They have been the surprise packages of the early part of the season, but Watford are in desperate need of a victory Saturday to raise their spirits ahead of the international break as they host a Bournemouth side determined to reverse their flagging road form.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
The first international break came at the worst possible time for Watford (4-1-2), who started the season with the maximum 12 points and had won their first five matches overall. Heading into this recess, the Hornets may need the break more than anyone as they are winless in their last four (0-2-2) in all competitions.
Javi Gracia could only lament the rotten luck his side had in the last two matches — crashing out of the Carabao Cup on penalties versus Tottenham Hotspur and coming undone late in their loss at Arsenal last weekend.
Watford were the better team and the more aggressive team for long stretches at the Emirates, failing to make that final connection and sternly testing Gunners keeper Bernd Leno. Isaac Success hit the woodwork in the 75th minute, and it appeared at worst Watford would leave north London with one point. But an own goal by Craig Cathcart six minutes later and a breakdown two minutes after that left a shellshocked Watford on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline.
“What can I say, I am very upset for my players because I think they deserved more, a better result,” Gracia told Watford’s official website. “We had a very good performance, with more shots, more on target, with a lot of clear chances to score. But if you don’t score, you can lose.
“We deserved more.”
Gracia was forced into his first lineup change of the season last weekend when right back Daryl Janmaat could not go due to a knee injury that will sideline him for at least another month. Marc Navarro turned in a credible first start, but he is also unavailable due to injury, forcing Gracia to look further down the bench to either Kiko Femenia or Adrian Mariappa.
“Adrian is a player who can play in different defensive positions,” Gracia said. “He is an option to play, the same as Kiko and Cathcart as well.”
Up front, attacking midfielder Gerard Deulofeu could be in line to make his season debut for the Hornets, having fully recovered from a foot injury suffered late last term.
Bournemouth (4-1-2) are seventh in the table, trailing Watford on goal difference largely because they were run out of both Chelsea and Burnley by a combined 6-0 scoreline. The Cherries, though, have left it late in their last two contests – getting a stoppage-time goal by Callum Wilson to advance in the Carabao Cup and an 87th-minute penalty by Junior Stanislas for the winning margin in a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace last weekend.
“We’re confident that we have a goal in us at any time, and match winners in the team who can turn a tight game in our favour,” Cherries boss Eddie Howe said post-match. “The most important thing for me is that the spirit and togetherness in the group is as strong as it’s ever been which is a huge quality to have.”
That offence has been a welcome sight considering Bournemouth totaled just 45 goals last season. They already have 12 through the first seven league matches this term, and more importantly, eight different players have found the back of the net. Stanislas has scored in the last two matches while Wilson has factored on seven goals – scoring three and assisting on four – in all competitions thus far.
Howe was especially pleased David Brooks broke his duck with his well-taken goal in the fifth minute. The boss praised the Wales international for his perseverance, noting he “has got outstanding technical qualities, and I believe he’s a goal-scorer in waiting. He gets in good positions, his finishing is improving, and his first goal here was a big moment for him. It was an excellent finish after a really good team move.”
The challenge is carrying that over outside Dean Court and playing similar to their road opener – a 2-1 victory at then-struggling West Ham – compared to their last two contests in which they were carved open and had a combined six shots on target in the defeats to Chelsea and Burnley.
Watford took four of six points from the two matches last term, but Bournemouth stole a last-gasp 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road on a stoppage-time goal by Jermain Defoe. Femenia and Joshua King traded first-half goals before Roberto Pereyra staked the Hornets to a 2-1 lead four minutes after the restart.
Watford’s 2-0 victory at Bournemouth last season is the only Premier League match of six between the clubs that did not end in a draw.
Per Ladbrokes, Watford are tipped to get back to winning, entering this contest as 21/20 favourites. The Cherries are 12/5 underdogs to return to Bournemouth with three points, slightly better than the 5/2 odds on the sides sharing the points.
A Hornets victory with more than 2.5 goals leads the options at 21/10, while a high-scoring Bournemouth win and low-scoring Watford victory share 21/5 odds. Those are slightly longer odds than a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, which checks in at 18/5. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory for Bournemouth gets a 7/1 return, with the high-scoring draw further back at 9/1.
Watford’s striker tandem of Troy Deeney and Andre Gray are joint-favourites to score the first goal of the match at 11/2, with Bournemouth’s Wilson and Watford reserve forward Success both at 6/1. Oddsmakers also think Deulofeu will see the pitch at some point, evidenced by offering him at 7/1 odds for the first goal. Wilson’s strike partner King is further back at 8/1, behind teammate and third forward Jermaine Defoe.
Gray and Deeney have 9/5 odds to score during the match, with Success vaulting into third at 19/10. Wilson, Defoe and King are stepladder options for Bournemouth at 2/1, 23/10 and 5/2, respectively, with Watford’s Stefano Okaka and Roberto Pereyra mixed in at 2/1 and 12/5.
For those who like scrap and graft, this is the match for you. That’s not to say Watford and Bournemouth are not aesthetically pleasing, because both are absolutely capable of beautiful football. But with Watford’s track record of fizzling after sizzling starts, this has to be a match where a draw is the worst possible result they take into the international break.
It again starts on the left for Watford, going from Jose Holebas to Pereyra to help create chances for Deeney and Gray. Pereyra, though, has gone four league matches without a goal and Holebas three without an assist as some opponents have wised up to Watford’s ways. How Gracia addresses the hole at right back will be of interest, especially with the “Pocket Scot” Ryan Fraser marauding down the left for the Cherries.
With Bournemouth confident following late back-to-back wins coupled with Watford’s last two results going against them late, there is a bit of danger here for the hosts. The Cherries, though, have led for just 24 minutes in their three road matches — and those came after their quick-strike 1-2 punch at West Ham back in August.
Whoever scores first in this game is likely to walk away with at least one point, and the sooner it happens in the match, the more pressure the other will be under. Look for Watford to get it right and head into the break on a much-needed positive note.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: WATFORD 1, Bournemouth 0.