At this early stage in the season, Watford already find themselves cut adrift at the foot of the table. The only club in the whole of the Premier League without a win and with just two points to their name (courtesy of back-to-back draws against Newcastle United and Arsenal) thus far, it’s difficult to see when the turnaround will happen for Quique Sánchez Flores’ side. Although odds on Premier League suggest they’ll beat the drop.
Just at the end of last month, they faced Wolverhampton Wanderers in a battle at the bottom and were beaten 2-0, which saw Wolves climb six places in the table from 19th to 13th in the process. As things stand, the Hornets are three points behind Newcastle United and Aston Villa and a further point off rising above the drop-zone.
Since returning to the top flight during the 2015-16 season, it has been their worst ever start to a campaign – so where has it gone wrong for the Hertfordshire club?
Last season’s slump
Despite spending the majority of the season in the top half of the table, including the dizzy heights of third-place in the early weeks of the season, Watford’s campaign ended up collapsing in dramatic fashion. With the excitement of an FA Cup final looming, their Premier League season took a total nose-dive. Following their semi-final win over Wolves in remarkable circumstances – Watford were two goals down before a Troy Deeney penalty took the game to extra time and Gerard Deulofeu completed the comeback in the first half of 30 additional minutes – the Hornets were only able to win one of their remaining six games. That bad run saw them slump from eighth and battling for a Europa League place, to eleventh, some seven points behind that coveted seventh position in the table. To add insult to injury, they were totally overwhelmed, out-played and out-classed in the FA Cup final, losing 6-0 to Manchester City at Wembley.
The decision to sack Javi Gracia just four games into this season was a massive shock. While he may have only managed to secure one point from the first four games of the campaign, as well as a place in the third round of the League Cup following victory over Coventry City, a month was surely not enough time for the new players to settle into his regime. The slump from last season may well have continued, but an eleventh-placed finish in the Premier League is hardly a catastrophe, and many would much rather mid-table mediocrity than battling for their lives at the foot of the table.
Flores returns for his second stint at Vicarage Road and becomes the eighth manager in five years to take the helm. Despite leading Watford to the semi-finals of the FA Cup in his first spell during the 2015-16 season, his Premier League win ratio isn’t exactly admirable. 12 wins from a possible 38, a win percentage of 31.58%, is by no means the worst percentage among recent managers of the club, but by the same token, it’s not exactly a promising sign. Although Watford came from two goals down against Arsenal to secure a draw in Flores’ first game in charge, they’ve gone on to lose the following two, shipping 10 goals in the process.
It’s fair to say that Flores has a challenge on his hands.
Signings not stepping up
Watford may have spent less than £40 million in the transfer window, but the majority of their budget went on winger, Ismaïla Sarr, from Ligue 1 side Rennes. The highly-rated 21-year-old arrived with a reputation to match his fee – Watford’s club record in the market – having been instrumental in the club’s success in the Europa League last season. Due to a demanding summer of African Cup of Nations football for his native Senegal, Sarr has yet to really set the Premier League alight, with four appearances totalling to just over 150 minutes of game time.
By a similar token, the signing of Danny Welbeck should provide the goal threat that Watford need. The former Manchester United and Arsenal striker has plenty of Premier League experience, as well as goals. 42 league goals in 214 appearances is hardly prolific, but injuries have cost Welbeck dearly. Should he remain fit and injury-free, there’s no reason why the 28-year-old can’t reignite his career at Vicarage Road.
Craig Dawson also joined the Hornets from former top-flight club, West Bromwich Albion, to provide some defensive stability and experience. Unfortunately, after leaking 20 goals thus far and notably shipping eight against Manchester City, it doesn’t appear to be an effective signing and there’s no doubt that Flores needs to tighten the back line.