shown a knack for starting games quickly, having netted nine times in the opening 30 minutes, with a joint league high eight coming in the opening 15 minutes. They've also shown a level of resiliency at times, coming from behind to salvage points on four occasions.

Middlesbrough v Watford - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Their likely line-up will see them stand 5cm taller than Sunderland on average, and they make good use of the height in their side, winning 20.3 aerial duels per game - the 5th best average in the league. They also pose a considerable threat from set-pieces, with 12 goals scored from those situations.

In defence, they average a more than respectable 14.1 interceptions. 3.3 cross blocks and 3.4 shot blocks per game.


Weaknesses

While Watford have shown an ability to come from behind, they've also demonstrated a knack for cocking things up having thrown away five leads. This is just one of their Jekyll and Hyde traits, as despite their aerial and set-piece prowess, they've actually conceded 11 goals from both headers (which represents the joint 2nd worst record in the league) and set-pieces.

With 48 goals conceded, Watford own one of the league's leakiest defences. It's not much of a surprise considering that they allow 14 shots per game. With 3.1 saves per game, the 6th highest average in the league, Heurelho Gomes seems overworked. Five defensive errors that have led to goals have hardly helped.

At the other end, they manage just 10.8 shots per game, with just 3.7 hitting the target.

West Bromwich Albion v Watford - Premier League Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

While Watford rank favourably in terms of interceptions made, their average of 16.1 tackles per game is the league's 4th worst. They make the league's most fouls with 14.5 per game, so it's no surprise that they own the league's worst disciplinary record with 70 yellow and three red cards.


Key Player - Troy Deeney

After initially struggling for consistency this season, the Watford captain and talisman has burst into life in recent months. Deeney has scored five goals in his last seven league games, and six in his last 11, including the effort that saw The Hornets earn a first top flight win over Arsenal since 1988.

Watford v West Ham United - Premier League Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

The former Walsall man, who scored his 100th goal for the club earlier in the season, poses a real threat to any defence with his physicality and hold-up play. His average of 5.8 aerial duels won per game far exceeds any of his teammates, and Sunderland's back-line can expect a real battle on Saturday. But he needs support. If Sunderland can isolate Deeney and starve him of support, they'll have a much greater chance of leaving Vicarage Road with a victory.


Match Facts

  • Watford have won just three games since the beginning of December;
  • Watford have won just one of their previous five Premier League meetings with Sunderland;
  • Sunderland have failed to score in six of their last seven games;
  • Sunderland have failed to score in seven of their last 11 away league games;
  • There have been at least four goals in three of the last four meetings between the sides at Vicarage Road;
  • Sunderland have only failed to score in three of their previous 37 league meetings with Watford;
  • Jermain Defoe is yet to score against Watford in the Premier League

Likely Line-Up

Watford - Football tactics and formations