Watford 1-3 Southampton
- Goals: Jan Bednarek (£4.4m) own-goal | Danny Ings (£7.3m) x2, James Ward-Prowse (£5.7m)
- Assists: Jose Holebas (£4.6m) | Will Smallbone (£4.5m), Che Adams (£5.3m)
- Bonus: Ings x3, Ward-Prowse x2, Oriol Romeu (£4.3m) x1
Sunday’s match at Vicarage Road was our bi-weekly reminder that football, and Fantasy Premier League, rarely goes according to the script.
Mid-table Southampton, sitting 10 points clear of the drop zone heading into Gameweek 32+, were meant to be in ‘on the beach’ territory, and Watford, hovering precariously above the bottom three, were the ones supposed to be scrapping for their lives.
But the Saints were hungrier, sharper, quicker to the second ball and just generally better than their hosts in every department this weekend, inflicting a fully deserved defeat on Nigel Pearson’s side.
Watford might well tick the ‘something to play for’ box with regards to motivation but they have also won just one of their last ten league fixtures (improbably against Liverpool), a run that includes six meetings with teams currently ranked tenth or below.
The triple-header against Norwich City, Newcastle United and West Ham United in Gameweeks 34+ to 36+ still holds great appeal but owners of the Hornets’ Fantasy assets are now facing the eternal ‘form versus fixtures’ quandary, with Watford ranked a lowly 18th when clubs are filtered by their last ten matches.
Pearson’s troops didn’t even manage a single shot on target on Sunday, with their goal coming courtesy of Jan Bednarek (£4.4m); the Polish stopper turning a Jose Holebas (£4.6m) cross past his own goalkeeper late in the game.
Ismaila Sarr (£6.3m) perhaps looked the likeliest to make things happening, seeing a close-range shot blocked just after the interval and twice getting into his now customary promising positions on the byline, but even he was well below-par and his searing pre-lockdown form seems a distant memory.
Troy Deeney (£6.2m) appeared more interested in winning free-kicks than staying on his feet and hasn’t forced any goalkeeper into a save since the Premier League resumed, while the home side’s hoofball tactics played right into the hands of Bednarek and the galumphing Jannik Vestergaard (£4.5m).
The hosts were poor at the other end, too, guilty of backing off their opponents and, in the case of Southampton’s second strike, gift-wrapping goals.
Pearson said of his side’s display after the game:
We were second best for too long. You can’t concede goals like we have, give gifts to the opponents. It makes the job harder.
We have to go back to showing a cohesion as a group of people. At the moment it is frustrating, because we are not achieving the performances we know we are capable of.
Southampton have been difficult to fathom this season.
Ranked fifth when clubs are filtered by their away results (this was their eighth success on the road in 2019/20), the Saints are rock-bottom when we look at home fixtures.
Their Jekyll-and-Hyde displays, something Hasenhuttl bemoaned in midweek, is perfectly encapsulated by their form in 2020: played 12, won six, lost six.
Sunday’s match was the Saints at their best, with the visitors aggressive in the press, tidy on the ball and robust at the back.
Bednarek and Vestergaard were superb at centre-half, blocking everything on the ground and imperious in the air, and right-back Kyle Walker-Peters (£4.4m) built on a promising 45 minutes at Arsenal with another impressive showing here.
The ever-present James Ward-Prowse (£5.7m), who hasn’t missed a minute of league football this season, showcased his set-piece expertise with a brilliant 81st-minute free-kick, meanwhile.
Admittedly not much of threat from open play these days as one of Hasenhuttl’s ‘number sixes’, seven of the nine goals and assists he has registered this season have been from dead-ball situations.
Onto the main event, though, and someone who has mostly been a reliable pick even through Southampton’s rollercoaster year.
Danny Ings (£7.3m) was by far the most-owned Fantasy asset in this fixture and he rewarded his remaining owners by scoring his 17th and 18th Premier League goals of the season, registering his joint-highest FPL haul of 2019/20 in the process.
Having racked up 177 minutes in Saints’ first two post-restart fixtures, many had thought that Ings was a candidate for rotation on Sunday.
Indeed, Hasenhuttl freshened up his side by making five changes, with the in-form Stuart Armstrong (£5.2m) benched because of worries over fatigue – how many times have we heard the Southampton boss use this reasoning for managing Ings’ minutes?
But Ings did start and went on to move within one goal of Jamie Vardy (£9.8m) in the race for the Golden Boot, with his first strike against Watford in particular illustrating his clinical edge.
His second goal, which stemmed from a poor Ben Foster (£4.9m) throw out, was Ings at his predatory, off-the-ball best; this wasn’t the first instance in which we have seen him force or capitalise on a defensive error this season.
The icing on the cake for Ings’ owners came in Hasenhuttl’s post-match press conference, with the Southampton boss suggesting he would field his striker (although he didn’t explicitly say ‘start)’ in all six of his side’s remaining games to help him in the pursuit of individual glory:
I think anything is possible [with regards to the race for the Golden Boot].
We will play with him the last six games and then he will have six chances to score.
If he gets the chance you can see how fantastic his finishing is at the moment. He seems fitter than ever.
He was very hard working in the shutdown and that gives him now fantastic physical options.
While the next three games for Southampton are tricky (both Manchester clubs and Everton) and may slow investment, Saints’ run-in of Brighton, Bournemouth and Sheffield United will likely boost Ings’ ownership figures further should he be still within a shout of the Golden Boot, as seems likely.
Watford XI (4-2-3-1): Foster; Femenia (Pussetto 79′), Dawson, Cathcart, Masina (Holebas 73′); Hughes (Welbeck 73′), Capoue; Sarr, Doucoure, Pereyra (Pedro 73′); Deeney.
Southampton XI (4-4-2): McCarthy; Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Vestergaard, Bertrand; Smallbone (Armstrong 65′), Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Redmond; Long (Adams 75′), Ings.