Watford are not only the Premier League’s Christmas break losers, but they now face a challenge all too familiar; trying to overcome a New Year slump.
Since conquering Everton on the 10th December, Watford have deteriorated to a calamitous level. There only point since came at home to equally poor Crystal Palace on Boxing Day. It’s probably too early to be discussing in detail the nature of this year’s relegation battle, but with Watford seemingly ambling along, there can be no doubts they will be involved.
Presently, they are 7 points clear of Sunderland in 18th place, but their form is more on par with the likes of Crystal Palace and Hull City. If you’re a Watford fan, you’re probably experiencing déjà vu. This is all very familiar to what happened at the back end of last season when the Hornets, led then by Quique Sanchez Flores, won just 4 games after Christmas. The only difference is that leading up to last year’s Christmas period, Watford had lost just 5 games before winning 4 on the bounce and then drawing at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day. Back then, there was an air of safety already.
This year they have lost 10 already, with 7 coming in the last 10 matches. The 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool is understandably soul crushing, but Mazzarri is still failing in his attempts to rally the players. Previous to that Anfield nightmare, Watford were quietly accumulating. Sometimes lacking in consistency and defensive stability, they were competent and picking up points where you’d expect. It was nothing to the level of last season, but is was sufficient. Goals weren’t a problem, Capoue was excelling in front of goal and Deeney was doing enough without his trusty sidekick Odion Ighalo.
If anything screams help, it’s Watford’s defence. Led by Younes Kaboul, Watford failed to achieve any clean sheets until their 8th game of the season. They then went on a 3-match run of them against Middlesbrough, Swansea and Hull before conceding 6 to Liverpool and since then, they haven’t kept one.
2017 is huge for Watford. If it mirrors the beginning of 2016, they can wave goodbye to their Premier League tenure. Last year, they let the sun go down on themselves, this, it may well not come back up. Watford must not fall into the trap of feeling comfortable again, most significantly because they are not. Some clubs below them are making wholesale changes. Crystal Palace went with the seasoned Sam Allardyce, Swansea got rid of Bob Bradley and brought in the vastly experienced Paul Clement while Hull surprised everyone with their announcement of Marco Silva. Watford lack the urgency of the clubs around them, even if they are quite as endangered just yet.
Still, there have been no suggestions that Walter Mazzarri’s job stability is fragile. Alongside that, Etienne Capoue’s standards have fallen, they are ravaged by injuries and neither Deeney nor Ighalo have hit the heights they demonstrated last season. Injuries part-tell the tale, especially the one to Stefano Okaka who has not played a minute since his heroics against Everton. Somewhere down the line players have to take responsibility. Experienced members of the squad, namely Heurelho Gomes, Younes Kaboul, Etienne Capoue, Valeron Behrami and Troy Deeney must scruff this situation around the neck and face its honest truth.
The next few home fixtures for Watford represent opportunity and possible openings for Mazzarri. Middlesbrough, Burnley and West Ham are the next visitors to Vicarage Road and maximum points are becoming more necessity than want.
The Premier League throws up hard-hitting times for every one of its sides and optimistically, this can be thought of as a minor blip in form. The problem with optimistic thinking is that it is usually unrealistic. It isn’t a case of waiting for it to blow over, Watford must acknowledge their rut and be proactive. With the transfer window here, Mazzarri might consider freshening up his squad and accounting for the current injury list. Watford need a rocket to revive themselves and avoid similarities to the second half of last season. If not, their fate will be terminal.