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What to expect from Marco Silva at Watford

Watford appointed former Hull City boss Marco Silva as their manager earlier in the summer after sacking their previous boss, Walter Mazzarri. His arrival comes as a breath of fresh air after the Watford support endured a relatively underwhelming brand of football under their previous manager. Silva has impressed in the Premier League, despite not being able to keep Hull City up, and his appointment is expected to bring an entertaining brand of football the kind of which has not been visible at Vicarage Road since they regained their Premier League status.


The 39-year-old has had a stellar managerial career so far. He began his coaching career with second-division side Estoril in Portugal, the club with whom he ended his 15-year playing career in 2011, and after a shoddy start, he guided them to a return to the top-flight for the first time in seven years. Later on with the same club, he steered them to the Europa League for the first time in their history. Since then, he has helped Sporting Lisbon to their first trophy in six years when he won the Taça de Portugal in 2014, and won a league title in Greece with Olympiacos in 2016.

Silva took over Hull City after his spell in Greece, taking on the most difficult task in his short managerial career so far. In his early months, he helped the team to an away draw against Manchester United in the league, a home win in the EFL Cup second-leg, although they were knocked out on aggregate, and remarkably, a 2-0 home win against Liverpool, which helped his reputation skyrocket as several clubs took notice of his early success.

Despite his success, a poor Hull side couldn’t avoid the drop, and Silva’s astonishing 41-game unbeaten home record ended with a defeat to Sunderland. Nevertheless, he was very much in demand in the summer, and after a deal with Porto broke down, he opted to remain in the Premier League and manage Watford.


Marco Silva is well-known for setting up in a 4-2-3-1 and his counter-attacking strategies have been key to his success. His setup always requires quick wingers who can attack the opposition defence with speed and tenacity and they need to be complemented with shrewd midfielders who have a keen eye for a pass and can open up defences.

In attack, his 4-2-3-1 transitions to a 4-1-4-1 when defending and they need to stay compact and absorb pressure before breaking out and opening up while on the counter attack. His defensive rigidity requires his team’s pressing to be perfectly-timed in order to maintain the shape of the team while the opposition is on the prowl.

As mentioned, he requires fast wingers and astute midfielders for his system to pan out properly, and throughout his career, he has done just that. Most recently at Hull City, he had Tom Huddlestone leading the midfield, with wingers Kamil Grosicki and Sam Clucas leading the charge in attack. In order to shift from defence to attack, he requires one of his two holding midfielders, in Hull’s case, Alfred N’Diaye, to charge higher up the pitch, support in attack and also be an outlet and provide a wide passing range. Silva’s direct approach, led by Grosicki, saw them score more goals and nearly helped Hull avoid relegation.

His counter-attacking approach also requires the help of fearless, offensive full-backs who are able to support their wingers. For Hull, it was Andrew Robertson, who recently signed for Liverpool, who helped Clucas on the left, while on the right, it was Omar Elabdellaoui, whom Silva signed on loan from his previous club Olympiacos. The two have been praised for closing down spaces and keeping the shape of the side defensively, while also using their pace well enough to create numbers in attack.

Defensively, his 4-1-4-1 system aims to cut down spaces and bring more compactness to the shape of his teams. The wingers are asked to drop back and help out in defence to bring more numbers behind the ball. They press in numbers to push the opposition back to where they came from and disrupt their flow, and although this is a risky method, it has worked out well for him in the past. The player in the number ten role, who now has the task of playing in midfield, presses the highest up the pitch and charges at the opposition with intensity. The deepest lying midfielder is key to keeping their defensive shape when they are being countered.

What can he bring to Watford?

Marco Silva has already has already implemented a different transfer strategy as compared to previous years. In Watford’s time as a Premier League club, they have been known for bringing in experienced names to their side to help them stay steady in mid-table. With Silva’s arrival, however, they have opted to sign younger players who can bring more energy to the side.

This is a risky method, but should it work out, it can be largely beneficial to the club in the future. The Hornets have already brought in Nathaniel Chalobah from Chelsea, Will Hughes from Derby County, right-back Kiko Femenía from Spanish side Alavés and goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann on a free transfer after he was released by Stoke City.

By signing Chalobah and Hughes, Silva has strengthened the team’s midfield options as they already have Tom Cleverley and Étienne Capoue. In pre-season games against the likes of Aston Villa and Eibar, Silva has set them up in his tried and tested 4-2-3-1, with Cleverly playing in holding midfield, and the other three sharing the number 10 role. Étienne Capoue has impressed in that role the most and could stay there for the season, but Will Hughes’ lack of defensive stature, combined with his impressive attacking prowess, could mean that he picks up that role for the foreseeable future.

Troy Deeney, the captain, has arguably been their best player since their return to the Premier League and is set to have a huge role in the side again, with Silva placing lots of faith in his forwards for their attacking plans. They’ve also agreed a deal for 20-year-old explosive Fluminese attacker Richarlison—a forward ideal for Silva’s plans with his speed and two-footedness—but work permit issues could delay the move.

Silva has carefully analysed the players he wants and has made some smart deals so far. The signing of full-back Femenía will be crucial. They already possess Daryl Janmaat, but the former Barcelona and Real Madrid “B” player is a far better player on the ball than his Dutch team-mate and will be vital to Silva’s counter-attacking strategy.

He is also aiming to agree a temporary deal for Manchester United’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah to increase their depth. The Dutchman can play at full-back, centre-half or defensive midfield and signing for Watford could be huge for his development and benefit United as well.


With an ever-improving CV, Marco Silva arrives at Watford with huge expectations. He has already impressed in the Premier League and with a two-year contract, a reasonable, long-term aim for him would be to take the London side into Europe. He has already made some decent signings, and with his tactical astuteness, he could stabilise the club in the Premier League and propel the club to big things in the near future and at the same time, add more to his fine CV.

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