Winless in the Premier League until November 8, Watford looked dead and buried until Nigel Pearson’s appointment in mid-December.
The former Leicester City boss became Watford’s third head coach of the season, succeeding Quique Sánchez Flores after the Spaniard’s disastrous second stint.
Four wins in their next five Premier League fixtures gave the Hornets renewed optimism. Even though they’ve won just once since – beating champions-elect Liverpool 3-0 – Watford find themselves a place and a goal outside the bottom three.
A lot of what the Hertfordshire side do this summer will be predicated on which division they’re in. But with Pearson – the architect of Leicester’s Great Escape – at the helm, anything is possible.
The best news to come from the last few months for Watford is No.1 goalkeeper Ben Foster has signed a two-year extension. However, backup keeper Heurelho Gomes could finally retire after surprisingly extending his career by an additional 12 months last summer.
The hugely popular Mariappa, who has now spent ten years at Vicarage Road across two spells, could well be kept on. Having lost his left-back spot to Adam Masina this season, Holebas looks set to depart.
Argentine attacker Pereyra has openly flirted with the idea of returning to Italy and has been in and out of the side since Pearson took over. At 29 and with a year remaining on his contract, this could be Watford’s best chance to make some decent money on him.
Gray, the club’s previous record signing at £18.5million, has failed to build on a series of impressive substitute appearances last term. The 28-year-old was heavily linked with Leeds United in January and a move to a high-end Championship club could reignite his career.
Nigerian international Success has been anything but. The 24-year-old has just two Premier League goals in 54 league appearances – 43 from the bench – which doesn’t suggest a turnaround is likely.
Key areas to strengthen
The two problem areas for Watford coaches in recent seasons remain: up front and centre-back.
Craig Dawson was meant to be the final piece of the jigsaw when he signed from West Bromwich Albion last summer. But the centre-half has endured a tough first season in WD18. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the 30-year-old left one way or another.
Mariappa, who will turn 34 next season, is a good dressing room influence and a committed, whole-hearted defender. But he isn’t of the quality required to start every week. Similar questions will be asked of Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele ahead of next season.
Another left-back will have to be found if Holebas leaves but Pervis Estupiñán, who has shone on loan at Osasuna, could be the answer. The 22-year-old Ecuadorian is in the final year of a two-season loan in Spain with his performances catching the eye. In fact, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur are both keen – according to AS.
Further forward, Troy Deeney remains the Hornets’ most reliable source of goals. The skipper has missed three months of the season after knee surgery but has scored since times since returning. Neither Gray nor Danny Welbeck could fill the void in his absence.
Whether Brazilian wonderkid João Pedro or Adalberto Peñaranda, now 23, are ready or able to lead the line in the Premier League remains to be seen. With South American prodigies Luis Suárez and Cucho Hernández to consider too, it will be interesting to see what Watford do.
On paper at least, Watford have already made Pape Gueye their first summer signing on a free transfer from Le Havre. However, the 21-year-old refutes the Hornets’ claims and released a statement in L’Equipe to say he would be ending “all contractual links”. Despite this, Watford plan to lodge his registration with the Premier League when his deal at Le Havre ends on June 30.
Nice full-back Youcef Atal has drawn interest domestically – Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly keen – as well as from Napoli and Watford. However, president Jean-Pierre Rivère says the Algerian won’t allow Atal to leave.
Another full-back on Watford’s radar is West Ham United youngster Jeremy Ngakia. The 19-year-old is expected to leave the East Londoners when his contract expires at the end of this month. Bundesliga side Schalke are also keen, according to the Daily Mail.
Matty Longstaff is another free agent who has been linked with Watford. The Newcastle United midfielder is in the midst of a contract stand-off with the Magpies and has been linked with Udinese. Watford share owners with the Zebrette and there have been suggestions the 20-year-old could eventually find his way to Vicarage Road.