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Hughes Can Profit From Chalobah Injury

 • by Tom Bodell
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With all the fanfare around the signing of Nathaniel Chalobah and the club-record capture of Andre Gray, the more modest addition of Will Hughes from Derby County has gone under the radar at Watford as they England Under-21 regular has needed to largely watch on from the sidelines.

Hughes had been the golden boy of the Championship in his youth and had been a Liverpool transfer target and wanted by most Premier League sides while still a teenager.

But serious injury meant he missed most of the 2015/16 campaign and the Hornets were able to secure the creative midfielder this summer in a deal worth around £8million.

But the 22-year-old has had to be patient. He made his only appearance of the season so far in the Carabao Cup defeat to Championship side Bristol City – where he looked rusty – and has only been named on the bench once for a Premier League game.

For a player of whom big things have been expected for some time, it has been a slow start to life at Vicarage Road.

But one man’s misfortune is another’s fortune and earlier this week Watford confirmed Chalobah would be sidelined for a little while with a fractured knee cap. The hope is the former Chelsea man will return before the New Year.

In the meantime that opens up a spot in midfield. For Saturday’s trip to Swansea City, Marco Silva handed Étienne Capoue a start, with Tom Cleverley – who has been utilised as a No.10 to good effect at the start of this season – dropping back to partner the imperious Abdoulaye Doucouré at the base of midfield.

Capoue had been left out of a pre-season fixture early in Silva’s regime and it appeared as though the languid, albeit hugely talented, Frenchman might not be to the new head coach’s liking.

But after starting the season on the bench, the former Tottenham Hotspur man has worked his way back into the side. He scored a cracking second at Bournemouth in a 2-0 away win and his redemption was complete when he got the nod at the Liberty Stadium.

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However, such is Watford’s depth now that Roberto Pereyra – who became the Hornets’ £13million record signing from Juventus last summer – has been reduced to the role of back-up in the opening weeks of the season.

In mitigation, the Argentine is gradually working his way back from knee ligament damage. But the fact he has not been rushed back into the starting XI gives and indication of the quality in depth available to Silva – more than any other man to guide Watford in the Premier League.

So it is no crime that Hughes, still a Premier League novice, is yet to really stamp his authority on the Hornets’ starting XI. But could this be his chance?

Despite his slight stance, standing at 5ft 8ins, he is a surprisingly robust midfielder. In his final season at Derby he averaged 2.7 tackles a game – a return most out-and-out destroyers wouldn’t sniff at.

He also averaged one interception per match and blocked 1.2 passes each game as well. For context, Doucouré, the rangy Frenchman who sits deepest in the Golden Boys’ midfield, has managed 0.8 tackles and 1.2 interceptions this season, blocking 0.8 passes.

So there is plenty to suggest Hughes could quite happily sit alongside Doucouré as a deep-lying playmaker, helping break down opposition moves and starting Watford’s attacks.

Will Hughes playing for England's Under-21s v Finland

A good example of just that, taken from England Under-21s’ win over Finland in 2013, sees Hughes spot the danger ahead of him as the visitors try a square ball in midfield. He is alert to nip in and win possession for the Three Lions.

Will Hughes playing for England's Under-21s v Finland

Hughes then follows his pass to Ravel Morrison (10) and provides his team-mate with an option in support as England counter. Hughes is every bit as good on the ball and averaged at least 80 per cent pass completion in his last four seasons with Derby.

The question is whether the Weybridge-born midfielder is ready. Clearly Silva has not felt so far that Hughes is one of the 18 most suitable players available to him on a matchday so far, and that won’t automatically change because of Chalobah’s lay-off.

But the 22-year-old has the tools to fill in for the £5million summer signing, and if Chalobah’s recent England call-up has proven anything, football is about taking your chances when they present themselves.

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