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Watford’s winning start: A sign of Javi Gracia’s ambitions?

Watford are amongst good company at the tables summit and are amongst a host of teams who have picked up maximum points in the opening three matches of the new season. The last time the Hornets managed this was 20 years ago in the Football League First Division. Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea have all achieved this early feat as well, but how long can Watford keep up their momentum for and how important is their manager in their early success?

An inconsistent second half of the 2017/18 season left a lot of us a little surprised that Javi Gracia had retained his job at Watford, especially given the frequency of managerial sackings at the club in recent years. A mantra that would perhaps warrant criticism of the board if it happened at any other club; subsequent dismissals of managers at Watford has kept the side in the Premier League for the last three seasons.

For the time being however, it seems that Gracia has the backing of Gino Pozzo, and the Spaniard has started the new season in the best possible way – winning all three matches gaining a maximum of nine points. Is mid-table the aim for Gracia and his men, or is the Europa League a realistic ambition for Watford’s fourth consecutive year in England’s top flight?

Much like Burnley in the season before last, Watford found considerably more comfort on their home patch last season. Of their 41 points in the 2017/18 Premier League, 27 came at Vicarage Road but continuing to follow in Burnley’s footsteps by producing more results on the road this season could launch the Hornets further up the table.

To achieve this, Javi Gracia is looking to utilise on Watford’s attacking threat, which has always seemed to be present since Watford re-entered the Premier League scene, but perhaps not been used to its full effectiveness in times past. Gracia has established a 4-4-2 system at Watford, allowing for both André Grey and Troy Deeney to play alongside each other upfront which is an approach that seems to be paying off.

However, perhaps the most key element of Gracia’s 4-4-2 system is the attacking roles that wide midfielders Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes have taken up. They have been allowed full involvement in Watford’s quick attacks and being provided with a variety of angles to surge the goal from. Both players boast some spectacular goals that have arisen from playing these roles which we will likely continue to see.

The ambitious part of Watford’s play is how full-backs Daryl Janmaat and José Holebas are also valued as ammunition to the Hornet’s attacking artillery. Running down the wing is usually included in the job description of a full-back but with so many avenues to exploit up front, Janmaat and Holebas can draw the attention of the opposition players away from the front four and allow Hughes and Pereyra space to run into.

What this also does is set up the opportunity for long but swift balls forward from the back, which quickly puts Watford on the front foot and can catch the opponents off guard, this approach has been partly responsible for the seven goals Watford have amassed to date.

With these tactics going so well in the early stages of the season, do Watford supporters have an exciting season ahead of them? Currently sitting in fourth position, the team have given themselves the best possible start, and could end up fighting for a Europa League spot come the end of the season.

We can analyse the tactics of the managers of every side in the Premier League and praise the systems that are working, but in reality it is too early to judge success on tactics alone, since it may just be a case of early spells of form.

Nevertheless, three wins in a row is an impressive achievement that doesn’t happen very often for a lot of teams, so there’s enough evidence to suggest that Javi Gracia has developed a successful scheme within his team. Some testing fixtures including Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal in the coming weeks will allow us to assess the manager’s real ambitions for the season ahead as well as the squad at his disposal.

Harry Mahon

90maat's team correspondent for Tottenham Hotspur, graduate of Loughborough University and current student at the University of Surrey.

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