If there’s a time where Fulham have to pick themselves off the floor quickly and find a way to collect three points, tomorrow’s fixture with Watford is it. In spite of the last couple of results, Fulham’s support should be buzzing. Let’s not forget how loud it was in their victory against Burnley and that noise will have to be there again against a Hornets side that is inspired under new manager Javier Gracia.
The key to Saturday clearly will be how good Fulham can defend Watford’s attack, especially with a midfield that lacks one of their best ball possession players in Tom Cairney and one of their most dependable defenders from last season in Tim Ream. Watford have been off to a blistering start with just one loss to Manchester United and surprisingly beating Tottenham off of two late goals in their five Premier League fixtures. That being said, their attack hasn’t been as impressive as they have looked.
While Watford have scored 10 goals this season, Understat has they’re expected goals total hit 5.53. Only Chelsea has a higher disparity of actual goals to their expected goals in the Premier League. Along with that, they have scored three goals off of corners and set pieces alone when only 0.92 of those attempts should have gone in. Lastly, only Leicester City have a higher percentage of shots taken from outside the penalty area than Gracia’s squad this season.
Insults aside, Watford have been a much improved club over the past month as a result of a very aggressive press (sixth best in the league with 10.55 passes allowed per defensive action) and a stout defense. Even with the defeat to Man United last weekend, Watford’s 4.46 expected goals conceded is still fourth best in the Premier League. Gracia has shown little rotation at all and have been able to gel quite nicely without any need of looking for substitutions. With a 4-2-2-2 formation, Watford is able to keep teams away from coming into the penalty area and use a midfield that consists of two out-and-out 6s followed by an 8 and a 10.
Up front, Andre Gray and Troy Deeney are the two to always lead the charge with their natural abilities at center forward. It’s a simplistic system that you would tend to see sides in the bottom half of the table use in attack. But with an unorthodox midfield and pressing game, Watford’s defense has been the true catalyst to start their campaign on the right foot. Add in the experience of Ben Foster in goal, and you have a squad that is ticking in all cylinders.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at three players who have been impressive for Watford this season.
As mentioned already, Watford’s attack is quite basic with very little creativity and passing coming out of this team. With 45.5% possession for the season and a league-high 44.2 failed long ball pass attempts per game, you shouldn’t be expecting that much activity with the ball at their feet. One player that could deliver that bit of magic on a consistent basis is the former Juventus man.
At 27, Pereyra is still within the prime of his career and could still add to his 10 caps with Argentina if things break right for him. With three goals already to his account, along with a combined 19 shots and key passes, as well as nine successful dribbles, no other Watford player is more frequently involved in the attacking side of Watford’s game. To add more accolades to his name, Pereyra is second to Deeney in xG Chain and third among Watford players in xG Buildup. And while it is not his go-to way of playing, there is no one else in the club that delivers a more accurate long ball than him. So sure, Deeney and Gray will do their best to impose their will on Fulham’s center backs all afternoon, but don’t ignore the trailing number 10 that could collect loose change when he gets his chance.
Another star in Watford’s midfield has been the play of Doucouré, who was has really been coming into his own since arriving from Rennes. At 25, there is no better time to showcase his talents than what has been delivered right now. This season, Doucouré is fourth in the club in both total xG Buildup and xG Chain while delivering good passes from the midfield fulcrum position. Along with that, Doucouré has been a great compliment to Etienne Capoue in Watford’s double pivot in front of the back four. Add in a £13.5 million market value on transfer market that is only matched by Gray among Watford players and you can see why he has been so valuable to the club.
Lastly, we need to talk about the oldest outfield player in Watford’s XI that is somehow finding the fountain of youth. At 34, Holebas isn’t going to be as mobile as he used to be earlier in his career. That still doesn’t stop the former Greek International from pinging good crosses and delivering the killer pass towards into the box at a superb level. And with that, Holebas has delivered one goal and four assists already this season. Now that might be it when it comes to his season wide production if he were to match his expected goal outputs. But with the increase in chances created, there is a good chance he’ll be able to surpass any season he has had at Watford or even AS Roma in assists. And until that Watford magic runs out, Holebas is not a player to be taken lightly in Fulham’s ranks.