Watford season preview: Hornets lacking forward momentum

Without adequate strengthening in attack, goals could come at a premium – and cause real problems – for Watford this season.

Last season: 14th
Title odds: 1000/1
Relegation odds: 15/8
Major ins: Adam Masina, Ken Sema, Gerard Deulofeu, Marc Navarro, Ben Foster
Major outs: Nordin Amrabat, Richarlison
Key player: Abdoulaye Doucoure

Since the Pozzo family took over Watford in 2012, they have rarely done things by the book – changing managers every season, rarely paying out big fees for players, and getting plenty of backs up in their first season at Vicarage Road by exploiting a loophole in the loan market.

But the Hornets have confounded the critics to remain in the Premier League for three seasons in a row, and kept each survival campaign relatively comfortable even in spite of the mid-season turmoil of Marco Silva’s sacking in 2017/18.

A ruthless turnover of players void of sentiment, added to generally astute recruitment, has been at the heart of their success, but failing to replace Richarlison, or add to a limited strike-force of Troy Deeney, Andre Gray and Stefano Okaka – who scored only 11 goals between them last season – will make life difficult for Javi Gracia.

Watford have improved defensively, securing a cut-price deal for ex-England goalkeeper Ben Foster, and bringing in highly rated Bologna left-back Adam Masina. But they still have issues in the middle, where on paper they are well-stocked but have three centre-backs in their 30s, and have struggled with injuries in that position for a number of years.

Convincing Abdoulaye Doucoure to sign a new five-year contract is as good as a new signing in many ways, and the return of Nathaniel Chalobah will be a huge boost, as will Will Hughes if he can bring the flashes of brilliance he showed last season more consistently.

But that creativity could be wasted with a weaker frontline than the one that scored only 11 goals in the 13 games Gracia took charge of last season – a trend which could prove fatal if the Hornets don’t find their shooting boots this time around.

Paul Merson’s verdict

I worry for Watford. I think they’ll go down this season. They struggled last season in phases, they started really well, but then they drifted and if they don’t start well this season they’ll be in trouble. I don’t see them having that same start again.

They played a game six or seven in last year where they could’ve gone top, I think, and that’s just not going to happen now. They let Richarlison go, I mean you’d have dropped him off for £40m and they had to take the money. I can’t believe the amount he’s gone for after he played well for the first few months and then didn’t do anything for the rest of the season.

Troy Deeney is everything Watford are, keeping him is big, he brings people into play and holds the ball up and I don’t think he has been used enough. He needs to be playing, and then you go from there. He gets the crowd going, as well as his team-mates.

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