2018-19 EPL Match Day 8 Preview — Watford (4-1-2) vs. Bournemouth (4-1-2)

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.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

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.

PREDICTION

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.

OTHER MATCH DAY 8 PREVIEWS:

Leicester City (4-0-3) vs. Everton (2-3-2)
Manchester United (3-1-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-2-5)
Fulham (1-2-4) vs. Arsenal (5-0-2)
Liverpool (6-1-0) vs. Manchester City (6-1-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)

Still a work in progress but making steps of progress with each match, Arsenal look to make it seven wins on the spin Saturday when they host a Watford side trying to shake off a tough exit in the Carabao Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

These sides are separated by one point and two spots in the table, with Watford (4-1-1) in fourth and Arsenal (4-0-2) sixth. The two sides are also trending in different directions – the Gunners are seeking their first seven-match winning streak since Sept. 17-Oct. 19, 2016, while the Hornets are winless in their last three overall after starting the season with the maximum 12 points in league play while winning their first five contests.

While Unai Emery’s team did not record back-to-back clean sheets, they did enough to advance to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over Championship side Brentford. Danny Welbeck had a first-half brace, giving him four goals during this win streak, and Alexander Lacazette put the tie out of reach with a stoppage-time marker.

“I am very happy individually with the player. Danny Welbeck is working with this commitment and when he is playing also with a performance like today, and I think he’s helping the team and we want this,” Emery said of Welbeck, who is in the final year of his contract as both sides are reportedly discussing an extension. “Also it’s more chances for us to find the first XI for the next matches with performances like today’s.”

Cracking that first-choice lineup, however, will be a challenge since both Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also are in fine form with seven goals between them in the last five matches. Welbeck has logged just 30 minutes in league play but has made the most of his starts with goals in all three competitions having also scored in Europa League.

“I’m happy with the goals, but more importantly I am happy that we have gone through to the next round and put in a good performance against a good side,” Welbeck told Arsenal’s official website. “We’re taking it game by game, but now we look ahead to Watford on Saturday in the Premier League. That is our main focus at the moment but every single game is important for us.”

All told, Emery overturned nine of his starters from last weekend’s 2-0 win over Everton that turned on a world-class goal by Lacazette and one from Aubameyang three minutes apart in the second half.

One of those changes may be in effect for this match as well with centre back Sokratis Papastathopoulous unlikely to feature due to a knee injury suffered against Everton. Rob Holding, who entered late in the first half for Sokratis and helped the Gunners record their first shutout of the season, played the full 90 against Brentford.

Watford make the short trek into London’s city limits feeling aggrieved after losing to Tottenham Hotspur on penalties after a 2-2 draw Wednesday at Stadium MK. The match was drawn as a home contest for Spurs, whose renovations at White Hart Lane are on-going and were unable to secure Wembley for use. Tottenham requested the MK Stadium venue, which was approved by the EFL over Watford’s objections, and one-time Milton Keynes product Dele Alli drew Spurs level at 1 with a penalty in the 82nd minute after a foul that resulted in a straight red card to centre back Christian Kabasele.

After the teams traded goals in the final four minutes, Alli was again decisive from the spot as both Etienne Capoue and Domingos Quina missed for Watford while Heruelho Gomes failed to stop any of Tottenham’s four attempts.

Watford manager Javi Gracia was incensed over referee Lee Mason’s decision and told The Times, “I like to respect the referee’s decisions but it’s hard to accept the penalty and the red card decision. What I saw was Dele and Kabasele fighting to win possession. We will appeal the red card.”

It will be an important appeal because Gracia has used the same starting XI for all six league contests. Central defender Craig Cathcart was the only holdover from last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Fulham, where Andre Gray scored for the second straight league match. The striker has three goals, sharing joint honours with Roberto Peryera, after totaling five in 31 matches last term.

In a bid to help Gracia keep continuity in the lineup, fellow striker Troy Deeney said he will be getting an injection during the week to deal with an ankle injury suffered in a challenge from Fulham’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah. That is in addition to the broken toes he has been playing with since late last month.

“I have to have another injection, this time in the ankle, for the weekend so I’ll be ready for Arsenal,” Deeney told the Evening Standard as he prepares to reprise his role as Public Enemy No. 1 at the Emirates – where Arsenal supporters will recall his comments last season after Watford’s home win over the Gunners in which he said Arsenal “lacked cojones.”

“There’s a bit of ligament damage in there but nothing a few injections can’t help. It’s going to take more than that to stop me playing against Arsenal.”

