The Hornets were roundly criticised for allowing Slaviša Jokanović‘s contract to run out after steering the club into the Premier League, vilified for sacking the hugely-popular Quique Sánchez Flores and chastised for parting with Walter Mazzarri. All after a single season, or less, at the helm.
But the appointment of former Hull City coach Marco Silva has the Hornets buzzing once more. So impressive has the Portuguese boss been that Everton offered £10million to take him off Watford’s hands and were prepared to meet virtually any price.
But owner Gino Pozzo and chairman Scott Duxbury batted that offer, and several others, away. Despite a slump in December, Watford are on course for their best top flight finish ever – and by some distance, too.
And in order to get a handle on what Hornets fans are thinking ahead of the transfer window opening on January 1, we canvassed the opinion of Anthony from Watford Status, Ed Perchard from In The Wolf’s Mouth and Mike Parkin from From The Rookery End.
Which areas do Watford need to strengthen in January and why?
Anthony: There’s no doubt Watford need to inject next level quality into defence and attack. The defence features players who were brought to the club to solidify us in the Premier League.
They have done that and should be applauded for it. But we’re conceding far too many. In attack, with Stefano Okaka disappearing into abyss, we’ve been bailed out by our midfield.
Ed: Watford’s winter downturn has heightened panic among fans, but the only thing we really need is a solid centre back and some more quality up front.
The latter, made necessary by Deeney’s lack of mobility and Gray’s inconsistency, is going to be hard to come by in a January transfer window, especially at a reasonable price.
Injuries have meant that we have relied on Adrian Mariappa – out of his depth – and an error-prone Christian Kabasele at the back this season. Who knows if others will regain fitness, so a mobile centre back with some leadership would be terrific.
Mike: After a barnstorming start to the campaign, cracks have started to show at both ends of the pitch.
Defensively, the Hornets have never looked solid, largely due to an ever changing defensive unit with injuries and suspensions both taking their toll, but in truth, there’s some quality lacking too. A reliable, experienced centre-back will surely be high on the January hit list.
Watford are struggling in front of goal, too. Neither Gray or Deeney are in any sort of form and the only other option is the firmly out of favour Okaka. Adding firepower early in the new year is critical.
Name three realistic transfer targets you would like Watford to sign in January and who should they replace in your starting XI?
Anthony: Ryan Sessegnon at Fulham. He’s ultra-talented speedster who already has a hat-trick this season. He would add energy into an already talented squad. But we would need to act quickly as he could have same impact as Dele Alli.
Manchester United‘s Luke Shaw started the Carabao Cup defeat against Bristol City in midweek, but has been besieged with injuries and left-back is a weak spot for Watford. Erik Lamela at Tottenham would be handy, too, as our midfield is looking pretty depleted at present and he would add some much-needed energy.
Ed: Daniel Sturridge on loan to replace Deeney, push Gray and give our physios something else to do would be nice. Let’s recapture that Bolton magic. With José Holebas on the naughty step again we need long-term plans for the left side, so Sessegnon would be tremendous.
And any centre-back that isn’t always injured or can deal with balls bouncing around the box. Preferably both. Send suggestions to Watford FC ℅ Gino Pozzo.
Mike: Anyone who has spent any amount of time watching Watford under the Pozzo regime will know better than to try and predict transfer targets, but there are a few players that might be sweating on their futures.
Holebas is nearing the end of his contract and while talented, his erratic performances and ill-discipline have meant a fractious relationship with supporters. A paucity of left sided options may see him kept on, but there’s a chance he’ll depart.
Okaka has been thrust into action seemingly only as a last resort, so if a new striker is brought in, the big Italian must surely be questioning his Vicarage Road future. The same must go for midfield stalwart Ben Watson; a valiant servant at WD18, but another that will be seeking first team opportunities elsewhere sooner rather than later.
What is your number one fear for January?
Anthony: I’ve no concerns with a top player leaving, I reckon Pozzo and Duxbury will be close to their word on keeping talent until the summer at least.
It’s the loss of Heurelho Gomes to injury that scares me the most. We’ve never had a replacement keeper who hasn’t struck fear into us.
Ed: We’re not absolutely desperate to strengthen any position (depending on your ambitions), so it would have to be one of the big boys jumping in to take Richarlison.
We don’t need to sell but he’s bound to go eventually and he’s already the focal point of the team. So if we are to push on and maybe challenge for Europe, we’ll need him to stick around until the summer.
Mike: A failure to address the current issues could make for a difficult second half to the season. Watford’s end of year form has been very poor and if the right faces aren’t brought in, there is a danger that the rest of the season could turn into an unedifying slog. Again.
Big bids for star players Abdoulaye Doucouré and Richarlison could also be destabilising; both are integral to Watford’s success and keeping them until the end of the season is absolutely critical.
What would your dream January transfer window look like?
Anthony: The dream would be to make next level signings up front and at centre-back. We are already close to bringing in a talented young Swedish keeper called Pontus Dahlberg, who has been heavily linked.
I make an emphasis on ‘next level’ because if Watford want to make that step up, these have to be addressed. Maybe Pozzo is looking to make top signings in summer – most fans want quality over quantity.
You could see Pozzo shifting to bring in young energetic talent to Vicarage Road in the summer with the likes of Will Hughes & Nathaniel Chalobah. Another talent akin to those would be greatly appreciated.
Ed: January transfers are all about hitting the ground running and so often it takes signings months to bed in. So if we could replicate our summer business by getting some young, hungry English players in that would be great.
Richarlison and Doucouré are likely summer departures, so if we can make it through the rest of the Christmas calendar unscathed, get a few of our key players back fit and add some quality at the front – don’t make me watch any more of Deeney as a lone striker – and at the back, we might be able to wrestle ourselves back into European contention.
Mike: A proven striker would be be as exciting as it is necessary. The Hornets usually create plenty of chances and a front man on his game, playing alongside Richarlison et al would give the opposition some serious questions to answer.
With the world and his wife in the market for a similar player, Pozzo and Duxbury are going to have to earn their money here, but they’ve done it before
A commanding centre-back would also put Watford fans’ minds at ease. All too often the Hornets are undone by mistakes at the back. An experienced head in there at the back would make the world of difference.