Despite their recent defeat to Chelsea, Watford still look the team most likely to challenge for a place in the top six. Currently holding down the final Europa League spot—a lone point behind Chelsea and Arsenal—the Hornets have shown real growth this campaign under new boss Marco Silva. After a season that saw them finish one spot above the relegation zone, the club’s recent results suggest a renewed confidence that allows them to go toe to toe with some the league’s elite, as well as a resiliency to snatch points at the death. Watford seem well placed to finish high up the table.
No help from the fixture list
Coming off a 17th place finish last year—and with a new manager at the helm—Watford surely hoped to ease into the 2017-18 campaign. No such luck. Through nine matches the club have played seven teams that finished in the top half of the table last season, including four of the top six. Their fifteen points across those matches are an impressive haul—particularly considering the nature of the results. The final scoreline tells, as ever, only a partial story.
The 0-0 draw against newly promoted Brighton & Hove Albion might seem a missed opportunity, but the Hornets played a man down for more than an hour after the sending off of Miguel Britos. The club missed the Uruguayan in their 6-0 demolition at the hands of a rampant Manchester City two weeks later. Not only were Watford without a first-choice central defender, but the referees allowed two of City’s opening three goals to stand despite them being clearly offside. Their most recent match, a 4-2 defeat to Chelsea, saw recent pickup Richarlison spurn two glorious chances to put the match beyond the Blues with Watford already a goal ahead.
Leaving it late
The most striking feature of Watford’s results thus far is their ability to salvage points with late goals. Four goals in the 90th minute or later have earned the club eight of their fifteen points this year. The trend started straight from the off, with a 93rd-minute equalizer against Liverpool, albeit offside. Richarlison has specialized in late heroics in his fledgling club career, scoring a 90th-minute winner against Swansea City, and earning his team a draw in the 94th against West Bromwich Albion. Most recently, Tom Cleverley rounded off his team’s comeback against Arsenal with a goal in the 91st minute.
Silva’s Watford showing worth
For a team that finished one spot above the drop, it may have seemed an odd decision to hire the manager of the club that finished one spot below. But that is exactly what Watford did, hiring relegated Hull City’s manager Marco Silva after firing Walter Mazzarri. The decision is bearing fruit. Despite last year’s dismal campaign, the club now look imbued with a new confidence. The City drubbing notwithstanding, Watford’s performances against the league’s top teams indicate an assuredness in their ability to face up to any challenge. The late goals and the fact that three of the club’s four wins have come on the road are further indications of a side with real determination.
Silva must be given credit for the team’s improved mentality and the results it has yielded. In addition to the relentlessly positive attitude instilled in his side, the Portuguese has demonstrated his tactical know-how by switching formation to suit personnel and opponents, using a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 3-4-3. Silva’s canny use of the transfer window also deserves praise. Off-season acquisitions Tom Cleverley, Kiko Fermenía, and Andre Gray play significant roles in the side. Nathaniel Chalobah featured regularly before suffering a knee injury, and relative unknown Richarlison can dazzle at his best. If the new manager can continue to get such solid performances, Watford may yet remain in the running for Europe.