Watford saw their five-match unbeaten streak come to an end on Monday and will be keen to avoid a second consecutive defeat when they host title-challengers Manchester City at Vicarage Road on Saturday (5.30pm, live on Sky Sports).
The Hornets were slightly unfortunate not to come away with a point from their match at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Monday after holding on for nearly half an hour with 10 men prior to conceding a late goal in a 2-1 defeat. While Nathan Ake had little cause for complaint over his dismissal for a recklessly high challenge, the organised and determined manner in which his side defended thereafter probably merited a draw.
Spurs deployed three centre-backs in a bid to stifle Watford’s strong strike partnership of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo (pictured). While it was Ighalo who levelled the scores just before half-time, it was a tactic that did have the desired effect of generally limiting their influence. It will be interesting to see if other teams now decide to take a similar approach and if so, if Quique Sanchez Flores is capable of coming up with solutions to keep his side marching on.
As it stands, the Spaniard looks set to comfortably steer Watford away from relegation issues in their first season back in the top flight following eight seasons in the Championship. They are eighth in the Premier League at the half-way stage of the campaign and their underlying statistics suggest that there is little false about their current position. Indeed, they indicate that a top-10 finish should be within their reach come the end of the season.
Flores was quick to emphasise just how proud he is of his players for their performances to date in the wake of the defeat to Spurs. He feels they are now capable of competing on an even footing with almost any team in the division and will look to the visit of Manchester City as an opportunity to take a big scalp in his side’s first match of the New Year.
Man City’s away record certainly provides the Hornets with a reason to be optimistic. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have failed to win in each of their last five away matches in all competitions and have won just three of their last 10. They have scored two or more goals in 10 of their last 11 home matches yet have failed to score in five of their last seven on the road.
In the circumstances, City would have been fairly content with their 0-0 draw away to high-flying Leicester on Tuesday. It was quite an even encounter, with one good chance per side, and Pellegrini afterwards noted his satisfaction with the solid manner in which his defence had dealt with one of the league’s best attacks. It was a result that saw them remain three points behind Leicester and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League table.
In what remains a very tight title race – one that Leicester coach Claudio Ranieri jokingly suggested “nobody wants to win” in the aftermath of Tuesday’s match – it will be important for Man City to strike a better balance between attack and defence during the second half of the season. They have an array of excellent forwards and the joint-best scoring record in the division but Tuesday’s clean sheet was their first in their last 10 matches in all competitions.
While it has at times been a case of the midfield leaving the defence with too much to do, there have also been some notably bad displays from within the back four. Pellegrini will have been encouraged by the manner in which Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala performed, but Leicester started with just one striker and his defensive pairing will be given a tougher time by Deeney and Ighalo this weekend.
That battle is, indeed, likely to prove key in determining the outcome at Vicarage Road. Watford are a strong and well-organised side who will make life as difficult as possible for City and will then lean on their powerful strike partnership to fire them to a point or more.