Watford, Zola & Promotion

Hi Ollie. What’s the latest with Vicarage Road? How is the rebuilding going?

At the moment the club are close to confirming the contract for the development of the South-West corner, work on the development started almost five years ago but the Hornets lacked funds and it remains unfinished. However work for this will hopefully start in January and be ready for around June. This will include changing rooms and two new hospitality developments as well.

In regards to the East Stand the CEO Scott Duxbury stated at a recent fans forum that the club’s average attendance would need to reach around 15,000 if they were to redevelop the East Stand. With the SW corner being set to be complete next year which will house the new changing rooms, it will mean the East Stand can be re-built straight away, as thats where the current changing rooms are situated. If we get promoted it’s certain work on the new East Stand will start.

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How do you feel Zola has performed this season?

So far so good – I like him. He has learnt quickly about what’s required in this division. Earlier in the season we were too open and conceding too many goals from set pieces aswell. Both of these areas have been rectified. He has done well rotating the team when playing 3 games in a week in particular keeping our strikers Deeney, Vydra & Forestieri fresh. Also have to give credit to him for playing 18 year old Irish young star Tommie Hoban as our main centre back. Not many managers would throw in an inexperienced centre back with our big squad in the Championship but Tommie has been outstanding and not put a foot wrong. Zola has kept faith and also managed to get the best out of Mark Yeates who was dire last season, but looks a new player this season in a new role as centre mid.
I also think he has done well in playing Troy Deeney who was in prison till the end of September. Zola could of easily played the two little talented players in Vydra and Forestieri together but recognised the fact you do need the work rate & physical presence of Deeney in the Championship. Deeney hasn’t disappointed scoring 8 goals so far, which I’m sure he has learnt a thing or two on finishing from the gaffer in training.

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Zola will face some tough tests ahead though as the Championship is a hard league but so far so good I think, especially with so many new players coming in. He has managed to get a great team spirit as well which has been highlighted in the games where we’ve gone down to 10 or 9 men. Finally have to say he has brought the best style of football Watford have played in my time of supporting the club.

Are you playing the right formation?

We started the season with a 4-3-3 formation, however this left us too open at times. Since the end of September we have changed formation to 3-5-2 which has made us much more solid defensively yet still keep our attacking threat. At the moment this formation is certainly working in bringing out the best in our players.

How do you rate your summer signings?

The majority of the new signings have been superb. Most of them have made key contributions to the side. With these new players, most of them have come from another country and not speaking English, yet they’ve all settled in well and getting better and better as they get used to the league, learning the language and team mates.

Manuel Alumina – has been excellent addition to the team in goal for us. A massive improvement on our previous goalie Scott Loach. Alumina brings huge experience & leadership skills with him being our current skipper with club captain John Eustace being injured. In the last two games he has made vital saves. Away at Sheff Wed with the score being 1-1 he went on to save a penalty, and in our last home game vs Barnsley he made an important double save to keep the score 1-0. We went onto win both games 4-1 so he’s made many positive contributions, apart from one howler against Wolves at home, but after that mistake he still kept his composure and WFC went on to win. Been impressed with him so far, especially as I never rated him when I used to go watch Arsenal games regularly.

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Neuton – Brazilian centre back on-loan from Udinese. Played 6 games for us so far currently injured. In the games he’s appeared in, he was very good on the ball but seemed to struggle with the physicality of the Championship. A lot of Watford fans are unsure on him, but still early days, I think he will come good once he gets used to the league. He has Champions League experience with Udinese.

Fitz Hall – signed on a free transfer in the summer from QPR. Took a while to get fit and into the side, but since then has proved to be an important player. He adds experience and height & physical presence to the back three, especially after losing Martin Taylor. It’s fair to say that all Watford fans weren’t impressed when he signed, but has won over the crowd with his performances.

Daniel Pudil – on loan from Granada. The Czech Republic international has been a great signing, one of the best left backs / wing backs we’ve had in a long time. Very attack minded, who likes to get involved in play and get forward. Can be a bit suspect defensively at times, but overall a very good player.

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It’s already been mentioned recently in local Watford Observer that his loan deal will be made permanent in January along with Abdi, Forestieri and Vydra. Very happy about this as these four have proved to be key players and love playing for Watford.