The Gunners had the last laugh on Deeney in last season’s corresponding fixture, winning 3-0 as the Hornets striker missed a penalty in the second half that would have made it 2-1. Watford is 3-0-8 against Arsenal in the Premier League era, but two of the wins have come at the Emirates, most notably their 2016 FA Cup quarterfinal upset.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid 4/9 favourites to make it a seventh consecutive win on the trot and have 18/5 odds to take at least one point from the match. Watford are lengthy 5/1 underdogs to record their third win in four overall matches at the Emirates.

Arsenal are also better than even money to win this game with more than 2.5 goals scored at 10/11 odds, and the Gunners get 4/1 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory. A low-scoring draw is a 6/1 pick, followed by a Hornets victory over 2.5 goals at 15/2 and a clean sheet for Gracia’s team via 1-0 or 2-0 win a 16/1 longshot.

Aubameyang edges out Lacazette to lead the line for first-goal honours, with the Gabon international listed at 16/5 while the France striker is 7/2 to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. Welbeck’s stellar recent form has him listed as a third choice at 9/2, while Aaron Ramsey (13/2) and Henrik Mkhitaryan (13/2) round out the top five. Gray narrowly edges out Deeney as Watford’s top option for a first goal to the Hornets at 17/2 compared to Deeney’s 9/1 return.

The Arsenal duo of Aubameyang (5/6) and Lacazette (19/20) have better than even money odds to score during the match, and Welbeck is lurking right behind the pair at 5/4. That makes sense since the trio have accounted for all but one of the last nine Gunners goals.

Gray has 12/5 odds to score for Watford, just ahead of Deeney (5/2), while Roberto Pereyra is an intriguing listing at 7/2 to find the back of the net.

PREDICTION

Little by little, match by match, there is slowly an identity taking hold at Arsenal under Emery. The Gunners are trying to do the little things to see out matches, covering the details that seemed to not matter in the final stages of Arsene Wenger’s tenure. There has been talk of that during the week, with Cech’s comments to The Guardian about style meaning more than substance to “Le Professeur” surprising given the source as opposed to the content of the critique.

Arsenal are becoming a cohesive team with each passing match. The attack is solid, and with Welbeck coming on, there’s now options across the board for Emery to pull the trigger earlier on switches among the attacking four if he seems someone having an off-night.

The decision to bring Lucas Torreira along slowly following his summer signing has paid dividends, but one still feels the pairing of the Uruguay international and teenager Matteo Guendouzi in front of the back four is the ultimate end game for Emery, which leaves Granit Xhaka as the odd man out.

The back four is still prone to mistakes but improving as a unit. That will be challenged to a degree if Sokratis is unable to play in this match, but Holding appears light years better than the wide-eyed youngster who looked overmatched a few seasons prior.

The surprising falling apart of the contract negotiations between the club and Ramsey is a discussion for another day, but with the rumours already swirling the team is determined to get something for him in the January window as opposed to potentially losing him on a free transfer at season’s end is another sign Arsenal are adapting to modern times.

For Watford, this is an opportunity to show they learned their lesson from the loss to Manchester United. The Hornets afforded the Red Devils too much respect that day, and when they finally took the initiative to Manchester United, they were almost able to steal a point at the death.

It will be tougher doing so at the Emirates in contrast to Vicarage Road, but with Deeney setting the example of how important this match is via his choice for an injection, that kind of combativeness can be contagious in a positive way.

Watford are eager to see Kabasele’s red card overturned — something that has a strong chance of happening considering it appeared Mason reverted to the old rules regarding the “last man” defending — and that would also be a huge plus to maintaining the continuity Gracia has enjoyed in the early part of the season.

The Hornets have started brightly in recent years only to fade into mid-table obscurity by the time the holiday fixtures roll around. Watford need their left side — most notably Jose Holebas and Pereyra — to start causing mischief on the flank to help Deeney and Gray find space to operate against Arsenal’s central defenders.

Despite their 2-0 scoreline against Everton, there was not all that much separating the Gunners from the Toffees, and it can be argued Aubameyang’s goal should have been chalked off for being offsides. The Hornets are closer than many think to being in that mix of teams that will comprise seventh through 10th in the table, and getting a point here will go a long way towards that coming to fruition come May.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 1, Watford 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)
Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Watford (4-0-0) vs. Manchester United (2-0-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

The surprise package of the first four matches, Watford put their 100 percent record on the line Saturday at Vicarage Road as they try to move nine points clear of Manchester United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Hornets (4-0-0) are enjoying the high life at the moment, trailing only evergreens Liverpool and Chelsea in the table with the maximum 12 points. Manager Javi Gracia has gotten his team to buy into his 4-2-2-2 formation, with Roberto Pereyra a revelation on the left wing replacing the departed Richarlison and keeper Ben Foster making the most of his second go-round with Watford.

