Premier League

Lessons Silva Must Learn From Watford Losses

 • by Tom Bodell
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For Watford fans defeat at Chelsea was just about excusable. They had seen their side come from behind against the Premier League champions only to be undone late on.

Whereas against Stoke City, typically a hard nut to crack, the Hornets were unable to break down Mark Hughes‘ limited side after falling behind.

But it was a different matter altogether at Everton on Sunday as Marco Silva‘s men somehow squandered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 in stoppage time against the Toffees.

In summary, Watford would have expected to take something from two of those games given the situations they found themselves in, and in the other they’d have backed themselves to prevail given the opposition.

It’s a mark, however, of how far the Hornets have come under Silva’s stewardship that there was such clear disappointment after all three.

But what can Watford learn from these three setbacks and where can they improve?

1. Start seeing games out

There’s nothing more galling than blowing a lead. To see a 2-1 advantage slip at the home of the champions was one thing, few would have expected Watford to be in front at any stage, after all.

However, the visitors carved out numerous opportunities to extend their lead and Richarlison, in particular, was guilty of squandering gilt-edged opportunities to give his side breathing space.

So when Chelsea levelled and then went on to win 4-2 there was a real sense of an opportunity missed for Silva’s side. They certainly hadn’t been lucky; they had carved out more than presentable chances time and time again and had Antonio Conte‘s men on the racks.

One to chalk up to experience, perhaps. But when the same thing happens a fortnight later questions have to be asked. Watford were cruising at Goodison Park when keeper Heurelho Gomes was taken off following a collision with Watford defender Christian Kabasele.

The lengthy delay and loss of their experienced goalkeeper was a blow from which the Hornets failed to recover and proved terminal for their chances of securing victory. But it shouldn’t. And this is where Silva will earn his corn.

Something went badly wrong against the managerless Toffees, who had been without a win in eight games in all competitions and looked listless until substitute keeper Orestis Karnezis‘ almighty blunder for Oumar Niasse‘s goal.

That goal gave Everton a lifeline they scarcely deserved and from there, with the vociferous backing of Goodison Park, there was only one winner. What does that come down to? That is what Silva will be trying to figure out.

One suspicion is not having the right mentality. Being able to hold your nerve comes with experience. But the side did not lack for that and Silva will have to come up with a plan to implement the next time the Hornets hold a lead. That or change the personnel.

2. Make bolder substitutions

What will go a long way towards helping the Hornets see out games is the substitutions Silva makes. The Portuguese boss rightly got the plaudits in the early weeks of the season when his changes helped turn a draw into a late 2-1 victory at Swansea City.

But he has also sampled the other side of the coin this season. And against Chelsea the decision to withdraw striker Troy Deeney in favour of midfielder Ben Watson backfired spectacularly.

In taking off their No.9, Watford lost their line leader, focal point and the man tasked with keeping Chelsea defender David Luiz pinned in. Without Deeney to occupy him the Brazilian was able to step out of defence, push into midfield and play.

The Blues seized momentum and control and before long it was a forgone conclusion that the West Londoners would clinch all three points while Silva was left to rue his costly call.

To be fair to the former Hull City coach there was little he could do on Sunday. The collision between Gomes and Kabasele robbed him of two players and burned two changes.

But the decision to finally relent and bring on outcast Stefano Okaka was not taken until the 89th minute when it was 2-2. A minute later the Toffees were in front from the penalty spot. That substitution needed to come earlier.

3. Make a role for Okaka

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On the subject of Okaka, Silva – without prompting – praised the Italian at full-time, saying: “We believe when we change and put Okaka on, we play with more heart and in our style of play.”

Okaka has been persona non grata at Vicarage Road since scoring in the opening-day draw with Liverpool. He was a substitute twice in the games immediately after but was not on the bench again until Sunday’s trip to Merseyside.

In the build-up Silva denied a story suggesting the former Roma forward did not know why he was being left out, claiming he and ‘everyone else’ at Watford knew why he had been left out the match-day squad since.

But with Deeney suspended Silva swallowed his pride and included the burly frontman as a substitute at Goodison Park with his redemption completed late on.

Deeney is out for the next two and with £18.5million club-record addition Andre Gray flattering to deceive, it is still unclear who Silva’s first-choice forward is.

The former Olympiacos boss would do well to determine his preference sooner or later because the current rotation policy isn’t helping anyone either.

4. Find a solution when Pereyra’s missing

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One of the biggest misses since the defeat at Chelsea has been Roberto Pereyra. The Argentine international had shone on the right of a front three against the Blues and Arsenal, scoring in the former.

The ex-Juventus man saw his first season in WD18 beset with injury, missing the second half of the season with knee ligament damage. And when he was withdrawn after 65 minutes at Chelsea, it was the second time this season he has been unable to complete a game.

Without Pereyra Watford miss someone who can link the midfield and attack. He is a classy operator and almost unique in the Hornets’ squad. While Brazilian wunderkind Richarlison has shown a knack for finding the back of the net, he plays a lot higher than his fellow South American.

One man who could fulfil that role is Will Hughes. The England Under-21 international was handed his long-awaited first start of the season at Everton and did well. If Pereyra fails to recover in time for the visit of West Ham United after the international break then Hughes could get another start. He has the quality in possession and intelligence to help unpick the lock.

Another alternative would be to push Tom Cleverley – who missed a penalty which would have seen Watford draw level on Sunday wide – back into the No.10 role he filled so impressively in the early weeks of the season.

That relies on Silva finding a suitable partner for Abdoulaye Doucouré at the base of midfield. Étienne Capoue has tried and failed and perhaps, therefore, the Hornets will look to address that area in January by which time Nathaniel Chalobah should be back.

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