At the beginning of the January transfer window, Watford signed Danish attacker Philip Zinckernagel. The 26-year-old prefers to play on the right-wing but can play in any attacking position. In 28 appearances with Bodo/Glimt in the Eliteserien last season, he tallied an impressive 19 goals and 18 assists. So, upon his arrival, it appeared as if he was in line for lots of playing time right away. He has had to wait, but his time is finally arriving.
Philip Zinckernagel in Line for Uptick in Minutes
Only Appeared in Cameos So Far
In league play, across eight matches, Zinckernagel has played a total of 159 minutes for the Hornets – fewer than 20 minutes per appearance. He also started in Watford’s FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
His cameos to this point have been a mixed bag. He opened his English goal-scoring account in Watford’s recent 6-0 thrashing of Bristol City. Against Derby County, in 15 minutes off of the bench, he had one key pass and one shot on target. Sometimes, Zinckernagel tries intricate footwork and gets dispossessed in dangerous areas. Other times, his smart movement creates half-chances for the Hornets.
Philip Zinckernagel Taking Time to Adjust
Despite Zinckernagel’s prolific past signalling he is a talented player, factors need to be considered when discussing his lack of inclusion thus far. The switch from the Norwegian first-tier to a physical EFL Championship is not straightforward. Zinckernagel now faces opponents of a different playing-style and quality.
The pitches in Norway are also notably different from the pitches in England. The Scandinavian pitches are comprised of artificial grass, whereas the British pitches are made of real grass. Changing pace and making quick hip movements – one of Zinckernagel’s specialities – calls for the use of different forces.
When wide-player Ken Sema faced a spell on the sidelines, Watford supporters expected Zinckernagel to fill the void. However, head coach Xisco Muñoz elected to place central-midfielder Will Hughes on the left side of the 4-4-2. The free transfer continued to earn playing time off of the bench, but upon Sema’s return, Zinckernagel still did not obtain starting time.
Why Zinckernagel is Bound for a Serious Increase in Time
Watford currently stand in a much different situation than they did prior to Sema’s return from injury. The main change is the switch to a 4-3-3 formation. The tactical adjustment puts Zinckernagel in line for considerably more minutes. In the 4-4-2, the wide players have considerable defensive duties and do not have as much attacking license. In the 4-3-3, Zinckernagel’s strengths are much better suited to and required.
The fixture congestion Watford (like all other clubs) face is another reason for an inevitable inaugural league start. Sema looked tremendously fatigued during the Hornets’ 2-1 victory over Derby, highlighting the need for more rotation of the wingers. With the Hornets playing on Wednesday against Blackburn Rovers and then getting the early-kickoff against Bournemouth on Saturday, it is highly improbable that Sema and Ismaila Sarr together will start both matches. The risk of injury and the cost of fatigue is too high. Thus, it is a prime opportunity to give Zinckernagel a chance to start a match – and to see how talented he is when given the chance to grow into a match, rather than have to stake a claim for more minutes in a match where the Hornets are defending a lead.
And finally, Zinckernagel has now had sufficient time to adjust. After nearly two months in England, he will be as acclimated as necessary to make an impact. So, expect to see Zinckernagel in the starting 11 within the next couple of weeks for sure – and perhaps even by the end of this week.