He may have arrived in England as an unknown, but after coming close to saving a previously doomed Hull City side from relegation, Marco Silva turned into a pretty well-respected name, with a legion of followers interested in seeing where the manager would end up next.
After reportedly coming close to sign with FC Porto and Crystal Palace, Marco ended up at Watford and after 8 matches he got them into the fourth place, ahead of teams such as Liverpool, Arsenal and the reigning champion Chelsea. But what has he done to spark the “hornets” into life?
As of late, Watford has been a team where players and managers get turned over quickly, a team lacking identity on and off the pitch that hasn’t really been in a relegation “dog fight” but without enough of a brand to pull people in. Marco gave the team exactly what they were missing: bringing his well-organized, counter-attacking focused football to Vicarage Road.
The transfer market was approached with the intention of bringing more Englishmen and younger players into the squad – with a lot of praise on the Chalobah and Hughes transfers – but also with the intent of making this squad fit to Silva’s needs. For his rampant, counter-attacking game, the Portuguese manager has always privileged wingers who could disrupt opposition full-backs out wide but also make an impact in central areas and in front of goal. Pardo, Hernâni and Durmaz on his Olympiacos season, Nani and Carrillo with Sporting and even guys like Licá and Sebá during his years at Estoril. So, much like what he did upon his Hull arrival – getting Grosicky and Markovic – the manager picked up a couple of wingers whose impact would be essential for the team’s performances: Carrillo and Richarlison. While the Peruvian international has had a positive but less collective impact, Richarlison has been the surprise of the league and the driving force of this Watford, as the GoalPoint Ratings do not fail to show.
GoalPoint Ratings for Watford’s typical line-up in the first 8 rounds
* 2017/18 arrival
The Brazilian is the definition of a complete attacker. Starting from the left, Richarlison is averaging 3.6 shots p/90m – most of those in the box (2.6) – coupled with 2.2 dribbles completed p/90m and 1.2 open play key passes, the best in the Hornet’s squad. And while he is adept on the ball, that doesn’t make him averse to a physical contest: he’s incredibly tough to knock off the ball legally (as he manages to win 3.6 fouls p/90m, only stars Hazard and Alexis get more) and wins around 3.8 offensive aerials – which couples well with the fact that his team is second in the Premier League for most aerials won per match. No team in the league makes a larger percentage of their attacks from the left side than Watford (41%), yet another factor of the side’s dependence of the 20-year-old. Even more so if we have in account how poor of a season the other major summer transfer is having up top – Gray’s pace is useful but he really hasn’t done much on the ball on his 6 starts so far.
In midfield, the emphasis has been on Chalobah and Doucouré – the duo is able to cover a lot of ground and, while they’re able to cover their backline – recovering possession 7.7 and 7.8 times p/90m respectively –, they’re key in how they support the team’s attack and the way they do it differently from each other. Chalobah can carry possession from deep, completing 1.5 dribbles p/90m, and arriving near the opposition box often, with 2.6 open play shots (1.1 of them in the box) – only Richarlison shoots more often than him. Doucouré, on the other hand, influences via his passing: his 62 passes p/90m are especially impressive having in account that Cleverley is second in that list with only 47. It’s not just passing for the sake of retaining the ball either: the French U21 international has 1.1 open play key passes, while his partners Chalobah and Cleverley have 0.9 combined. Funny enough, Doucouré is the team’s joint top scorer with three goals, these numbers are completely unsustainable though, seeing as he scored literally half of his total six shots.
Defensively there were a lot of worries around the fact that Marco Silva already used six different centre-backs throughout these eight matches, but the manager’s relatively simple system that also helps the team stay compact defensively, benefits the backline and makes it less individually-reliant. Unlike in the centre of the backline, Kiko Femenia and Holebas have assumed their positions out wide. Not only do they have plenty to do defensively, they’re important pieces offensively – both in the Premier League’s Top 8 Full-backs on Dribbles p/90m (no other team has two in there) – providing width and combining with the wide forwards.
Averages per game in the Premier League 17/18
While Silva’s men win the second largest number of aerials p/90m (only behind Burnley), this doesn’t necessarily shape their play-style. Not offensively at least, seeing as they don’t just play “route one” football – 11th in the league for long balls –, nor do they put much emphasis at all on crosses: their wingers tend to take possession inwards instead of outwards, and they end up as the second team in the league with least crosses, only behind Arsenal. The large amount of aerials won is justified mostly by the way they sit back possessionless and deal with opposition crosses, with their back-line above average in the air. Also, like any other clever manager, Marco’s sides tend to use set-pieces for their advantage and they’re 4th in the PL on goals from those scenarios.
The team is well managed – able to adapt to various kinds of opposition and scenarios –, has improved from last year and they’re not even at their strongest: Pereyra and captain Troy Deeney only recently started getting minutes, while Will Hughes is yet to debut and guys like Success are still out injured. All of that said, Watford are on an over-performing run that won’t likely last. Four of their 13 goals have come after the 90th minute – goals that had a direct impact in 5 in a third of their points – and have been generally getting the rub of the green in matches where the opposition created more than them. Not to mention the two previous points: Doucouré’s goals won’t keep coming and they’re still overly reliant on Richarlison. Their numbers point largely at mid-table and, as the season unfolds, they should end up closer to that than to the top 4.