The first managerial casualty of the 2019/20 Premier League season came on Saturday, as bottom-of-the-table Watford parted ways with Javi Gracia.
Gracia’s dismissal was swiftly followed by the appointment of Quique Sanchez Flores as head coach, with the 54-year-old Spaniard rejoining the club he had left in May 2016.
Upon his unveiling, Gracia said:
It was a very easy decision [to rejoin]. I’ve been a coach for 16 years and the time I spent in Watford, I was really happy. It was a good experience and this experience was amazing. I loved the way the fans love football in England, the way they support and the way they respect rules in England and everything. The moment I left I was waiting for the moment to come back to England. I feel Watford is my home.
In this article, we look back at Flores’ previous spell at Vicarage Road and analyse his managerial style to see what Fantasy managers can expect from the Hornets’ returning head coach.
What Has Flores Said About His Managerial Style?
Speaking to the club website following his appointment, Flores said of his defence-first policy:
It’s important. Defence is the most important thing in all the collective sports. Defence is the key for everything. If you want to attack well it is necessary to defend well.
I follow a lot NBA and when Toronto Raptors won the NBA, some journalist goes to the coach and asked what is the key. He said the key was the passion and the defence. This is the base for everything. It could be good for Watford.
Talking about his goals for the season:
The priority is results. We know the schedule is really bad now, but everything is possible with a positive mentality of the players, with the fans supporting us, with the passion, everything is possible.
We need to be realistic. Now we are bottom, but the first mentality is we don’t want to go back. We don’t want relegation. We need to put the team in the condition to keep growing. We need to be humble and the first thing is to save the situation, establish the team in a different position. Once we are established in a different position, we can talk about the next goal for this year.
Flores’ comments, then, suggest that he will be placing a lot of emphasis on improving Watford’s main Achilles heel for much of 2019: their defence.
The Hornets are without a league clean sheet since February, a barren run that stretches back 16 top-flight matches.
No other Premier League club has conceded as many ‘big chances’ (70) as Watford this calendar year.
Asked about the wealth of attacking options he now has at his disposal in relation to his defensive mindset, Sanchez said:
We have young players, very fast in attack. This is interesting. We have more than we had four years ago. We had two main, Deeney and Ighalo, but… now we have more and we have different qualities and skills. We need to guess how they are working together and need to know as soon as possible how they mix in the match.
Which Players Has Flores Worked With at Watford Before?
Flores’ one season in charge of the Hornets came in 2015/16, when he steered Watford to a 13th-place finish in their first season back in the top flight.
Six of the squad he worked with in that campaign remain at the club: Heurelho Gomes (£4.5m), Sebastian Prodl (£4.0m), Jose Holebas (£4.8m), Craig Cathcart (£4.4m), Etienne Capoue (£4.9m) and Troy Deeney (£6.3m).
Gomes, Cathcart, Capoue and Deeney were regulars under their returning boss, with each starting at least 33 Premier League games in that campaign.
Prodl began the season as a first-choice at centre-back, making nine successive starting XIs at the beginning of the campaign, but was then in and out of the side for the remainder of 2015/16 and didn’t string together more than two consecutive starts beyond this point.
Holebas was not favoured by Flores for much of the season, making only 11 starts in the top flight.
Interestingly, Deeney’s best single-season goal haul in the Premier League came under Flores: the Watford club captain, who is currently out for two months with a knee injury, scored on 13 occasions in 38 appearances.
Strike partner Odion Ighalo notched 15 goals in that campaign.
What Formation Did Flores Use at Watford?
On the face of it, there aren’t too many dissimilarities with Gracia’s set-up over the past year.
Flores favoured a back four for pretty much his entire season in charge of the Hornets, either using a standard 4-4-2 or tweaking the system slightly to a 4-3-1-2.
Capoue was, as he is now, one of the two combative players in the double-pivot, while Cathcart was a near-permanent fixture in a two-man central defence.
Deeney played with Gerard Deulofeu (£6.3m) alongside him for much of last season but Flores favoured another physical forward alongside the club captain in his tenure, in the form of Ighalo – although the Nigerian was no slouch on the ball.
