Across the major European leagues, sometimes it can be a foregone conclusion as to who will challenge for the top. The Premier League is no different. Often, the league title and top four spots are contested by the same six clubs on a yearly basis. For those teams in the middle of the table, it can leave only a small opportunity to fight for something above just staying in the top flight. With the top six clubs usually secure in their status, the final Europa League position is the one thing available to those below. Watford are currently battling to put themselves in that spot next season.
Watford Striving For a Europa League Spot
The Hornets are in their fourth consecutive season in the top flight in England. They sit in seventh place after 23 games. Currently, they are the only team outside the top six that have a winning record. With nine wins, six draws, and eight losses, Watford sit on 33 points with 15 games remaining. They currently occupy a Euro League position for next season, but there are five teams within three points of them. Watford have only lost twice since the beginning of December and have used their good run of form to move up the table during the busy holiday fixture schedule.
Balance and Grit
First-year manager Javier Garcia has his team rounding into form as the second half of the season kicks off. They have both scored and conceded 32 goals in this campaign. This team has a good balance of attacking presence and some defensive grit to stabilize things. Watford rank thirteenth in the Premier League on clean sheets, only managing five so far this season. However, by contrast, they are ninth in goals scored. The upcoming run of fixtures could determine their fate, with five of their next nine against teams in the top six. Watford will need to maximize their points in matches with teams below them in the table. They will also need to steal a few points from the big clubs.
The tandem of Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure are performing very well securing things in the midfield this season. Capoue is the defensive linchpin, leading the squad in both tackles and interceptions. His presence in the middle of the pitch allows his teammates the freedom to attack, knowing he will be there to clean things up behind them. After two years spent as a rotation player at Tottenham, Capoue is in his fourth season with the Hornets. He has been a part of more Premier League wins than any player in the clubs history with 37.
Doucoure is becoming one of the top flight’s best all-around midfielders. The 26-year-old has five assists and three goals in 22 appearances. He leads Watford in passes completed and is second behind Capoue in tackles. His improvement has spearheaded the club’s rise up the table. He is on pace for more tackles than a season ago, while lowering the rate at which he fouls and gets booked. The Frenchman has both the strength to fight in the middle of the pitch and the skill to push forward in attack.
Captain Troy Deeney is, once again, leading the line for Watford. The club’s all-time leader in Premier League goals and appearances is having another fine season. Deeney has five goals and two assists in 20 appearances. While he is not the most potent of forwards, his work rate and holdup play place him among the best in the league. He is also the emotional leader of the team. Leading Watford to finish in a Europa League spot would be a phenomenal achievement for a player who has been with the club since 2010.
A Little Creativity
Watford have plenty of physical presence with the likes of Capoue, Doucoure and Deeney. This season they have a touch of creativity as well, with Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu providing that spark. Pereyra leads the squad with six goals. His weaving run and finish against Huddersfield could be the club’s goal of the season. He took advantage of some lacklustre defending and manoeuvred through five or six defenders before coolly slotting the ball home.
Deulofeu was at the club a season ago on loan, before making a permanent move this summer. His three goals and three assists both rank third in the squad. He brings an element of pace and an attacking flair that no one else at the club can match. Considering his skill level, the 24-year-old still needs to produce more consistently in the final third, both scoring and setting up goals.
Closing in on Europe
Watford are not one of the more tradition-laden clubs in England. Prior to the last four seasons, they have had only two single-season stints in the Premier League. Currently, on 33 points and in seventh place, they are in pole position to hold on to a Europa League spot. There are still plenty of games to go, but this squad has shown its versatility and ability to compete with anyone. If they can hold on to the consistent performances that saw them move up the table in the last month, as well as hold off the likes of Wolves, Everton, Leicester and Bournemouth, they could reach the Europa League for the first time.
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