One of the underrated parts to Watford’s success is their ability to build a deep squad that is able to run a two-track course with league and cup responsibilities. Watford have won all five of their matches overall and overturned their entire XI in their Carabao Cup win at Reading.

Gracia was named Premier League Manager of the Month, and the Spaniard has instilled confidence his team can claim another high-profile pelt after rallying to defeat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 before the international break on goals by Troy Deeney and Craig Cathcart set up by Jose Holebas seven minutes apart in the second half.

“In this moment the results help us to feel we can do it, but it’s only a feeling because you have to do many things to win,” Gracia told Watford’s official website as they seek a club-record fifth consecutive home win in the top flight. “We need to manage situations, we need to play well, run a lot and fight a lot. After that we can have some options to win. We try to prepare as good as possible.”

Pereyra has a team-high three goals and Holebas leads the way with four assists. The Hornets have scored at least two goals in all five of their victories. Gracia is expected to stick with the same XI he has used in all four of his league matches, with Deeney and Andre Gray leading the line ahead of wingers Pereyra and Will Hughes.

“We are in a good moment, we are enjoying it, we know in the future things may change but this is a good moment for us,” Gracia added. “I prefer not to speak about if it’s the fifth game in a row, the sixth or the fourth – it’s the next one, the new one and the chance to get three points. The past is the past. I prefer to focus on the next game and the next three points.”

Getting three points has been challenging at times for Manchester United (2-0-2), who have been plagued by inconsistency and injuries at various positions across the pitch. They avoided a third consecutive loss before the international break with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at Burnley that relieved some of the crisis mode surrounding Jose Mourinho and the side, but the truth remains United have much heavy lifting to do to get back into the Premier League race.

The next challenge for Mourinho comes at left back, where Luke Shaw is not likely to play after suffering a concussion playing for England in their Nations League opener versus Spain. Shaw, who had been a whipping boy for Mourinho since his arrival from Southampton, had gotten into the manager’s good graces with a roaring start in being named the club’s player of the month.

United do have options if Shaw is not cleared to play, with one possibility being teenager and summer signing Diogo Dalot making his league debut. Dalot, a £19 million transfer from Porto, had his first action of the season with United’s Under-23 side earlier this week after recovering from an injury suffered last season.

“It was nice, the atmosphere was good, I can imagine if the stadium is full and I am very happy to come back,” Dalot told United’s official website. “It feels good to be back. It was a special night, getting my first minutes after four long months and I am really happy. It is a really special moment for me. I just want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing medical department and the coach, who has believed in me since day one.”

If Mourinho wants a veteran presence, he could opt for Marcos Rojo as the Argentina international has worked his way back into match shape recovering from injuries.

Marouane Fellaini is questionable for the match with a back injury that forced him to withdraw from Belgium’s Nations League matches. The towering midfielder was an influential figure in the win over Burnley in his first start of the season.

One player who will not be available is attacking winger Marcus Rashford, who will serve the first of his three-match ban for his headbutt of Phil Bardsley in the win over Burnley. His absence could be filled by Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata or Anthony Martial as Mourinho prepares for a busy stretch of schedule in which United play five matches across three competitions.

Rashford, though, will be available for United’s Champions League opener against Swiss side Young Boys on Wednesday.

United did the double over Watford last season, including a 4-2 victory in the corresponding fixture. Ashley Young scored twice in a six-minute span of the first half, and Martial made it 3-0 just after the half-hour. Manchester United are 9-0-1 in league matches against the Hornets, with the lone loss a 3-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in 2016.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are solid favourites with 10/11 odds, and Watford will give a 3/1 return if they continue their 100 percent start. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 12/5.

United get a 21/10 return to win with more than 2.5 goals and 16/5 odds to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count. There are also 13/4 odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while Watford have 6/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals and 7/1 under 2.5.

Lukaku is the favourite to make it 1-0 at 4/1 odds, with Sanchez hot on his heels at 5/1. Martial is third at 13/2, with Lingard close behind at 7/1. Deeney is the top Watford option at 15/2, followed by Gray at 8/1. Despite his three goals, Pereyra is listed at 11/1 to open the scoring.

