Watford are in a patch of fine form, winning four matches on the trot. Despite their uptick in performances since switching to a 4-3-3 formation, though, there are still weaknesses that need to be remedied.
Watford With Two Achilles Heels in Midst of Promotion Push
Poor defending against set-pieces – especially corners – has haunted Watford on numerous occasions in the past few seasons. This season is not much different, with the issue coming to the fore in recent matches.
In the Hornet’s victory against Derby County on February 19th, the Rams nearly made Watford drop points due to dangerous corner kicks. At the end of the first half, Colin Kazim-Richards found the back of the net from a corner. Watford were somewhat fortunate for the goal to be disallowed due to the referee deeming there was an infringement on Daniel Bachmann. In the closing stages of the match, Derby caused a few goal-mouth scrambles by whipping the ball into the six-yard box.
There are two reasons for the recent set-piece defending woes: poor man-marking and goalkeeping (well, only partially the latter). Considering the height and aerial prowess of Watford’s centre-backs, one would expect the Hornets to dominate the box. However, simple lapses in concentration and miscommunication lead to free-headers.
The Slightest of Goalkeeping Concerns
More notably, and controversially, is the goalkeeping aspect. Bachmann has been stellar since filling in for an injured Ben Foster. The Austrian shot-stopper’s reactions and footwork are of a top class. However, the one aspect of his game that needs to be improved is coming off the line on set-pieces. Frequently, Bachmann is pinned between the sticks when other keepers would claim the ball to avert danger. His and Foster’s different styles when it comes to cross-collecting from corners lead to confusion in defense.
But, with fixture congestion, training does need to be lighter, and corners can easily be worked on. Set-pieces must be the Hornets’ main focus. They have the tools to defend the dangerous crosses – the gelling together needs to come soon if they are to continue confidently in their charge for the automatic promotion places.
Left Side of the Pitch Not Replicating the Right
Kiko Femenia and Ismaila Sarr have been one of the best duos in the Championship this season – more prominently in the past few matches. Their overlapping runs in attack and tracking back in defence make them a manager’s dream. As of late, Ken Sema and Adam Masina, however, do not provide a mirror image on the left.
Of course, it is harsh/unreasonable to expect Sema and Masina to perfectly match Sarr and Femenia’s impressive output. Still, Watford need to be able to spread out their attacking threat and not rely on counter-attacks to get the left side of the pitch firing (like how Sema scored against Blackburn).
Masina, at sporadic times recently, is shaky in defence and was the primary culprit for Blackburn’s opener. The left does not need to perfectly replicate the right. Still, it is clear the Hornets are considerably stronger – and more reliant – on one side than the other. This is not as prominent as an issue as the set-piece struggles but can grow into one if other teams start exploiting it and the Hornets do not improve in that department – like how Blackburn exploited the set-piece uncertainties.
Watford are in flying form, but that is not to say they are flawless. Xisco Munoz knows that to keep pace at the top, the little leaks will need to be patched up.