Matej Vydra – on loan from Udinese. The 20 year old striker has been hugely impressive having already notched 7 goals already. A very direct striker, with great pace & excellent movement, is probably the most natural finisher at the club. Most of his recent appearance have been from the bench which highlights our strength and depth in the squad. His displays for the Hornets have won him his first caps for Czech Republic. I can see him moving on in a few years time as he’s a great talent.

Ikechi Anya – on loan from Granada. He’s a tiny winger who’s only played several games. With the change of formation to 3-5-2 his chances of playing have been limited, he’s not the only player to be affected by this as other summer signing Geoffrey M-Bia and young star Sean Murray not been able to play as a winger. But Anya has been used as a wing back in two recent away games to Leeds and Blackpool where his blistering pace on the counter attack has set up goals for others and also managed to net a goal himself. The limited times I’ve seen him play, it looks like his pace could be an asset coming off the bench to change the game.

Almen Abdi – on loan from Udinese. This player is top quality, easily one of the best players in the league if not the best on his day. He’s a great all round midfielder: being calm on the ball, great passer, doesn’t mind a tackle and can take an excellent set piece. Has already managed to score 5 goals aswell by showing his class infront of goal.

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My only worry with him is that he sometimes seems a bit unfit. Another player with Champions League experience and has represented Switzerland.

Marco Cassetti – on loan from Udinese. The 35 year old former Roma player, currently plays wing back but can play as right back and centre back. Didn’t impress me the first couple of games as he seemed to lack fitness and pace. But has improved greatly getting more involved with play, has a good cross on him and overall defensively very strong. Will struggle against very pacey wingers is my only concern. Another signing with international experience with Italy and has played Champions League football too.

Alex Geijo – on loan from Udinese. A striker with a good previous goal scoring record for Granada on loan last two seasons. Has battled to get fit and has only really featured as sub. The sub appearances he has made when I’ve seen him play have left me with no positives to say about him up until Saturday’s game against Barnsley. He showed he has a great touch & skill and was more physical than previous appearances. Also speaking to other fans who’ve seen him start in away games at Cardiff and Leeds have said only positive things.

Cristian Battocchio – on loan from Udinese – an under 20 Italian international. Has hardly featured due to the fact our midfielders have been playing well and having so many other midfield options. But got his first start against Blackpool recently and his first home appearance on Saturday [1st December 2012] as a sub, where I was excited on how he played in the 20 minutes he was on the pitch. A small player but won headers and as expected was skilful & good in possession and got round the pitch well. Another player who has played European football with Udinese too. Looking forward to seeing more from him – looks an exciting talent.

Nathaniel Chalobah – on loan from Chelsea. The 18 year old came to the club being very highly rated by Chelsea having captaining their youth & reserve teams. He started off for Watford being outstanding, especially being so composed on the ball and an excellent passer of the ball. However showing his inexperience he got sent off stupidly away to Cardiff, kicking the ball away when already on a yellow card plus we were already down to 10 men.

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When he came back into the side he had a small dip of form, which led to him being a sub against Leeds. This was probably down to him being so young and not having this run of games before. But now back in the side, he has also managed to grab a goal against Wolves and back to a high standard of performance. His performances have earned him a recent cap for England Under 21’s. If the chance came to sign him permanently I think the club should jump at the chance.

Joel Ekstrand – on loan from Udinese. A centre back who has only recently broken into the side due to injuries. Since then we’ve yet to lose a game. A solid defender with decent pace, good in the air and strong in the tackle. Also very composed on the ball, which is important to play in Zola’s team. I’ve been impressed with him despite conceding the penalty at Leeds and mistake in the game against Barnsley which led to their consolation. Yet another player who has played for his country Sweden and played Champions League football.

Fernando Forestieri – on loan from Udinese. He’s our very own Lionel Messi. Has to be the most talented Watford players I’ve ever watched. So skilful on the ball, can beat players for fun. Just needs to improve his end product – picking the right pass and being more composed infront of goal. This can be frustrating aswell as the fact he can go down very easily which has earnt him a bit of a reputation as ref’s aren’t giving free kicks they should be. But such an exciting player to watch, I’m sure he will go on to have a great career with a decent club.

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Steve Beleck, Geoffrey Bia and Jean Fanchone are 3 other signings but haven’t played enough at home games for me to judge. But Beleck and Fanchone at the moment don’t look like having their loan deals being made permanent come the end of the season. With all these ‘loan’ signings if Zola wants them at the end of season, they will be signed permanently.

