Watford tied the Championship’s best-ever defensive record last season, conceding just 30 goals in 46 matches. Between the management of Vladimir Ivic and Xisco Munoz, defensive brilliance was present under both. The success of new arrivals William Troost-Ekong and Francisco Sierralta played a big role in the backline’s success. However, both Ben Foster and Daniel Bachmann excelled when between the sticks, leaving Xisco a selection headache ahead of next season. Furthermore, Pontus Dahlberg continues to impress on loan. Rob Elliot recently signed a contract extension, though his role is already solidified as a solid backup if called upon. Watford’s goalkeeping dilemma is a good problem to have and should increase competition levels for that number one shirt.
Watford’s Goalkeeping Dilemma Involves Three Excellent Choices
Ben Foster’s Watford Success
Foster signed for Watford, from West Bromwich Albion, in the summer of 2018 to take the Hornets’ number one role from the aging Heurelho Gomes. Foster starred immediately. He played a pivotal role in helping Watford achieve their second-best top-flight finish ever in his first campaign permanently a Hornet (as he spent two seasons on loan at Vicarage Road in the middle of the 2000s), playing every minute and keeping seven clean sheets. The 2019/20 season, when Watford finished 19th, Foster kept nine clean sheets and made some crucial saves on numerous occasions to give the Hornets a fighting chance at survival.
He started off the Hornets’ Championship return in fine form, including a penalty-saving man of the match performance against Blackburn. He made 23 appearances, keeping 10 clean sheets and conceding just 17 times, before an injury led to Bachmann usurping his position as starter. However, Foster made a couple of costly mistakes in the matches leading up to his sidelining, so some supporters believed Bachmann was due a starting chance anyway.
Daniel Bachmann Leads the Way
The Austrian shot-stopper starred with Kilmarnock while on loan in the 2018/19 campaign, conceding just 22 times in 28 appearances across all competitions, keeping 14 clean sheets in the process. He spent the 2019/20 campaign as a co-second-choice alongside Gomes.
He started this season as Watford’s backup goalkeeper. A heroic performance against Oxford United in the Carabao Cup, including multiple saves from close range and saving all of the opposition’s three penalties in the shootout, reminded Hornets supporters of their backup’s talents. When Foster got injured, Bachmann got his shot to claim the number one spot as his own. Ever since his first Championship start, a clean-sheet debut against Huddersfield, Bachmann did not look back. Even when Foster returned to full fitness, Bachmann kept the starting job. He ended the Championship campaign conceding just 13 times in 26 matches, accumulating 13 clean sheets.
He was also Austria’s starting goalkeeper at Euro 2020, making some jaw-dropping saves against Italy to help Austria nearly pull off the shock of the tournament.
Pontus Dahlberg Impressing on Loan
Watford signed the Swedish goalkeeper from IFK Goteborg in 2018. The now 22-year-old spent the 2018/19 season with the Hornets as a third-choice in order to get mentored by Foster and Gomes.
He spent the last campaign on loan with SV Hacken in the Allsvenskan. He played 14 matches at the end of the 2020 campaign for the Swedish side (as their football calendar is different to England’s), keeping six clean sheets and conceding 12 times. His recognition in Sweden continued to increase as a result of his impressive performances.
He even has two appearances for the Swedish senior squad, conceding once to Estonia and keeping a clean sheet against Moldova.
The Current Case
As of now, Watford seem likely to continue to give Bachmann the nod as the starting goalkeeper with Foster providing firm competition. Both Bachmann and Foster are Premier League quality. Dahlberg, despite presently untested in England, is showing signs of being a great shot-stopper. The Hornets will not want to let him depart permanently, so they will likely hope another loan will please the player who could very well prove to be their number one in the future. If Foster departs in search of guaranteed starting minutes, then Dahlberg should be expected to stay at Vicarage Road.