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Guest Article – Watford’s Magic Squares and Long Balls

Time for another guest article now, and it is a debut from the talented Wepea A Buntugu, after reading this article please feel free to follow him on Twitter. Wepea has had an in depth look at Watford’s start to the season and I must say it is a very impressive piece of content. Over to you Wepea…

The Hornets started the season with an impressive victory against Brighton and continued with two more victories against Burnley and Palace but all remaining doubters were silenced after their comeback win against Spurs at home. Let’s take a closer look at the system Hornet’s coach Javi Gracia has employed that has brought out the best in his players and resulted in the stellar start to the season.

Javi Gracia has set up his Watford side play a 4-4-2 system. That is on paper, because on the field this far from traditional 4-4-2 morphs into a 4-2-2-2 with wide men Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes tucking infield to create overloads in the midfield and link up play.

When attacking it can further turn into a 2-4-2-2  with full backs Daryl Janmaat and Jose Holebas pushing high up the field to occupy the spaces vacated by the wide men and to offer width to the side.

In centre midfield Gracia has Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue both of whom are proven ball winners and complement the system well. They carry the ball forward when possible and play short passes to the midfielders as well as long passes to the front two of Troy Deeney and Andre Gray.


The image above shows the average positions of Watford players in their 2-1 win against Crystal Palace.

It illustrates the fluid attacking play created by the movement of the attacking players. Pereyra(37) and Hughes(19) play very narrow offering more options going forward. The width is provided by Jose Holebas(25) and Daryl Janmaat(2). Doucoure(16)  can also push up leaving Capoue(29) to mop up defensively.

The front two of Deeney and Gray offer two very different threats that keep opposition defenders on their toes.  Deeney’s pace and physicality complementing Gray pace and move Watford have two very different options upfront. With Deeney winning an average of 6.5 aerial duels per game the Hornets have a target man who can win the ball in the air and bring others into the play. The pair have together contributed three goals and an assist with Deeney being the more prolific of the two.

The way the front two of Watford play occupying the the central defenders of the opposing side means that the wide men Pereyra and Hughes escape the attentions of any markers by slotting into the midfield and playing very narrow. Sitting in front of the two central midfielders their structure is reminiscent of the ‘Magic Square’ employed by the Brazil national team in the 1982 World Cup.

Though it did not get the team far in that tournament it ensured that the team played with fluidity and it gave more licence to their creative players to affect the game. The apparent lack of width in this system was mitigated by the forward runs of the full backs which is the same in the case of the Hornets.

Daryl Janmaat and Jose Holebas have been extremely productive this season providing an assist and a goal and 4 assists. The infield runs of the wide men create a dilemma for opposing wingers whether to track the wide men or leave them. Tracking them means leaving their fullbacks exposed to a one on one situation with Holebas or Janmaat and leaving them means that Watford gain extra unmarked bodies in the midfield.

Either way the Hornets  gain an advantage. Holebas especially has put in good deliveries both from open play and from set pieces. His two assists in their last fixture helped the Hornets claimed their biggest scalp yet, that of Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road.

Defensively the Hornets are active pressers of the ball when the opponents move into dangerous areas. When they are not in those zones the team push up in groups to force the opposition to hit long balls with Kabasele and Cathcart at the back more than capable of holding their own in the air.

Watford do not try to rack up huge possession stats being quite happy to surrender possession to the opposition in areas that are not dangerous to them in favour of solid defensive displays and quick fluid attacks.

Looking Forward

Even though Watford were able to claim their fourth win against Tottenham, the Lilywhites exposed some very key flaws in the team which need to be patched up before the visit of Manchester United after the international break.

Dele Alli who played in a free role wreaked havoc on the Watford defence with his movement and the Hornets will face a similar challenge with wide player Jesse Lingard who drifts inside very regularly and makes runs beyond the striker.

Another concern for Watford will be injuries to key players. Many pundits are skeptical about whether players like Nathaniel Chalobah and Isaac Success can perform at the level of the current eleven but that remains to be seen.

Regardless Javi Gracia can be very pleased with his progress and after winning the EPL Manager of the Month it shows that the world appreciates his hard work as well.


Thanks for your words Wepea, do you agree or have anything to add then please leave them in the comments below, while if you would like to write a guest article then contact me at realfootballmanwordpress@gmail.com

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