Watford Season Preview

Last Season Summary

After being relegated from the Premier League two seasons ago, Watford have returned after just a single season in the Championship, with a solid second-place finish. The club had a five year run in their last top flight stay, and are hoping they have the nucleus to be a club deserving of such status for years to come. It is not uncommon to see many clubs have to rebuild from scratch when they are relegated, but Watford has retained many of the same players we remember from two seasons ago, and do not see themselves as a rebuilding project. Just a club that fell on hard times that resulted in the punishment of relegation by a mere point and, keep in mind, that was the same side that was able to reach the 2019 FA Cup Final just a few months before their relegation season.

The experience of a veteran roster like Watford’s made their second-place finish a pretty smooth ride. They had their share of injuries to contend with, but what sealed their positive fate was a mid-season managerial change as Xisco Munoz was brought in to steer the ship. He gave the club the shot in the arm they needed and, after just a couple months on the job, racked up a Manager of the Month honor this past March. Munoz deploys a classic flat 4-3-3 formation, with much of their scoring relying on the wingers. In his first match in charge, he guided the Hornets to a win over Norwich, the side that would eventually finish first place and, like Watford, were in the midst of a one-season cameo in the Championship before returning to the Premier League themselves.

Summer Subtractions

Watford have lost very little in terms of personnel since their last season ended in May. Some fringe players who had very little impact are gone with expired contracts and the biggest name to transfer out was 20-year-old developing center back Ben Wilmot. The Hornets did bring in a couple of players on loan last season to help put them over, but neither Glenn Murray nor James Garner added very much, with Murray making only one start and Garner limited mostly to a substitute role.

As far as rumors go, the biggest name being talked about as possibly heading for an exit is the ever-present Will Hughes, who had been a regular name in Watford’s XI during their half-decade run in the top flight. There is apparently no desire from either side to extend this final year of his contract and Watford may have to conduct some business before the end of August to cash in on him. Aston Villa is a club that has expressed interest, and certainly would increase their interest if they lose Jack Grealish.

Summer Additions

Watford are, thus far, taking the thrifty approach to building a side ready to challenge for top flight survival. They have brought in a couple players on free transfers, most notably veteran left back Danny Rose from Tottenham. Rose was virtually unused all of last season and will be licking his chops to seal what appears to be first-choice status at his position for the 2021/22 campaign. Approaching “journeyman” status, striker Ashely Fletcher has been brought in from Middlesbrough to add depth, but is unlikely to emerge as a starter. Speaking of forwards, Josh King is a name PL enthusiasts are well familiar with, and he will be looking to earn regular playing time after going virtually unused in his brief stay with Everton last season.

The “big splash” signing of the summer to date is that of midfielder Imran Louza, who arrives from FC Nantes for a fee of around 8m. He scored seven goals and provided three assists for the French outfit last season and is only 22 years of age. If Will Hughes is indeed on the way out, Louza becomes the natural replacement. Until then, there may be some competition, but expect Louza to eventually be a regular this season one way or another.

Key Figures

Ismalia Sarr – Sarr is the clear crown jewel of Watford’s roster and he is the constant source of rumor to be snatched away by a bigger club. Until that happens, he is the focal point of the Hornet attack, leading the team with 13 league goals last season. Just 22 years of age, he should only get better and is hoping to have a bigger influence in the Premier League than he did two seasons ago, when he was a raw talent getting his feet wet.

Ken Sema – With Sarr causing headaches on the right wing, Sema was pretty busy himself playing left wing, where he was joint-leader in assists with five, while adding four of his own goals. He will appear to have earned the right to maintain his starter status, but any other wingers looking to jump up the depth chart, Sema is the one under threat while Sarr is nailed on tight.

Joao Pedro – Despite a plethora of options to lead the line for Watford, the teenage Pedro was the one who earned the most playing time and had the most success last season, scoring nine goals and starting 31 of the 46 games on the schedule. There figures to be a knock-down drag-out battle at this position for the upcoming season, but based on last season’s performance, it is Pedro’s to lose.

Kiko Femenia – No defender was more present in the starting XI for the Hornets last season than the right back. He looks to be the safest bet if you wanted to count on a nailed on Watford defender, but with the move to the top flight, interest in Watford’s defensive options will likely be quite low. We remember Femenia from a couple seasons ago. Not too much to offer going forward so his fantasy appeal would likely depend on an impressive clean sheet rate by the Hornets, which no one is expecting at the moment.

