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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Watford

Ryan Gray of the Watford Observer previews Friday's game

9 December 2021

Watford are 17th in the table at the time of speaking, having lost nine of the first 14 games of the campaign. What have you made of their return to the Premier League so far?

It has been interesting. They are already onto their second head coach of the season, so the start was not great, but though results don’t suggest it, they are improving under Claudio Ranieri in the way they are playing; they look a lot more cohesive, they are playing as a unit more often, they look more aggressive and they have more of an identity as well. The position in the table looks a bit precarious, but I think there is some real cause for optimism.

Ranieri succeeded Xisco Munoz at the Vicarage Road helm in October and is a manager with a proven track record in the top flight. What was the reaction of Watford fans to his appointment like?

It is an appointment that made sense. He is a man with a lot of experience in the league, having managed Chelsea, Leicester and Fulham, and I think some maybe looked at his time at Fulham and wondered whether he was the right fit, but his time at Sampdoria showed that he is capable of getting a team out of a tricky situation and turning things around. It is a long-term project for Claudio, it is not just a situation where he is going to be able to make everything better overnight and push Watford up the table again, but what he has implemented is bringing signs of encouragement.

One particularly notable result was the surprise 4-1 win at home to Manchester United on 20 November, which no doubt accelerated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure. Just how good was that performance to watch?

That provided a clear sign that Ranieri is the one who knows not only how to get the best out of his team, but also how best to set up against other teams. He had studied how Manchester United were playing and worked out where their weaknesses and their frailties were; he particularly looked at the game where Liverpool beat them 5-0 and really analysed the best way to get at them. Tactically, it was absolutely spot on on the day – they could not have played much better, I don’t think. The one downside is that Ismaila Sarr picked up a long-term injury in that game and that’s something that could prove costly for Watford as the season goes on. Other than that, it was a perfect performance. They put in similar performances against Leicester and Chelsea in the next two games and were not able to get the right results, but against teams who are not pushing to win the Premier League or competing for the top four or six places, it could really benefit them and there are definitely points there for them to take.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Friday night?

Sarr’s injury is good news for Brentford and bad news for Watford, but Emmanuel Dennis (above) is having a terrific start to the season. He was brought in for only £3.6 million, but he has scored six times at the time of speaking and I think only Mo Salah has more goal involvements than him. He has hit the ground running after a summer move from Club Brugge and is causing a lot of problems at the minute.

How is Ranieri likely to set up his side at the Brentford Community Stadium?

I would imagine it will be a 4-3-3, which he seems to have settled on after trying one or two other formations. Watford are not particularly strong at the back and there have been a few mistakes among the defenders, so he has very quickly realised that his strengths are in attack and they are playing with a high press. I think they will do pretty much the same on Friday night.

Brentford won the last meeting between the two sides, with Marcus Forss and Ivan Toney scoring in a 2-0 win back in May. What’s your score prediction for this one?

Brentford and Watford are quite similar in that they can score goals quite easily, but conceding them is a problem so I think this has the potential to be quite a high scoring game. I’m going to go for a 3-2 Watford win.

Friday's game is live on Sky Sports and around the world through the Premier League's broadcast partners.

Supporters can also listen to live Bees Player commentary with Karleigh Osborne joining Mark Burridge. 

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