Watford deserve plaudits after their brilliant start; Gracia has them looking good

Watford sit joint-top of the Premier League table after four games. They are level on points with Liverpool and Chelsea, and sit behind the two powerhouses on goal difference alone. Four wins from four for a club that was supposed to struggle this season is remarkable. So far, they have played Brighton at home (2-0), Burnley away (3-1), Crystal Palace at home (2-1), and Tottenham at home (2-1). They have been extremely impressive, especially in their win against Spurs, where they had to come from behind to pick up all three points.

Many people, including yours truly, expected Watford to struggle this season. When looking at their squad before the season started, it didn’t look overly impressive. Javi Gracia had yet to convince many people after his up-and-down start to life in the Premier League last season when he was brought in to replace Marco Silva. They had an OK pre-season, but not amazing. The Hornets lost their best player, Richarlison, to Everton. They signed some players that may take some time to get used to playing in the Premier League. All these signs pointed to a bit of a struggle this season. That obviously hasn’t been the case so far.

Javi Gracia has this side set up extremely well. They look really solid, and they’re really dangerous with their two forwards: Troy Deeney and Andre Gray. We don’t see two up front much in England anymore, but Watford have made it work to good effect. Behind the strikers, the likes of Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes have been good, while Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue have been impressive in front of the defence. Their back-line has been quite solid too, and the signing of Ben Foster has proved to be a good one.

Watford’s set-up is quite impressive. When they were leading against Spurs on Sunday, you could see just how well drilled they were. Spurs were trying to break them down and get back into the game, but the Hornets defended extremely well and Spurs suffered. Their shape was impressive, as the back line, with the two midfielders in front screening them from danger, worked in tandem. They were very well organised and were rarely dragged out of position. Spurs weren’t able to break them down, so they tried to get it out wide and send crosses in. There was one chance for Harry Kane, which he headed over when he should have done better, but apart from that, Watford had few scares.

They also look like a very fit team. They worked very hard against Spurs, but their performance didn’t seem to drop as the game went on. Javi Gracia has clearly been working on their fitness over the summer, and it is paying off.

Watford have adopted an odd model since their return to the Premier League. They have decided to keep changing things. Their idea must be that once something goes a bit stale, they should freshen it up immediately and keep people on their toes. This is their fourth season back in the Premier League. In their three seasons since being promoted from the Championship, they have finished: 13th, 17th and 14th. They have gone through four different managers in that time, though.

In the Championship, Watford were managed by current Fulham boss,¬†Slavisa Jokanovic. Jokanovic led them to promotion with a second-placed finished. He didn’t lead the club into the Premier League though, and moved on. Quique Sanchez Flores took over and lasted a season, before also moving on. A 13th-placed finish and reaching the FA Cup semi-final was impressive especially as it was their first season back in the Premier League, but it wasn’t enough to convince the club to keep Flores on. He was replaced by Walter Mazzarri.

Mazzarri lasted just one season himself as Watford finished 17th. They were just one place from being relegated, but they were six points clear of the drop in the end. He was replaced by Marco Silva at the end of that season, who had looked really impressive in almost keeping Hull in the Premier League. Watford hit the ground running under Silva, and were absolutely flying at one stage last season. They were right up there with the top six, and it looked like they had finally got their manager appointment right.

The Hornets looked set to have a great season, until Everton sacked Sam Allardyce and came calling; looking for Silva. Watford told Everton to do one, but from that moment, his head was turned. In interviews, he never said he wouldn’t like to go, and everybody knew he actually wanted to move on. Results suffered after this, and Silva ended up being sacked. Then, Javi Gracia was brought in to steady the ship.

It now seems unfair that Gracia was judged on how he did last season. Watford were all over the place when he was brought in, and you can’t blame him for not hitting the ground running with the club. But after a few months in the job, and after a full pre-season, it looks like they have made the right appointment. Whether he can keep this going and be the first manager to last more than one season at the club since Gianfranco Zola stayed between July 2012 and December 2013 is anybody’s guess. But the early signs look good.

After the international break, Watford host Man Utd. It may be a bit unfortunate that they’re playing another top team, because if the fixtures had have been kinder, they would have had more of a chance of keeping this winning run going and keeping their confidence up. At the same time, if they can beat Jose Mourinho’s side, their confidence will be sky-high. Maybe playing this United side, who have been struggling, is a good thing. Watford can definitely win that game. There’s little doubt that this international break has come at the wrong time for them; they would love to just keep playing while they’re in form. It gives Gracia more time to work with the players too, so he’ll turn it into a positive thing.

Watford have now established themselves as a Premier League club. We’ll see if they can really kick on this season and maybe even challenge for Europe. Things are looking extremely positive at Vicarage Road.

That’s that for this morning. All your news will be on Twitter during the day, and I’ll be back tomorrow morning, as always. Have a good Tuesday!

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