Watford vs Crystal Palace
Venue: Vicarage Road Stadium
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Watford, a team in a deep slide, host the resurgent Crystal Palace, as Roy Hodgson’s squad head into the encounter having won seven points over their last four games as they look to remain clear of the relegation zone.
Palace head to Watford on the back of a 3-2 win over Brighton, which saw Wilfred Zaha score twice. Watford recorded their second loss in a row, as a Tom Ince winner in injury time gave the Terriers a 1-0 victory. In the last four games, the Hornets have conceded four goals after the 70’ minute, two of which have come in injury time. This puts Watford on 37 points, just a win short of the coveted 40 points, which should secure Premiership inclusion for next season. This is a pivotal game for both clubs, as they play for an important three points.
WatfordEmbed from Getty Images
The past few years have seen Watford in a similar position. Last season from gameweek 27 on, the Hornets picked up just eight points from the remaining 11 games, dropping the last six games in a row. It’s a similar position Javi Gracia finds his team in again, winless in their last five games, gaining just a single point. Last week was a replay from the Hornets taking their foot off the gas, losing concentration, only to go on and concede a goal and lose the match.
Change is afoot as Craig Cathcart returned to the starting XI last week, which brought a sense of leadership to a struggling defense. Gracia commented on his performance after the loss, “I don’t have a doubt about his level. I think he’s a very good player for us, but in this moment with the result we do have positives.” Now if Gracia would just re-establish Heurelho Gomes as the starting goal-keeper, the Hornets would have more experience and leadership defensively.
While the defence continues to struggle, offensively, the Hornets have netted just three goals in their last five games. However, they have shown flashes going forward with the likes of Robert Pereyra, Will Hughes and the out of position, Kiko Femenia. However, up top, Troy Deeney hasn’t impressed with just eight attempts on goal and goalless in his last six games. Pererya and Femenia have been the most impressive going forward, but the Hornets continue to struggle with converting chances.
Crystal PalaceEmbed from Getty Images
The Eagles picked up an important three point victory last week in a 3-2 win over Brighton, as Wilfred Zaha bagged a brace, as they moved into 16th place, six points away from the relegation zone. As positive as that win was, Hodgson said, “We’d be proud of ourselves, rightly so. But we’re not thinking in those terms. Boring as it may sound we are very much focused on Watford as we know points are available.”
Palace have been buoyed by the performances of standout midfielder, Luca Milivojevic who has scored 10 goals this season, but has been in excellent form recently. In his last four games, Milivojevic has scored three goals and registered two assists. Wilfred Zaha was on the receiving end against Brighton, as he put two goals by Mat Ryan. He’s also posted two assists since gameweek 30. It’s their play that will be key this Saturday when they visit the Vic.
While the Eagles offense has scored eight goals in the last six games, defensively, they continue to struggle, conceding 10 goals in the last six games. Hodgson did get a spot of good news, as Jeffrey Schlupp has returned to training and could feature against Watford. Christian Benteke has been missing in action, scoreless in his last five games, as speculation swirls around him regarding his future at Palace.
Last week, Joel Ward returned to fitness at right back, after youngster, Aaron Wan-Bissaka had featured in the last six games. In the middle, Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins play important roles, “With those two, they are very good on the ball and they make things happen when the ball is at their feet,” said Hodgson. The potential return of Schlupp would help bolster the defense as they look forward to an important game and month.
Predicted Starting XI’s
Watford (4-2-3-1): Karezis, Holebas, Prödl, Cathcart, Janmaat, Capoue, Doucouré, Pereyra, Hughes, Femenia, Deeney
Crystal Palace: (4-4-2): Hennessey, van Aanholt, Sahko, Tomkins, Ward, Loftus-Cheek, Milivojevic, Cabaye, McArthur, Townsend, Zaha
Predicted Score: Crystal Palace 2 Watford 0
As well as Palace has been offensively, I am worried Watford won’t be able to stop Zaha and Milivojevic. While there are concerns over the Hornets defense, the lack of scoring is a bigger concern. Palace have done a great job controlling possession and converting on chances in the box. Watford appear to be looking past the end of the season and have played that way recently. Lack of discipline and mental collapse has led to Gracia’s men struggling across the finish line.
Written by Stephen Toumi.