After Wednesday night’s demolition of Feyenoord in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola’s City side travel to Vicarage Road to face an in-form Watford side. Having taken eight points from their first four games, Marco Silva’s Watford side will provide a stern test for a City side that played midweek.
Just three days after the Blues’ European exploits, City will face a strong Watford side that currently reside in fourth in the Premier League table. If recent matches are anything to go by, it bodes well for the Sky Blues with City unbeaten against Watford in the Premier League, winning four and drawing two of the six encounters between the two sides.
However, this Watford side is very different to the lacklustre side that we took apart with ease in May, putting five past the Hornets on the final day of last season. Former Hull City boss Marco Silva is now at the helm and having signed Nathaniel Chalobah, Richarlison and Andre Gray amongst many others in their summer squad overhaul, we face up against a much-changed side.
Silva, who made an impressive start to life in the Premier League last season with Hull, has made a fantastic start to life at Vicarage Road, remaining unbeaten so far in all four fixtures, conceding only three goals in the process – a league joint-second highest with Tottenham Hotspur.
The Hornets will feel they have a chance, with City nursing a European hangover and having taken points off Liverpool at home, they will give the Blues a much tougher test than last season. It’s set to be an exciting encounter.
As previously mentioned, Marco Silva wasted no time after being named Watford boss in the summer by making a total of 11 signings, including the star forwards in Richarlison and ex-Burnley striker Andre Gray. Combine these with the English midfield duo of Chalobah and Hughes, Silva has transformed a somewhat poor Watford squad into a solid Premier League side.
Silva is similar to Guardiola in that he drills his players hard to understand the system he wants them to play. This was evident in his introduction at Hull City last year, taking the strugglers on a seven-game home unbeaten run. Being a well drilled side will provide tough opposition for the Blues who will have to work hard to break down the stubborn Watford defence.
Marco Silva has deployed a classic 4-3-3 in three of the four games so far this season, but I don’t think he will use it come Saturday. Despite their success, Silva’s side deployed a 4-2-3-1 in their victory at Southampton and I think they will continue in this vein as the defensive midfielders will provide better protection for their backline.
The Hornets are facing a slight defensive problem at the moment with regular starters, Kiko Femenia, Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Prodl all battling injury whilst Miguel Britos is suspended after his red card against Brighton.
The defensive worries could see Adrian Mariappa pick up his first start of the season, having come off the bench for Kaboul last week after the latter picked up an injury at St. Mary’s.
The midfield and forward line should stay the same as last week with Chalobah and Doucoure at the base of midfielder with Richarlison, Cleverly and Carrillo operating behind Andre Gray. I would also expect the three behind Gray to drop in when out of possession to create a bank of five in midfield to reduce the space for City’s creative players.
Man to watch
Much like City’s new star man, Watford have also signed their own Brazilian youngster in Richarlison. The 20-year-old, who joined the club from Fluminense in the summer, has made a bright start to life in the Premier League, having already opened his scoring account for the Hornets.
The youngster, who usually operates off the left-hand side, has scored just the one in four appearances so far. Despite the one goal, the Hornets’ starlet leads the way in shots taken and has contributed more goals than the club’s record signing in Andre Gray. Not a bad start in the big bad Premier League!
Who knows, it could be Richarlison or Amrabat that lose their pace if Silva opts to go for a more defensive line-up. However, the young South American star has certainly looked dangerous so far and could cause the Blues defence some problems if given the opportunity.
A view from the opposition
I caught up with Mike Parkin, co-presenter of From the Rookery End, a popular podcast for Watford supporters, to ask his opinion on the upcoming season, the transfer window, and a prediction for Saturday’s fixture.
Views on the transfer window
After enduring an attritional season under Walter Mazzarri last term, Hornets’ fans have been desperate for a more palatable (and successful) brand of football. To achieve this, the squad needed bolstering significantly; indeed, Manchester City supporters may remember that for the last fixture of the season, the Hornets were forced to name two goalkeepers on the subs bench, such was the paucity of resource available.
After appointing Marco Silva (arguably the most important capture of the off-season), the Hornets hierarchy have followed up with what looks to be a decent summer of business. Nathaniel Chalobah looks to be a steal, while fellow England U21 International Will Hughes is another homegrown one for the future. There is now cover in every position, but perhaps more importantly competition for places, with a definite emphasis on providing players capable of playing the neat, quick and stylish football Marco Silva wants to deliver.
Key man this season
There is pressure on record signing Andre Gray, but he has already shown enough to suggest that he is going to be a hugely valuable asset to the Hornets. He may not have scored, but his contribution has been significant in securing an eye-catching string of early results. If Richarlison maintains his current form he will cause plenty of problems, but the key man already looks to be Nathaniel Chalobah. Cool, calm, composed and always looking to start something with a ball from midfield, almost everything good is going through him at the moment. He’s already looking like the real deal.
Despite Watford’s excellent start it’s almost impossible to imagine that they will be able to match Manchester City at the weekend. While Watford remain undefeated, they are yet to face an opponent of City’s calibre and this represents a huge test. They will certainly be more competitive than the embarrassing non-event that took place at Vicarage Road last season, but I suspect a narrow City win is on the cards. 1-2.
The aim remains safety as soon as possible, but this time round we’d like to do it with style. if we can break free of the injury shackles that blighted so many key performers last year, there is no reason that the Hornets can’t continue to look up the table instead of down. A top 10 finish would be incredible, but most Watford supporters would be happy with a consistent season. I’ll be optimistic and say 12th place.