Tactical Preview – Everton vs Watford

In a preview of the matchup this Saturday at Goodison Park, we take a look at a Watford side that is mostly unchanged from last year and coming off a poor performance in a home loss to Brighton Hove Albion by a score of 3-0. We walk through major transfers, 2018/19 team performance, common tactics in the four major phases of the game, injuries, Watford’s performance against Brighton, and make a prediction on what we believe will be the results of the game.

TRANSFERS OF NOTE

In:

  • Ismailia Sarr, RW, Stade Rennais, €30M
  • Danny Welbeck, CF, Arsenal, Free.
  • Craig Dawson, CB, West Brom, €6M

Out:

  • Dodi Lukebakio, CF/RW, Hertha Berlin, €20M
  • Obbi Oulare, CF, Standard Liege, €3M

Craig Dawson started last week at centre-back and while we may see Ismailia Sarr, it will likely be off the bench if anything. I would be surprised if we see Danny Welbeck, but Troy Deeney did not have a good game last week so anything is possible.

Watford – What the Data tells us

Last season under Javi Gracia, Watford conceded a lot of goals (59), but did score at a decent clip (52) including 35 goals from open play, good for 7th in the PL. They were 13th in possession (46.1%), but even without the ball too often, they were 15th in balls lost. That indicates they don’t value possession much.  In attack they had very few touches in the box and the 2nd fewest crosses in the league. They were 7th in number of long passes and as a result only 14th in passing accuracy (76.1%).

They were aggressive on defence – 3rd in fouls – although average in defensive intensity. They were 7th in number of aerial duels, but didn’t win a high % of them (42%).

On strange data point – Watford had the highest average age in the league last season. 

Tactics – How Watford set up

Having seen the Brighton game as well as several matches last season under Javi Gracia, Watford usually plays in a 4-4-2. The full-backs like to push high, the wide midfielders have a ton of freedom – usually will be Gerard Deulofeu on the right, Roberto Pereyra on the left, and the 2 up top are usually a target player (Deeney) with someone quicker playing off of him. They like to play fast – they will aggressively counter-press when they lose it and when they have the ball they like to push forward quickly with longer passes and aren’t too concerned about winning the battle of possession. 

Watford look to attack quickly. They like to push the full-backs up high and move the ball forward quickly from the back. At times Capoue/Doucoure drop deeper forming triangles to assist the CBs, but even when they get it with time, they are looking to make a longer pass in attempts to bypass midfielders. They are usually looking for either of the wide midfielders, as they have tremendous freedom to move inside or out and often cut inside to make it look like Watford is playing a narrow 4-2-2-2. If they are not available, Watford usually look to play long to Deeney, who can be a target in many different places on the pitch. Even with fullbacks pushed high, you will rarely see a lot of crossing – Watford really like to play through the middle. 

They look to win the ball back immediately once it’s lost, especially in the other team’s end. The fullbacks will stay high and they will push their double-pivot forward to make it very difficult for the opposition to get it out of their own end without a turnover or at least a deflected pass.  Watford then looks again quickly to create a counter scoring opportunity. If the other team can break through the counter press, they can often generate good scoring opportunities if they are competent on the break.

Examples of Watford’s counter-press vs Brighton. Transition from defence to attack very quickly.

If Watford are not successful in the counter press, they will sit back and concede possession.  They will apply pressure from the wide midfielders however if opposition centre-backs pass sideways, that can trigger high pressure in those instances. Otherwise, Doucoure and Capoue will sit deep in front of the defence making it difficult for teams to break them down. However, their preferred fullback pairings do tend to anticipate the quick transition and can’t get out of position. Neither are particularly effective defenders and teams that can attack wide can often have success. The wide midfielders are also not the best in defensive situations and there can be space to exploit in between midfielders. It’s also worth noting that the lack of discipline from the full-backs and the wide midfielders leave Watford susceptible to a quick switch if the opposition have the talent to pull it off.   

As noted above, Watford often tries to win the ball on the counter and attack quickly.  Even when they win the ball in their own end, they also try to move the ball up the pitch with speed.  Often, they opt to play the long ball to Deeney and run the other centre-forward off him in hopes of getting a quick scoring opportunity.  Capoue and Doucoure are an excellent central tandem and can both win duels and pick off passes as well as transition well.  Doucoure plays at a very high pace and can make clever passes to spring attacks even at speed.  

Watford Team News

Gerald Deulofeu was having muscular problems going into the first match against Brighton, but did start – albeit on the left – and was subbed off at half for Pereyra.  Pereyra did not train much due to arriving late from the Copa America and only played 45 after subbing in for Deulofeu.  Sarr and Welbeck might not be ready.  Everyone else seems healthy.

Recent Result:  Watford 0-3 Brighton

Watford simply didn’t play very well.  They tried to play fast and counter-press and did create some opportunities as a result, but it wasn’t often enough.  Brighton lined up in a 3-4-3 formation, showed some composure in their own end, and broke through the counter press to generate scoring opportunities too often.  Even when Watford had possession, movement up top was minimal. 

