Ask the Opposition

Ask the Opposition 72: Watford (with Mike Parkin of From The Rookery End)

Watford remain the final potential hurdle for Manchester City’s Champions League aspirations and although goal difference is on the Blues’ side, fans will be expecting nothing less than a win against a side who’s season is over. City will also be keen to avoid the 4th place finish as it would mean two extra qualifying games at the beginning of next season against some potentially difficult opposition.

We spoke to Mike Parkin, co-presenter of Watford podcast From the Rookery End to see what he had to say about the Hornet’s season so far and his predictions for the game this weekend.

Nice to be speaking to you Mike. It’s the final game of the season and Watford will remain in the Premier League next year after reaching that magic 40 point mark and avoiding relegation. Can you tell us a little bit about how your season has played out and whether it met your expectations/hopes at the beginning?

The main aim for the season was pretty simple; stay in the division. That’s been achieved, but Watford will finish with fewer points than they attained last season and with the owners looking for continual improvement there will be a definite sense of disappointment at the way the season has panned out. A defeat on Sunday will see us finish in 17th, which is far too close to the drop zone for comfort.

Watford supporters are realistic, they don’t expect to be challenging for the Champions League, but the nature of too many performances has been lacklustre and insipid. There have been a few highlights – you no doubt enjoyed thumping Mourinho’s men at Vicarage Road, but the bright spots were far too infrequent and despite achieving Premier League safety, it has largely been a season to forget.

The Hornets have lost all of their four games in May so far, admittedly against some tough opposition. Do you think avoiding relegation caused the players to lose some intensity from their game?

We’ve actually lost our last five in a row – and didn’t score in four of them. This included a 2-0 defeat at 10 man Hull which really highlighted that something wasn’t right.

There have been well publicized stories of the players being upset with the training methods employed by the Head Coach and I think it may have been less a case of players losing their intensity and more about them showing their displeasure at the boss. This in itself is, if true, worrying and unprofessional, especially as safety wasn’t actually confirmed until last weekend.

While the Head Coach has to take the blame for an uninspiring and often concerning run of performances, the players have to take their share of the blame and with a new man set to be in place for next season, supporters will be expecting to see markedly improved performances from the squad.

Earlier in the week it was announced that Walter Mazzarri would be leaving the club at the end of the season by mutual consent. Does this surprise you? Who would be the ideal candidate to replace him in your opinion?

Ultimately, Mazzarri has proved unpopular with both players and supporters and in addition, has served up some very poor football. Add into the mix the fact that he may well end the season with seven straight defeats and I think you can probably draw your own conclusions.

His communication issues have been well documented, but I think had his performance as a Head Coach been better, he would have been cut more slack in this department. As it was, his inability or unwillingness to converse without using a translator became an increasingly large bone of contention and was another blot in his already messy looking copybook.

As for a replacement Gino Pozzo isn’t afraid of going for a surprise name, so it would be a brave man that put any money on Mazzarri’s replacement. That said, Marco Silva is attracting admiring glances from plenty of directions and it’s hard not to think that the timing of Mazzarri’s departure wasn’t agreed to give them pole position on talking to Silva. As it stands, he’s certainly the fans’ choice.

Moving onto Manchester City now. What have you made of Pep’s debut season in England?

A look at the table and a recap of the Champions League campaign will probably see most people drawing the same conclusion; it’s fallen short of expectations. After an excellent start the season has seemed to be one of inconsistency, with Pep’s treatment of players – Aguero in particular – somewhat baffling.

For the rest of us, City’s season is a welcome reminder that the best Head Coach in the world combined with a bottomless pit of cash doesn’t necessarily guarantee success – something that some Watford fans would do well to remember when being over critical of the Hornets progress this term. While City’s struggles will have been a cause of frustration for supporters, if nothing else, it shows just how tough the Premier League is.

It’s inconceivable that Pep Guardiola won’t already be planning next season’s assault and I fully expect City to be challenging for major honours.

Could you highlight the Watford players that are likely to cause the most trouble to City during the game?

Striker Stefano Okaka looked a handful during his 20 minute substitute cameo at Chelsea, but in truth I’m struggling to pick a player that is going to give Man City much to worry about. You’ll know all about Troy Deeney and his full blooded showings, but it’s far from certain that he’ll get a start after his relationship with Walter Mazzarri broke down.

I’d suggest you keep an eye on Abdoulaye Doucouré in the midfield. After being benched for much of the season, he’s finally been given a chance and has taken it with both hands. Watford fans are hoping for big things for him next season and beyond.

Finally, please could we have your predicted starting line-up and what you think the final score will be?

Mazzarri has only named an unchanged line-up once in the entire season, so there’s no way you’ll get me to predict what team he’ll send out on Sunday! To make matters worse, the Hornets are, as they have been for much of the season, beset with injury concerns and this will mean whatever Mazzarri goes for, it will be a patched up and unfamiliar side.

Unfortunately I think it’s unlikely this group are going to be able to arrest the slump they find themselves in and with Manchester City having to make certain of a win, a comfortable victory for the visitors has to be on the cards. Enjoy!

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