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Talking Tactics

Injection of pace could boost Watford's away form

Adrian Clarke 6 Jul 2018

The Hornets struggled for away goals in the second half of last season. Adrian Clarke looks at how that can change

Adrian Clarke looks at where clubs can improve for the 2018/19 season.


As he prepares his Watford team for the new season, one area Javier Gracia will be focusing on is an improvement in away form.

The head coach has yet to see his team score away from home in the Premier League since he took over at Vicarage Road in January.

This was despite Watford opening the season under Marco Silva with 15 goals from their opening seven away matches.

The Hornets were more dangerous under Silva, whose style fostered an average of 11.8 shots per away match, three higher than the 8.7 since his departure.

Dip in dynamism

So what brought the change?

There was no big difference in the shape under Gracia. Watford rotated between 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 3-4-2-1 systems, just as they had under Silva.

But there was a big drop in energy and movement in possession, which perhaps explains Watford's struggles away from Vicarage Road.

The Spaniard added an element of structure to the side but it was at the expense of qualities that had suited the team in the early weeks of 2017/18.

Gracia introduced a slower tempo, with fewer of the positional interchanges that had been the hallmark of Silva's tactical approach.

It made the Hornets predictable to defend against and opposing defenders were dragged out of position less often.

Watford away from home in 2017/18
  Silva Gracia
Km run/match 113.1 107.2
Sprints/match 542.8 514.6

Gracia's preference for Troy Deeney as the man leading the forward line perhaps also limited Watford's ability to counter.

Deeney, who started in five of Gracia's seven PL road trips, is less mobile than Andre Gray.

During 2017/18 the Hornets scored 12 away goals when the faster Gray led the line. His runs into the channels regularly helped Watford to stretch host teams.

Deeney v Gray away under Gracia
  Deeney Gray
Km run/90 9.0 10.0
Sprints/90 31.5 62.7
Richarlison resurgence required

A quicker style also seemed to suit Richarlison.

The Brazilian was in scintillating form early last season, especially on Watford's travels, where he made match-winning contributions.

Gracia used the 21-year-old no differently to Silva but Richarlison's performances dipped after Christmas.

Richarlison's away form 2017/18
  Starts Goals Assists
First nine matches 9 4 4
Last 10 matches 9 0 0

Richarlison thrived alongside a striker of Gray's style. The Brazilian created 1.3 chances per 90 minutes away from home under Silva. This dropped to 0.5 under Gracia.

He also had 3.2 shots per 90 under Silva compared with 2.6 under Gracia.

How should Gracia change his approach?

I feel that more pace needs to be injected into Watford's forward line. When they played with zest and freedom last term, they proved they could score goals on their travels.

The signing of the fleet-footed Swedish winger Ken Sema suggests that this issue is already being addressed.

Also in this series

Part 1: Finishing touch can lift Crystal Palace
Part 2: Can Brighton deliver at set-pieces?
Part 3: Breaking down opponents the next step for Burnley
Part 4: Pogba and Sanchez key to United reaching top gear
Part 5: Huddersfield must aim high to progress
Part 7: Ki to get Newcastle back in control
Part 8: Improving wing play the priority for Spurs
Part 9: Midfield pair can boost Hughes' resurgence
Part 10: Improvement in the air can lift Liverpool

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