Gracia’s system does require quite a bit of running for the outside players and Deulofeu in particular seemed to run a lot.  Often this was a wasted effort running at defenders that had no problem passing it sideways or around him.  Deeney’s lack of pace also did not help the collective high pressure and centre-backss had too much time on the ball.  Not surprisingly, Pereyra subbed Deulofeu off at half time.  However, whether it was Deulofeu, Pereyra, or Hughes on the other side, none of the pairings were effective in making themselves available for longer passes from the back, which is a critical element of Watford’s scheme. On the bright side for Watford, they have stockpiled a lot of talent to play those roles. While players like Deulofeu, Pereyra, and the newly acquired Ismailia Sarr may not be 100% right now, there is hope Watford have enough depth and talent to ensure those critical positions are filled effectively. 

Ball recoveries, Watford and Brighton. Limited recoveries in the middle from Watford (@StatsZone)

Watford also simply didn’t win many challenges, made few recoveries, were not as effective as usual in the counter press, and got punished several times due to poor defending in transition. Their fullbacks were pulled out of position often and the ball played behind them. The central defense seemed out of sync. The wide midfielders were caught in space too often and ineffective defending in their own half. Watford also didn’t win much in the air seemingly in either end. Playing long to Deeney was not effective.

Frankly, Watford are not likely to play that poorly again. Capoue and Doucoure are normally above average PL players, but were not especially good in distribution, pressure, or even in their own end, although the poor defensive efforts around them didn’t help. Hughes was not effective in a wide position. Deulofeu and Pereyra still don’t look fit. Sarr wasn’t ready. Troy Deeney was not good and Gray had few opportunities.  They did create SOME turnovers with their pressure, but didn’t capitalize on them. I expect them to play much better against Everton.

EVERTON vs WATFORD BREAKDOWN

For Everton, a lot depends on the health of Andre Gomes. He is critical in Everton’s build up and can help handle an aggressive counter press. It also depends on what decisions Marco Silva makes in the central midfield as Everton are shorthanded thanks to the foolish sending off by Morgan Schneiderlin and fitness concerns with Gomes and Fabian Delph. Silva may be forced to play Gbamin again with Tom Davies as the box to box.  Those two may struggle with Watford’s pressure.

However, Watford has their concerns, too. The fitness of Deulofeu and Pereyra is critical, because if Will Hughes has to play and/or they cannot get high effort for 90 minutes in those positions, it hampers what Watford wants to do. I would think Sarr is not likely to start although he may make the bench.

I believe Everton will be more willing to play the ball long and safe than Brighton were against Watford. Richarlison will be a critical outlet on the right side against Jose Holebas as he can hold the ball up and make plays (or draw fouls) out wide. Dominc Calvert-Lewin can pose problems for the Watford centre-backs pair in the air and pulling them out of position by running into the channels. If Gomes plays (and Gbamin plays confidently), it may allow Everton to move the ball forward and take advantage of space behind Watford’s fullbacks and play off the counter. The lack of discipline and fitness from the wide players at Watford should allow Everton to attack successfully from the outside in possession and avoid the terrific duo of Capoue and Doucoure in the middle.

Watford’s counter-press caused Everton problems at Goodison, Richarlison often having two/three players on him when attacking sequences form.

But the most critical factor is Everton’s ability to break the counterpress when Watford turns the ball over, get it behind Capoue and Doucoure, and hit Watford on the break. Everton have the forwards to play well in transition if the defence can move the ball to the attack quickly.  Yerry Mina is a very good ball playing CB and both he can Keane should be able to neutralise the aerial threat of Troy Deeney. Although Everton fans haven’t seen it, Gbamin has tremendous passing range, but it might be a lot to ask for those three to find an immediate rhythm in the middle of the park.

Jean-Phillippe Gbamin’s pass map versus Crystal Palace (@TheHalfSpace).

That being said, Everton have to finish and they’ve not shown the ability to do so yet.

My brain was correct last week with a 0-0 scoreline although my heart was not. My brain believes Everton will handle the deep ball, but manage to give the ball away enough times in their own end that it eventually costs them. My guess is that Gomes is out and that the default tandem of Gbamin and Davies struggle a bit dealing with the pressure and quickness of Watford. However, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert Lewin will help to alleviate the Watford pressure by receiving balls and/or creating space for other players to exploit. Mina and Gbamin will show their skills in distribution and believe Jordan Pickford will have another solid game. 

In attack, Everton in possession can have success down the wings with both Digne and Coleman. If the Everton defence can actually get the ball up to Gylfi Sigurdsson, he could have a good day playing through balls to the forward attackers in space. I also believe Everton can wear Watford down a bit in possession and especially will put a lot of pressure on the Watford wide players.   

Prediction: Pickford makes a couple massive saves early to limit the damage of turnovers created by Watford’s pressure and that Everton will settle in and get a couple goals off the break using Richarlison as a bail out and through pressure of their own.  The difference can be Everton’s distribution out of the back, great home support pushing the Everton team forward, and impact subs off the bench – Moise Kean and Alex Iwobi are two players who are very effective on the break that can have big impacts if they are ready. But this should be a very hard-fought match, especially if Andre Gomes isn’t healthy.

That being said, there is definitely a chance of a change in tactics. I wouldn’t be surprised if Silva plays 3 in the back even with Everton’s lack of depth or more likely, if Gracia switches up his formation seeing how easy Brighton broke through the Watford lines. If that occurs, things could get very interesting.  Either way, this should be an entertaining game at a minimum with lots of chaos and excitement. 

Prediction: Everton 2-1 Watford

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