Pereyra’s odds for a goal at any time in the match improve to 7/2, while Lukaku nets a 6/4 return. Sanchez has 9/2 odds to bag his first goal of the season for United, with Paul Pogba and Juan Mata receiving 13/5 odds. Deeney is also listed at 13/5 to beat David De Gea at some point.

PREDICTION

Do you know how I know it was a good week of practice for Manchester United? Mourinho was railing about all the questions surrounding Rashford, who isn’t even playing as he serves the first of this three-match ban for his red card against Burnley. In some ways, that win came at the worst time for United since it was clearly their better victory of the two they have.

Replacing Shaw — provided he is not cleared to play — will provide some obvious talking points, more so if Dalot does not make his debut after playing for the Under-23 side, but this is where United must kick on and get on with their season. They cannot afford to lose this game and be nine points behind Liverpool and seven points behind their eternal rivals across town (note: this space is not entirely sold on Chelsea, but a nine-point deficit would be inconvenient) given how the league is again quickly turning into a top 7/bottom 13 league once more.

And all this is not designed to give short shrift to Watford. The Hornets deserve their status as flavour of the month given their start, with Gracia doing excellent work. Watford have a track record of starting fast before fading in recent seasons, and either avoiding or enduring through that difficult stretch is Gracia’s biggest challenge.

Despite their maximum record, the break after rallying past Spurs may have come at the perfect time for Watford because it allowed Gracia to teach as opposed to simply ride the momentum of a big win into the next match. Those lessons will be learned, and while a fifth league win on the trot may be too big an ask, a hard-earned draw feels like the most likely outcome.

Predicted Final Score: Watford 1, Manchester United 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Team-by-Team Previews: Watford (July 24)

(Writer’s Note: This is the seventh of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on Aug. 10. Links to previous teams’ previews can be found at the bottom of the page)

WATFORD HORNETS

Manager: Javi Gracia (Hire Date: Jan. 21, 2018)
Tenure Length: 15th/20 in Premier League and 55th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 11-8-19, 41 points, 14th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 44
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-20
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 4 (including 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2015
Last Relegation: 
2007
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Second-round loss (Bristol City)
2017-18 FA Cup: Fourth-round loss (Southampton)

2017/18 REVIEW

Watford made the most of its early season schedule, taking points in seven of its first eight matches. The lone defeat came in a 6-0 thrashing by Manchester City, and after a 2-1 victory over Arsenal on October 14, the Hornets were fourth in the table.

Nine days later, however, things fell apart dramatically after Everton sacked Ronald Koeman and began pursuing Marco Silva as his replacement, and that interest was returned despite Silva having signed on with the Hornets in May. Watford owner Gino Pozzo dug in his heels, turning down four Everton offers in compensation for Silva that reportedly started at £8 million and gradually increased to £15 million, ultimately sending the Merseyside outfit a cease-and-desist letter.

The fracturing of the locker room, though, proved too much to overcome as Watford entered a tailspin that included a 3-2 loss at Everton on November 5 in which the Hornets squandered a two-goal lead. They righted themselves briefly with back-to-back wins but then had eight losses in their next 11 matches (1-2-8) before Silva was sacked January 21.

Javi Gracia, who had been out of a job after parting ways with Ruban Kazan at the end of the 2016-17 season, took over at Vicarage Road and helped salvage some of the lost cause by claiming 10 points from his first five league matches to make sure the Hornets stayed in the top flight.

Once more, Watford faded down the stretch, taking just five points from its final nine matches (1-2-6). In 2016-17, the Hornets lost their final six league matches and they went 2-7-2 in their last 11 league contests the season prior while reaching the FA Cup semifinals.

POTENTIAL STARTING XI

Watford Lineup.png

There is competition throughout the lineup, starting at keeper, where Ben Foster was brought in from relegated West Bromwich Albion, with Garcia not especially keen on incumbent Heurelho Gomes, who had mentioned the possibility of leaving Vicarage Road in the offseason. Pontus Dahlberg is in camp this summer, and the 19-year-old could be the No. 2 if Gomes does kick on.

The back four likely will be comprised of Daryl Janmaat, Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele, and Jose Holebas, and there is depth at the wide backs with new acquisitions Marc Navarro and Adam Masina.

