That’s it. It’s a wrap. You can all start spending your weekends on other things. At least the four weekends until the World Cup starts.
If you happened to miss the final instalment of Watford’s season against Manchester United, it consisted of dominating for most of the game, having more shots, producing about ten underhit crosses from key positions and then conceding from the opposition’s only real chance to lose by the odd goal. If you happened to miss the final instalment of Watford’s season, just cast your mind back to the last time you saw Watford play.
But before you get on with your summer pursuits, let’s sit a spell and consider what really just went down. There’s a lot of negativity around the socials at the moment: about disappointing results, stupid subs and the general nihilistic nature of life in the Premier League. But I’m here to tell you that everything is good, and that I’ve had a great time, even if you haven’t.
To get into the summer vibe, Watford are excellent from tee to green. You can bet on one wayward drive a round (in this instance driving is defending, and is where the metaphor falls down, but please go with it), but our corner of leafy Hertfordshire has among the best iron players around. Yes, the short game is crap, and we usually struggle to chip to within twenty feet of the target and then putt with our eyes closed, but the finesse on the fairways is unprecedented at Vicarage Road.
The problem is that we’re playing in the Majors now, not pottering about some scratch tournaments around the Home Counties and this incomplete game won’t make the cut. Man City are prime Sunday Tiger Woods, doing unspeakable things with the ball and generally setting off a cacophony of fist pumps wherever they pitch up. Liverpool are Jordan Spieth: fresh, exciting, and capable of the ridiculous. United are Phil Mickelson, a bit bulky and nobody particularly wants them there, but they’ll find a way to take up room at the top of the leaderboard.
The point of which is that Watford are not going to win anything any time soon. We can contend with a few places either side of the home we are making ourselves in the lower half of the table, but that’s probably as good as it’s going to get for the time being. The trick is to enjoy your rounds and not think about what could be. It’s ok to be Lee Westwood.
This has been the most enjoyable of the three seasons Watford have spent in the Premier League, though I may be in the minority, I have relished turning up at Vicarage Road every week, safe in the knowledge that I’m going to see a competitive match with bursts of great football. This is by some distance the best Watford side in history, and one, if you’ll allow me to return very briefly to that strained golf analogy, capable of shooting some incredibly low rounds (see: the dismantling of Chelsea GC).
And so you have to ask yourself what it is you want from a Premier League football club without a cash cow to milk or a Russian oligarch to legitimise – we can’t all be Bournemouth. That is not to say that you shouldn’t yearn for improvement. I was, after all, the first to question Quique Sanchez Flores’s future. But everything should be framed within the crooked deal that the Premier League offers. To enjoy your Saturdays take a step back, chill out with the tribalism and embrace the games as a whole (a nice counter to the rise of tribalism in literally every other facet of modern life). It is then that 0-0 home draws with Crystal Palace go from disappointing results to absorbing end-to-end chess games (I don’t get how chess works).
If you insist on talking improvement, it doesn’t feel like it’s that far off. Two things have prevented Watford from reaching the heights of, like, ninth this year: the respective disjointing of knees and noses.
The chart from Sky below shows that Watford’s injury list has outweighed any other club’s by some distance, and, being published on the 2 May, doesn’t take into account the Christian Kabasele injury that preceded United’s winner this weekend or Harry the Hornet breaking his arm during the game between some Watford legends and what I can only assume is a bunch of YouTubers and people from Hollyoaks.
Among those to miss the most time is Nathaniel Chalobah (days from becoming an England cap), Tom Cleverley (who would have won Player of the Season if he’d stayed fit), Craig Cathcart (Watford’s best defender) and Miguel Britos (who is also a person). That is the spine of the side, mangled and left to heal itself on a massage table. I’m not breaking any news with this, but any analysis of Watford’s season has to be written on a billboard-sized asterisk pointing to the fact that the squad has had more absences than Nigel Farage’s European Parliament voting record.
Those season summaries will also, of course, mention Marco Silva, his excellent start (yeah, well done mate, Walter Mazzarri had us seventh in his December) and the subsequent depth charge he dropped into the changing room when Everton came a-courting. Though Watford’s Jekyll and Hyde seasons pre-dated Silva and may by-no-means be over, that the Portuguese spent almost three months hopefully refreshing his LinkedIn page instead of, say, figuring out how to stop Huddersfield scoring a third of their year’s supply of away goals in one game, sunk any hopes of a successful season.
Javi Gracia patched up the ship, turned it around and navigated through what was at times some pretty scenery to safety, but still is doubted by a large, or maybe just vocal, cohort of the supportership. Do you remember how lost this team looked in January? Hey my guy, a new head coach isn’t going to be able to turn Troy Deeney into a world-class lone striker, nor stop Jose Holebas losing his man at the back post (it’s literally every goal we concede).
And though he was appointed a week before the end of the January transfer window, it was only Gerard Deulofeu’s arrival that added any sort of support to Gracia’s lifeboat job.
Deeney’s programme notes before the final home game against Newcastle (which I don’t have to hand so I’m going to have to paraphrase) speak to the good vibe among the players and staff and the positive direction the club is taking. Yes, that’s what they always say when there’s a new manager in town, but the way Troy “wrote” suggested he really believes it, and the performances, if not the results, on the pitch, back up this assessment.
The shoots are there for a really good, fun season next time around. We aren’t plodding into May absolutely miserable and full of hatred for everyone, and there is a great young core of exciting talent already embedded at the club. Chalobah and Hughes – the new Jackett and Barnes. Tom Cleverley – Paul Scholes but better. Maybe Gerard Deulofeu – he gets after it. Roberto Pereyra – he’s finally good again. Ri. Char. Li. Son – he’s probably played himself out of a move and is not the next Scott Loach. The sun sets, and will rise on a lovely young orchard full of lush fruit to pluck.
We concede stupid goals, but it’s not that bad. Watford have allowed the fifth fewest shots in the league this season, behind only top five teams (and fewer than United).
That’s a pretty solid base on which to build more defensive solidity on, especially when your two best centre backs are coming back to fitness and there’s a juicy Abdoulaye Doucoure windfall buzzing into the club’s non-HSBC bank account.
So enjoy the World Cup (there are no Watford players to get injured there) and look forward to the triangles that will be carved out across Vicarage Road next winter. We won’t win the league, but it will be fun. Mostly.