Watford season preview: Xisco Munoz must extract maximum from bloated squad to avoid Pozzo’s axe

Munoz is a big character and it was partly by force of personality that he roused Watford last season, but he remains a novice when it comes to management at the highest level

Lawrence Ostlere
Friday 13 August 2021 09:27
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<p>Watford manager Xisco Munoz has plenty of attacking options, but it is his side’s defensive strength that will be a bigger factor</p>

Watford manager Xisco Munoz has plenty of attacking options, but it is his side’s defensive strength that will be a bigger factor

Last season

Watford did what they often do, sacking a manager mid-season in Vladimir Ivic, and it brought the desired effect: Xisco Munoz arrived and pulled off a run of 14 wins in 17 games to lift the club from mid-table to automatic promotion and a second-place finish in the Championship. The Hornets were defensively sound without a goal conceded in their final seven games, and this sturdy base will be essential if they are to stay up in the Premier League – and if Munoz is to keep his job until May.

Transfer window so far

Watford are short on cash but it hasn’t stopped the club recruiting seven players either by transfer or loan, while a number have returned to what is now a bloated squad after loan spells away last season. The most notable new signings are all free: Danny Rose at left-back, Josh King in attack and Ashley Fletcher also joining what is a bulging front line, with Andre Gray, Troy Deeney, Isaac Success, Joao Pedro, Ismaila Sarr and another new signing, Emmanuel Dennis from Club Brugge all vying for a spot in the team. Quite how Munoz keeps them all happy is unclear, but he has plenty of options to pick from.

Manager

Munoz is a big character and it was partly by force of personality that he roused Watford from their slumber last season. But he remains a novice when it comes to management at the highest level, with only the Georgia league title to his name while coaching Dinamo Tbilisi before moving to Vicarage Road. The big question is whether his passion and infectious energy can compensate for a lack of experience in the Premier League.

Key players

The captain Troy Deeney remains the leader in the dressing room, but in terms of bringing Premier League quality to the pitch there are two players who stand out. Ismaila Sarr has been coveted by other top-flight clubs including Liverpool and Tottenham, but if he stays he will be critical, illustrated by his 17-goal contributions last season (13 goals, four assists). The other is Joao Pedro, the Brazilian teenager whose touch and technique lit up the Championship and who looks destined for bigger things.

What would be success?

Staying in the division. Even that may not prevent the infamous Pozzo family axe from falling but it would be a great achievement, considering the strength of the Premier League right now. There are potential relegation candidates in clubs like Burnley, Newcastle, Brighton, Crystal Palace and Southampton, all of whom had their struggles last season, but they are all clubs who have made a habit of doing enough to stay up and the big challenge for the promoted trio will be to finish above some of this group.

First three Premier League fixtures

(h) vs Aston Villa, Saturday 14 August, 3pm

(a) vs Brighton, Saturday 21 August, 5.30pm

(a) vs Spurs, Sunday 29 August, 2pm

Predicted first XI line-up

Bachmann; Femenia, Troost-Ekong, Sierralta, Rose; Cleverley, Kucka, Sema; Sarr, Gray, Joao Pedro.

Bookies’ ranking

20th (500/1 for the title; evens joint favourites alongside Norwich to be relegated)

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