Gerard Deulofeu made his move from Barcelona permanent for a reported £11.5 million and will be on one flank with veteran Troy Deeney on the other with Richarlison departing to Everton. Tom Cleverley is expected to miss the first few contests of the season after undergoing an Achilles’ procedure, which leaves Roberto Pereyra as the top playmaking option.

With Deeney underneath, Andre Gray should remain in the most forward role, and Ostersund signing Ken Sema could squeeze into the rotation.

THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS

While Watford did bring in six new players, the obvious headline banner is the recent departure of Richarlison, who reunited with Silva at Everton with a transfer price tag of at least £40 million that could reach £50 million depending on incentives reached. While a player of his talent was going to kick on to a bigger club at some point, doing so this close to the start of the season — even with a staggering return on Watford’s initial investment — is a blow Gracia and the team will need some time to recover from and regroup.

There are some who will argue Richarlison’s departure is addition by subtraction given the mercurial Brazilian scored all five of his goals for Watford in the team’s first 12 matches and failed to register an assist in the final 21 contests as he fell out of favour with Garcia. Andre Carillo also has departed, with the Peru international going to Al-Hilal of the Saudi Professional League.

Of the newcomers, Foster may have the biggest impact as he returns for his second stint at Vicarage Road, having played for Watford in the Premier League in the 2006-07. He is a durable keeper, having missed only one league match in the last two seasons for the Baggies and still managed 10 clean sheets for a last-place side in 2017-18.

Deulofeu is technically a transfer in, though he did play seven matches for the Hornets last season before making his move from Barcelona permanent. It only seems like he has been around forever, but the 24-year-old has yet to perform at a level that matches his potential.

THE GUY WORTH SEEING

Abdoulaye Doucoure (MF)

Doucoure scored a team-high seven goals for Watford in his second season in the Premier League after arriving from Ligue 1 side Rennes, and he found a comfort zone in the latter stages of the season for the Hornets. Doucoure also showed a strong box-to-box presence and was unafraid to get involved physically, picking up 10 yellow cards last term.

While there have been rumours he may leave Vicarage Road before the transfer window closes, Richarlison’s transfer fee means Watford do not have to sacrifice the 25-year-old in order to land a striker should the right player come along.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Watford has been picking up steam in the wrong direction as one of the teams expected to be relegated. As of July 23, the Hornets were considered the fourth-most likely team to go down and were getting 15/8 odds. They were also fourth-most likely to finish at the bottom of the table at 7/1 odds and joint-third to finish in the bottom half of the table with Fulham and Brighton and Hove Albion at 1/10.

FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES

Aug. 11 — Brighton and Hove Albion (15th) H
Aug. 18 — Burnley (7th) A
Aug. 26 — Crystal Palace (11th) H
Sept. 2 — Tottenham Hotspur (3rd) A
————–
April 20 — Huddersfield Town (16th) A
April 27 — Wolverhampton (N/A) H
May 4 — Chelsea (5th) A
May 12 — West Ham United (13th) H

OUTLOOK

No one ever likes to lose a talented player, but one gets the sense Richarlison’s departure to the blue section of Merseyside finally closes a chapter that brought nothing but aggravation and frustration to Vicarage Road for nearly nine months. There is a sense of “what-if” with the Hornets over the past few seasons as they have performed springtime fades in league play after reaching safety.

For Gracia, this is essentially a high-wire audition without a net since he is out of contract at season’s end after signing an 18-month deal to take over last January. He is the ninth manager at Vicarage Road since Pozzo took over in June 2012, and that list includes two current Premier League coaches (three if you count Sean Dyche, who was let go in July 2012). That track record has put Gracia as the most likely first sacking in the top flight, but a quick start before that away contest versus Tottenham could ease that pressure.

Watford does have pieces, but will those players mesh is still a very large question mark. Not having Cleverley as a steadying influence in the midfield early will pose some problems, and the Hornets will need talisman Deeney to find that 2015-16 form in which he totaled 13 goals and seven assists.

Gray must also prove a better return for the £18 million invested in him and recapture the 23-goal form he showed in helping Burnley gain promotion in 2016. Deulofeu needs to incorporate his creative play into the team’s framework so both can thrive in the attacking third.

The stability in the back four in front of either Foster or Gomes will provide some cover, but this will be another season where Watford needs graft and craft to reach 40 points once more.

PREDICTED FINISH

17th place

PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS

July 18 — Fulham                                      July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City                               July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton                      July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton                           July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town                 August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion    August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford                                     August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United                    August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth                          August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace                          August 6 — Manchester City