Position Battles

For promoted clubs, especially with considerable preseason action still ahead of them, position battles are likely to be found in every area of the pitch. Let’s try our level best to suss out the battles as they stand here in the final week of July.

GK – This may be the biggest news on the roster for FPL players. Last year, the position was a dead-even split between Daniel Bachmann and uber-veteran Ben Foster, as they each made 23 starts. When FPL went live last month, the folks who decide the prices must have assumed Bachmann would emerge as the clear #1 with the move to the top flight, but recent news has linked Bachmann with a move away from the club. Meanwhile, the 38-year-old Foster has started both of Watford’s most recent preseason games, and it appears he will indeed be a starting FPL goalkeeper with a 4m price tag. Once it becomes clear he has the job, his already hefty roster percentage should shoot up even higher, as it makes perfect sense to add him as one’s GK2. Should Watford feel the need to get another shot-stopper, you have to think they are aiming for a permanent replacement to the veteran.

The center back position looks to have plenty of competition for the two spots. In the Championship last season, the most common partnership was between William Troost-Ekong and Francisco Sierralta. Troost-Ekong appears the more nailed on of the two, with veterans Christian Kabasele and Craig Cathcart still hanging around on the roster and hoping to claim a significant role this season. This would look to be a position in need of an upgrade as the Hornets continue their summer shopping.

Xisco Munoz should continue with his three central midfield alignment, and while there is some question marks around the future of Will Hughes and how quickly Imran Louza can acclimate, the other two spots look pretty nailed on, barring additional signings before the summer window closes. Taking up a deeper, more defensive role, should be Nathaniel Chalobah and offering a little more creativity and forward-thinking would be provided by Tom Cleverly. Veteran Dan Gosling was able to earn a good chunk of minutes last year as well, being the first option when either Chalobah, Cleverly or Hughes were left out for one reason or another.

As mentioned before, the winger positions look pretty set with Sarr and Sema but be on the lookout for Philip Zinckernagel, who impressed after arriving in the January window this year. With 20 appearances, he made only nine starts, but returned an impressive five assists in that span, which tied for the club lead for the entire season.

The ultimate battle looks to be at the position that always draws attention…the striker. At 19 years of age, Joao Pedro may not be ready to make the jump. Club captain Troy Deeney, who dealt with his share of injuries last season, would be the name on the top of the depth chart, as his captaincy status should indicate, as well as his experience playing in the top division. However, he is not getting younger, and certainly not getting faster. He scored seven goals last season, but only one was from open play. If he is on the pitch and there is a penalty, he’s Watford’s best weapon. Otherwise, Pedro, Fletcher, Andre Gray and Emmanuel Dennis are waiting to win the battle. Stipe Perica leads all Watford forwards in roster percentage at the moment, but that is simply due to his minimum price of 4.5m.

Fantasy Take

Not to rain on Watford’s parade, but they are generating very little interest from fantasy managers during the buildup to Week 1. Outside of Sarr, pretty much every player with investment above 1% is being rostered simply because of their minimum price tag. Foster between the sticks is the only one of these minimum-priced players with a real shot at a starting role.

It would seem difficult to imagine a strong defensive record from this side, so Watford look to be the side to find, if anything, that budget midfielder or forward who is offering production sufficient enough to take up a spot. Sarr, again, is the best candidate, and the reason he costs .5m more than anyone else on the club. It is hard to picture anyone out-producing him, so the extra .5m he costs is not an accurate representation of how far above the rest of his teammates he is in terms of a fantasy prospect. Other players may pop up with a big game or two, but Sarr is the one you can picture delivering returns often enough to justify a MID4 spot in an FPL squad.

While it would be nice to hype another player, in terms of FPL, it should be a wait-and-see approach. If anyone else begins to emerge as a fantasy option, they will automatically be a bargain, as whoever that player is will cost you less than 6m and should not be difficult to transfer in before their price balloons. Louza looks to be the one to put on your watchlist the highest.

Final Takeaway

FPL – Foster as a GK2 is looking like a standard play (currently on 25% of fosters)

Defense will likely be shaky but for those feeling nostalgic, Danny Rose presents an option into the back line.

Midfield does not look to have any options that can produce with any level of consistency. But wingers are midfielders in FPL and Sarr is going to garner the most attention this season.

Striker up for grabs. Odds of one being consistent seem slim, but if only costing 5m-5.5m, one may emerge as a decent FWD3 option.

Draft – Sarr is the only Hornet that should be «reached for». Otherwise, you are looking at 5th DEF, 5th MID, 3rd FWD options at the end of your draft to take as flyers.