Our series on the newly-promoted Premier League sides continues with this look at Watford’s goalkeepers and defenders.
In this article, we will assess their overall clean sheet potential and then have a look at some of the key Fantasy Premier League (FPL) players in their backline.
WHAT IS WATFORD’S CLEAN SHEET POTENTIAL?
Watford return to the Premier League as the Championship runners-up thanks largely to a strong defence that formed the foundation of their success.
Their totals of 23 clean sheets and 30 goals conceded were both league-leading and show how good the Hornets were at the back.
In fact, their goals conceded total equalled a Championship record set by Preston North End back in the 2005/06 season.
Watford’s home record especially stood out in 2020/21:
The appointment of Xisco Muñoz as head coach in December was the turning point, as the Hornets went on to concede only three goals in 13 home matches under the Spaniard, claiming 11 clean sheets.
Having started in a 4-4-2 formation, from February onwards they settled on a 4-3-3 which relied on the full-backs overlapping and getting the wingers on the ball as much as possible.
“Sometimes you need to change because of different situations, like injuries. We started in 4-4-2 because we were improving our physical condition and this is a formation where you have more normal situations on the pitch. After this we changed to 4-3-3 and this is a formation the team feels more comfortable in. We had better condition, better power, better speed and higher intensity, and it was a big success – Xisco Muñoz
Watford start 2021/22 with an appealing run and sit top of our Season Ticker for ease of fixture in Gameweeks 1-7:
To get back into the Premier League at the first attempt following relegation in 2019/20 was no mean feat.
And while the Championship and Premier League has a huge gulf in quality, the numbers above do suggest that there could be value in Watford’s backline next season.
In goal, Daniel Bachmann (£4.5m) appears to have moved ahead of Ben Foster (£4.0m) as Watford’s no. 1.
The Austrian international, who featured at EURO 2020, started the season as backup to Foster but was awarded a first league start in January and went on to keep the jersey thanks to some impressive showings.
He made 23 starts and kept 13 clean sheets under Muñoz, which does suggest Foster will have to bide his time and wait for opportunities.
It’s also worth noting that Bachmann saved three penalties in a man-of-the-match Carabao Cup performance against Oxford United back in September, and kept out another against Rotherham earlier this year.
Third-choice will be former Newcastle United custodian Rob Elliot, who has earned himself a new contract but is yet to be added to the game.
Francisco Sierralta (£4.5m) and William Troost-Ekong (£4.5m) played the majority of matches under Muñoz, and will presumably start the new campaign as first choices.
The duo largely performed well in 2020/21, keeping 12 clean sheets in the 19 games that they were paired together.
Troost-Ekong is a regular in the Nigeria squad, but Sierralta, who is 6ft 4in, perhaps looks like the stronger option in FPL.
Like Bachmann, he’s had to be patient, but made his debut on Boxing Day and hasn’t looked back since. He finished third in Watford’s Player of the Season vote, which is especially impressive considering he only featured in half of the promotion-winning campaign, and ranked top amongst the Hornets’ backline for goal attempts (18).
However, nine yellow cards in 26 appearances suggests he might need to reign it in a little in the top-flight.
Christian Kabasele (£4.5m) and Craig Cathcart (£4.5m) will aim to push them for starting places, while new signing Matthew Pollock (£4.0m) will also offer cover having signed from Grimsby Town on a five-year deal in May.
Right-back Kiko Femenía (£4.5m) was his club’s standout defender in terms of attacking returns in 2020/21, with four assists in 37 outings. He also supplied 30 key passes, more than the rest of the Watford full-backs combined.
One of the Hornets’ strongest areas is their right wing, with Femenía and Ismaila Sarr (£6.0m) striking up a real understanding together.
On the other flank, it’s hard to envisage Adam Masina (£4.5m) being dropped after his excellent performances last term. The Morocco-born left-back made 26 appearances and scored two goals, and was also named in the EFL Championship Team of the Season.
Above: Kiko Femenía (top) and Adam Masina’s (bottom) 2020/21 touch heatmaps, via Sofa Score
That suggests new signing Danny Rose (£4.5m) will have a tough time displacing him in the starting XI, and given that his last Premier League game was for Newcastle United in 2019/20, you suspect plenty of work needs to be done to get him first-team ready.
Jeremy Ngakia (£4.5m) made 26 appearances last season and provides an alternative to Femenía, while Spanish defender Marc Navarro (£4.0m), who can also play at centre-back, offers further depth.
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