Talking Tactics

How a change of shape has lifted Watford

By Adrian Clarke 24 Aug 2018
Burnley v Watford - Watford celebrate Will Hughes's goal

Adrian Clarke explains why Javi Gracia's new formation will pose Crystal Palace problems

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Watford v Crystal Palace

A change of system from Javi Gracia has breathed new life into Watford, chasing a third successive Premier League victory when they host Crystal Palace on Sunday.

After experimenting with six different formations during the final 14 matches of 2017/18, the Watford head coach began this campaign with a new shape.

Pairing strikers Andre Gray and Troy Deeney together in a two-pronged attack, Watford have performed with reinvigorated energy in a narrow 4-2-2-2 system.

Direct and clinical

Gracia has made subtle adjustments to their style of play.

One is greater passing of the ball from back to front. Watford have attempted 21 per cent more long passes per 90 minutes compared with last season.

Having two front men to aim for makes this a logical change of direction from Gracia, who must be delighted with the understanding Gray and Deeney have struck up.

The two complement each other well. Their link-up play, movement and industry are helping Watford get into dangerous areas more frequently.

Although it is early in the season, the stats show a rise in the chances Gracia’s men have been creating so far.

Watford in PL 2018/19
  2018/19 PL rank 2017/18 PL rank
Long balls/90 77.0 3 63.4 14
Key passes/90 10.5 7 8.5 11
Shots/90 14.0 6 11.6 11

Watford’s finishing has also been clinical.

Gray, Roberto Pereyra (twice) and Will Hughes have all scored with outstanding strikes that would qualify as half-chances at best.

It remains to be seen if Watford can maintain their impressive 25 per cent conversion rate, which is double their rate of 12.5 per cent last season.

Better balance in midfield

Rather than adopting a traditional 4-4-2 formation with a couple of wingers, a system he used in the final two home matches last season, Gracia has developed a shape that suits his midfielders better.

Hughes and Pereyra are both attacking midfielders rather than wingers, so the head coach has found a template that plays to their strengths.

Flitting between wing duties and positions 25 yards inside the touchline, both wide midfielders have been sharp and difficult to track.

Watford are also benefiting from a physically imposing central midfield unit.

Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure have made Watford the best PL ball-winners in the middle third, combining power with quality during wins over Brighton & Hove Albion and Burnley.

Most possession won in middle third
Club Total Player Total
WAT 65 Stephens (BHA) 14
TOT 57 Capoue (WAT) 13
LIV 56 Doucoure (WAT) 13
CHE 54 Alli (TOT) 13
CAR 54 Keita (LIV) 13

Watford's physical duo provide a platform that allows their in-form attacking quartet to concentrate on looking to threaten opponents.

Gracia’s innovative tactical outlook has sparked a positive change, and Crystal Palace are in for a tough examination at Vicarage Road.

Also in this series

Part 1: Brighton must seek to stop Wijnaldum
Part 2: Jimenez and hard work can pose problems for Man City
Part 4: Back four can bring Spurs joy at Man Utd

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