We can all breathe everyone! Fulham’s nightmare of facing consecutive top six sides is finally over. It probably will be over for some time as long as the board treat the transfer window as they have been over the past two seasons and struggle mightily to find a guaranteed answer at manager. But the point is, Fulham can finally play a team that looked like a good measuring stick to start this season, but have now been miles away ahead.
Under Javi Gracia, Watford have a counter-attacking style that rivals many outside of that elite six that was previously mentioned. They do concede plenty of possession, which leads to a higher than league average goal and expected goal total. But once this team has the ball, they have plenty of players that will attack at pace. Along with that, there isn’t one true goal scorer on this team.
Plenty of players, whether it is from the base of midfield or much farther up front, are contributing in that department and it makes the opposition have a harder time to mark out everyone on the pitch. Ben Foster is having a solid season in goal too after arriving at the club where he made his first mark in professional football from West Brom. At 35, he is still kicking it after what looked like the beginning of the end for him at the Baggies. Who knows how sustainable this club can keep this run of form up, but they are truly among the stories of the season in the Premier League.
Watford’s projected 4-2-2-2 formation will be a handful for Fulham who really don’t have the midfielders to defend such a crowded unit. Along with that, it could be another miserable day in the office if Aleksander Mitrovic continues to recover from an injury he supposedly sustained before the international break. One interesting caveat is that Watford’s next fixture will be their date at Wembley in the FA Cup semifinal against Wolves. Will they be playing their usual starting XI or will they not take Fulham seriously and play most of their substitutes? Considering how Fulham have been, this probably won’t have an effect on the result. Though it would be nice to finally get an away win for a change.
On that note, assuming we get the best from Watford today, here are three players to watch out for at Vicaridge Road.
First up has been Watford’s most in form striker. Time and again it seems like we have either praised or written off Gerard Deulofeu’s potential. However, it is quite shocking that he is still 24, but I guess that’s what happens when you make your Barcelona debut at age 17. But after stints at Everton, Sevilla and AC Milan, Deulofeu seems to be at home partnering Troy Deeney up front this season.
Usually, we’re used to seeing the Spaniard cut inside on the dribble and get his shots from there. But his inconsistency to string together shots has been what is lacking throughout his professional career while staying too far out wide and hoping to ping balls for his teammates to put the finishing product. This season, however, Deulofeu has been generating 2.21 shots per 90 minutes, which is the highest it has ever been since his 2013/14 breakout season with the Toffees. There is a trade off as he is no longer the one pushing the ball forward or looking to put the final pass in the penalty area, but the other aspects of his game are shining brighter by having him closer to goal. Just because Deulofeu doesn’t have the ball as much doesn’t make him slower or easier to defend.
Next up is the older of the two pivots in central midfield that have truly been the glue of Watford this season. While Abdoulaye Doucouré is more of the box-to-box type, Étienne Capoue brings a much more veteran presence after many seasons at Tottenham and Toulouse.
He may not have been a perfect fit at Spurs and he was eventually leapfrogged by Eric Dier, but the Frenchman was able to find a home just north of London. Since then, Capoue has made over 132 league appearances for Watford and has been a constant presence in the squad ever since. He will be 31 by the time next season rolls around and we only need to look at Kevin McDonald to see how fast an influence like that in midfield could fall apart so quickly. But for now, you know who will be among the more calmer heads playing at home tonight.
Finally, we look towards a center back that looked to be set in the football wilderness after sustaining a serious knee injury in the start of the 2017/18 season. That would set the Northern Ireland international to just seven club appearances last season. Fortunately, he is back and showing what he’s been worth to Watford since joining the club in 2014/15.
After not being able to make the grade at Manchester United, Cathcart had his major breakthrough playing for Ian Holloway’s Blackpool team, easily the most entertaining Premier League side to ever be relegated and the club Fulham should have modeled all this time. But once the club fell out the Championship, Cathcart found his footing with the Hornets and has 121 appearances for them ever since.