Just a quick reaction to the Stevenage game, here. We must make the most of these Saturdays not completely dominated by football while we can.
Disclaimer: By saying that a certain player was unimpressive, I am not saying that they’re crap, that there’s no hope for them, or anything of the sort. I am saying they weren’t very good today. I understand that friendlies are not the be all and end all and that different players are at different stages of their pre-season. There are no conclusions being drawn here, only hypotheses.
– Of all the players on show today, I was most anxious to see Davide Faraoni. His credentials are unparalleled in the new arrivals, and the positive words used by journalists of national renown about him show that he’s a player considered to have a future at the top level.
That being said, I was severely underwhelmed. This being the first proper game of pre-season, players having a dodgy touch here and there is to be expected, but Faraoni seemed to be absent mentally. We expected a defensive-minded wing-back but he did not track Luke Freeman, Boro’s left winger, at all, and when we broke, usually through Abdi, he was extremely slow to get forward, despite having acres of space ahead of him.
When he did get forward he showed some nice touches around the box when under close scrutiny from defenders, but it was rare that he got that far. I worry that if we play a 3-5-2 as worked so well last season we will be lacking in width with Faraoni on the right.
Midway through the second half we switched to a 4-2-1-3 formation and the two wide forwards provided a wide outlet and kept the Boro full-backs very busy. Faraoni went off as the change was made, but I feel that this formation might be better suited to accommodating him.
– Gabriele Angella was no such disappointment. Put in the middle of the three man defence he was untroubled by the sizable Stevenage front two of Oumare Tounkara and Dani Lopez. This was not a virtuoso display of tackling or harrying – things rarely got that far. He’s one of those defenders that will never be backed up by reams of statistics or stand out because of flashy defensive moves; he is a proactive defender, rather than a reactive one. His judgement, anticipation and speed of movement means that his game today was more or less restricted to cutting in front of a striker, taking a touch and playing the ball on. He barely had to leave first gear – apart from an occasion in the second half, when he met a dangerously flighted ball into the Watford penalty area with a nonchalant overhead kick, floating the ball out of danger with the most cultured of whomps. Lovely stuff.
– We are destined never to score from a set piece again.
– Fabbrini was not the lightweight Fancy Dan that I was expecting. Playing in a customary central midfield position for the first part of the second half, Diego contended well with a Boro midfield that was more than willing to put the boot in. With neat feet and good lateral movement, the Italian had a fine game and it was his good work that lead to the first goal: moving the ball into the final third, drawing in three Stevenage defenders before playing in the marauding Daniel Pudil on the left. Pudil’s shot was deflected but broke to Javier Acuña the far post, who hammered the ball into the roof of the net first time.
I was stood amongst the Stevenage fans, taking the occasion as an opportunity to wind up my many Boro-supporting (god knows why) friends. Those around me, of course poorly disposed to cheating Watford from the start, were spewing at Fabbrini as he was constantly prodded, kicked and shunted: ‘Get up you cheating ****er’ was a commonly used phrase. To his credit, Fabbrini didn’t moan much and always picked himself up off the floor fairly rapidly. But he’ll be one that really gets opposition fans’ backs up, which is absolutely wonderful.
– He has god-awful hair though. Those at the Lamex were treated to Fernando Forestieri’s newly tamed do, but the pleasure of that was countered by the scruffy numbers atop both Fabbrini and Faraoni. They have two more weeks of pre-season to iron out these kinks.
– You could tell that we haven’t had much competitive football so far this pre-season. In the first half, the team was sloppy on the ball from front to back. Almen Abdi often found himself on the ball with nobody to play the ball to, and Forestieri and Troy Deeney – his well-taken goal aside – seemed to be on their heels throughout.
Deeney’s performance picked up when joined by Acuña up front. The Paraguayan is even shorter than I expected, and not svelte by anybody’s standards, but has good movement, showed good touches and took his goal very, very well. When the formation was changed, Acuña moved out to the right, with Bernard Mensah on the left. Mensah showed a lot of confidence to take his man on and seems to be a versatile forward, capable of playing both as a target man and out wide. A lot of promise for the future there.
– The 4-2-1-3 worked well, I thought. Battocchio and Connor Smith sat in midfield, with Fabbrini pushing on. With this base, the front three were free to move fluidly and looked dangerous. On the left, Pudil, who came on for the lively Anya at half time, was eager to get forward, and got up and down well, while Lloyd held fort on the right. This Stevenage side are perhaps underestimated by some, but having seen them a fair bit in recent years, they have some decent players, and that they produced so little going forward is definitely a good sign about our defensive solidity.
– Peterborough will be another step up. There’s only two games to go until we kick off the season at St Andrews to take on a severely depleted Birmingham side. After a slow start, Watford got going and were comfortable in their victory. We need to keep improving if we’re to hit the ground running in August.
– Special mention must go to the Watford fans who turned up in great number. From my vantage point in the East Stand I watched as the away end filled up and started to up the volume inside the Lamex. We’ve waited a while to grab a glimpse of the new faces in the Watford squad, and you could sense the anticipation for the season to come as over a thousand travelled to the jewel of East Hertfordshire for the game. Good on ya, lads.