Are loaners from the big Premier League Clubs worth it? Is that the future of lower league team new signings?

For Watford it has been. Obviously well documented that we’ve never had any money to spend on players so we’ve always relied on loan players from the Premiership to improve our team. Watford have always done really well out of loaning young players from the Premiership. We’ve earned a good reputation for looking after other clubs’ players on loan. The main success’s have been Tom Cleverley, Ben Foster, Adam Johnson, Alex Kacaniklic, Andi Weimann, Chris Eagles, Henri Lansbury, Jordan Mutch, Jack Cork, Michael Knightly, Danny Rose & Tomasz Kuszack.

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Without these players we wouldn’t have gained promotion or stayed up in recent seasons. Premiership clubs are always looking to loan out young players to get them used to playing in front of big crowds and to toughen them up physically. Most clubs outside the Premiership are looking to add fringe & young players to improve their squads and this will continue to be the case. Loan signings benefit both clubs. I can only think of a couple of negative scenarios while supporting Watford, one being when Adam Johnson was on loan we were 2nd in the league, basically down to the fact he was our best player scoring & assisting goals for fun.

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It came to January, when Middlesborough decided to recall him from his loan spell because they was involved in a relegation scrap and thought he could help. We then went onto win a few games after he left and just make the play-offs, which we didn’t win to gain promotion. We built a team around him and it cost us the second half of the season. This again happened under Malky Mackay’s last season in charge when we had left back Andrew Taylor on-loan from Championship side Middlesbough and Jordan Mutch from Birmingham, who were in the Premiership at the time. We were flying at the time but both players got recalled due to their form at Watford. We suffered again as a result.

What is the priority this season?

At the start of the season it would of been just to improve on last season’s league position, all the new players to settle and get used to the league and then aim for automatic promotion next season. But with recent results and performances I would like to think play off’s is a priority now.

How do you rate the strength of your rivals around you in the league?

The Championship is a hard league to predict. Any team can beat anyone on their day. One week the bottom side could beat the top team. We lost away to Cardiff who’re currently top of the league by a last minute goal with 9 men, in a game we still could of got a point and while with 11 men we were comfortably winning 1-0. First game of the season we beat 2nd place Crystal Palace 3-2, we also we beat 3rd place Leicester 2-1 at home but lost to 4th place Middlesborough 2-1 at home, but again being in total control at 1-0 with 11 men we got a shocking referee decision leaving us with 10 men and ended up losing 2-1 with the majority of game being with 10 men. The red card that game got waved away after an appeal. This Saturday we are up against 5th place Hull which will be a tough game.

Are you satisfied with your big game performances?

Not really had a big game of such yet. Our November results and Barnsley result [Watford won 4-1 & were 4-0 up going into the final moments] have catapulted us into the play offs for the first time this season. Saturday’s game against Hull will be a ‘big’ game as they are above us.

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(Table graphic courtesy of Sky Sports)

Where might it fall apart?

A few factors I can think of. It could fall apart leading up to January’s FA Cup draw against Man City with players wanting to really play in that game, not wanting to get injured before that game so they don’t miss it. Also could fall a part with having foreign players in the side that might not be up for cold, wet & windy games away to the likes of Burnley, Bristol etc. It could also depend on away pitches over the next few months, as we like to play passing football from the back, so some pitches may effect our style of play. At least come the January transfer window we don’t have to sell any of our players, in the past we’ve lost players like Marvin Sordell. Our rivals like Palace might be forced to sell Zaha.

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Where will you finish? (One word)

Playoffs 🙂 – I’m optimistic at the moment

You can follow Ollie on Twitter @OllieEds

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One response to “Watford, Zola & Promotion

  1. Boro had scored from their only chance and it was actually 1-1 before Vydra’s ridiculous dismissal. Don’t forget Craig Noone’s play-acting in Cardiff to get Pudil sent off and infact we were still cruising with 10 men, they couldn’t cope and hardly threatened til we went down to 9 (for fun try reallocating the points from these 2 games and then look at the table :D)
    Beating Charlton with 10 men after Forestieri’s harsh red is worth a mention too.

    Forget Playoffs, our bench is stronger than most teams starters – it’ll be automatic and with room to spare at that.

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