Holebas and the pacy Ikechi Anya were occasionally deployed at left-back but Flores settled on a physical full-back pairing of Allan Nyom and Nathan Ake for much of the second half of the campaign, which perhaps opens up the possibility of the Craig Dawson (£4.9m) being moved over to right-back – as he was at West Brom under Tony Pulis – should Flores opt to ditch the attack-minded Daryl Janmaat/Kiko Femenia (£4.4m) in favour of a more defensively sound option.
Almen Abdi, a central midfielder by trade, was shunted out to the right flank for much of the 2015/16 season, with Flores deprived of too many natural wingers in his newly promoted squad.
Whether the pragmatic Flores would have opted for a flair player out wide had more been available is another question, though: Nordin Amrabat was brought in during the January transfer window but was handed only four starts and was used mostly as an impact substitute.
With the likes of Ismaila Sarr (£6.4m) and Roberto Pereyra (£5.8m) now at his disposal, it will be interesting to see how much trust Flores places in attack-minded assets who are perhaps not renowned for their defensive aptitude.
This excellent video from The Coaches Voice sees Flores talking through his tactics in the 3-0 win over Liverpool in December 2015:
Watford: 2015/16 v 2018/19 – Basic Stats
Comparing Watford’s record under Flores in 2015/16 to Gracia’s last full season in charge perhaps sums up the two managers.
Flores’ approach garnered four more clean sheets and saw nine fewer goals conceded but that came at the expense of productivity at the other end of the pitch.
Of the 40 goals that the Hornets recorded in 2015/16, 28 were scored by Ighalo and Deeney. Not one other Watford player scored more than two league goals that season.
Watford: 2015/16 v 2018/19 – Underlying Stats
For the below comparisons, we will detail where Watford ranked among Premier League clubs for key underlying stats (1st being the best possible figure, 20th the worst).
|Season||Shots conceded||Shots in the box conceded||Shots on target conceded||Big chances conceded||Chances from set plays conceded|
|Season||Shots||Shots in the box||Shots on target||Big chances||Chances from set plays|
Again, the key numbers (shots in the box, efforts on target and big chances) suggest Watford were more solid defensively under Flores but less of an attacking threat.
The Hornets created 51 big chances in 2015/16 compared to 81 last season but they conceded 32 fewer gilt-edged chances under Flores (66) than they did in Gracia’s final full season in charge (98).
Flores’ other managerial work
Since his departure from Watford, Flores has spent almost two years at Espanyol and then seven months at Chinese club Shanghai Greenland Shenhua FC.
Espanyol kept 11 clean sheets in 2016/17 and had banked nine shut-outs when Flores was dismissed ahead of Gameweek 34 of the following campaign.
That last season in charge of the La Liga club saw Espanyol really struggle for goals, scoring just 26 in the 33 matches that Flores oversaw.
Flores used a 4-4-2 for a large chunk of his time in Spain but we also saw a 4-2-3-1 used on several occasions: a system Flores had a reputation of playing before he first arrived in the Premier League in June 2015.
The Watford boss didn’t have much time to settle in China, lasting just 17 league and cup games before departing.
Flores lost nine of his 15 league games in charge, experimenting with wing-back systems and back fours before his departure in July of this year.
Watford sit bottom of our Season Ticker for both attack and defence over the next five Gameweeks, which perhaps gives Fantasy managers a nice audition period before the fixtures turn favourable in Gameweek 10.
We’ll be paying particular attention to what effect Flores can have on the Hornets’ porous backline, not just in relation to Watford’s own budget defensive assets (all of whom now cost less than £5.0m in FPL) but also how any improvement might affect Manchester City and Spurs’ attacking options in Gameweeks 6 and 9.
Flores’ reputation for pragmatic football would perhaps not bode well for Watford’s offensive assets but Deeney proved in 2015/16 that individual FPL players can still prosper in the Spaniard’s set-up, regardless of the approach.
Goals haven’t flowed from midfield in the past under Watford’s new head coach, so we will be keeping an eye on the underlying stats over the coming weeks to see if Pereyra et al are suffering in that regard: regular wide midfielders Abdi and Jose Manuel Jurado had just one big chance between them in the whole of 2015/16.
Flores has, arguably, a more talented squad at his disposal than he did in 2015/16, however, so will perhaps show a tad more ambition with his tactics.
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