2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

The past and present for both Marco Silva and Richarlison collide as the current Everton manager and star forward face Watford for the first time since Silva’s acrimonious departure during last season and Richarlison’s contentious move to Goodison Park over the summer.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Watford (6-2-7) looked to be on their way to a promising season under Silva last tern, claiming 15 points from their first eight matches while climbing as high as fourth following a 2-1 victory over Arsenal on Oct. 14. At Everton (6-5-4), the Toffees were coming apart at the seams as Ronald Koeman was unable to follow up on a promising seventh-place finish from 2016-17 – Everton endured a disastrous Europa League adventure and their defence was porous.

Nine days after the Hornets reached their highest position in the table, Everton fired Koeman after a 5-2 hiding at home by Arsenal that dropped them to their worst spot – the top of the drop. Everton actively pursued Silva, incurring the ire of Watford owner Gino Pozzo, who rejected the Merseyside club’s overtures on multiple occasions even as they raised their offer to £12 million.

Watford eventually sacked Silva in January after the club had fallen off their torrid start and were in 10th place after a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City, replacing him with current boss Javi Gracia. Pozzo cited Everton’s interest in Silva as a primary reason for the backslide and filed a complaint with the Premier League.

To no one’s surprise, Silva was named Everton manager on May 31 shortly after they parted ways with caretaker boss Sam Allardyce, who did guide them to an eighth-place finish. Over the summer, Everton then reunited Silva with the 21-year-old Richarlison in July for £35 million – a figure inflated by the animosity between the sides and one that could also reach £50 million with add-ons.

“It is not the first time in my life and for sure it will not be the last,” Silva told the Watford Observer about facing his former side. “I look forward to the match, a tough match for sure, and it will be good to see some of the players who worked with me, some good friends as well I have in the club.”

Everton have claimed points in four of their last five matches after playing Newcastle United to a 1-1 draw midweek. Richarlison scored the equaliser on 38 minutes for his seventh goal – two more than he had at Watford all of last term while netting those goals in their first 12 matches – but offence has been a concern for the Toffees, who have just two goals in their last four matches.

The struggles prompted a post-match query to Silva if Everton would pursue a forward in the January transfer window, a question he deftly sidestepped.

“I understand your question, but how many clubs are trying to find one striker to score more than 20 goals, or 25 goals, or 30 goals,” he mused. “I think it’s a question at the moment for all the managers in the Premier League.

“I am happy with the players we have. Of course we are doing our homework. We know what we want to do as well.”

For the second straight season, Watford have faded to a degree after a strong start and have just two wins in their last 11 league matches (2-2-7) after claiming the maximum 12 points from their first four contests. The Hornets have dropped three on the bounce but gave Manchester City all they could handle midweek before losing 2-1 at Vicarage Road.

Abdoulaye Doucoure gave Watford hopes of nicking a point from the reigning champions with a goal on 85 minutes, but the Hornets were unable to find an equaliser despite throwing everyone forward – even keeper Ben Foster. For his part, Foster does not think there is any on-pitch animus towards Silva among his teammates, but did note there is a different atmosphere.

“I am sure it will have an impact from the club’s point of view in general,” Foster said. “But it is not something me personally or any of the players out on the pitch on Monday night will be thinking too much about.

“We will just be focusing on the job as usual, go about the game as we normally do and try to get the three points and hopefully we can put on a good display.”

Like Everton, Watford have endured their troubles generating offence with just two goals in their last five contests. They have not gotten a goal from a striker since Isaac Success completed the scoring in their 3-0 victory over Huddersfield Town on Oct. 20.

Watford had their second appeal of the straight red card given to defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue denied Sunday, meaning he will sit out this match and the Hornets’ next contest at home versus Cardiff City on Saturday. Capoue was sent off following his collision with Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho on Dec. 1, but the team felt the three-match ban was too severe and filed a second appeal citing Rule K of the Rules of the FA.

“The Rule K arbitration proceedings which #watfordfc commenced against The FA have now been concluded & the outcome is the original 3-game ban has been upheld,” the team said in a statement released via Twitter. “We remain extremely disappointed at the process & this decision but now consider the matter closed.”

Nathaniel Chalobah will likely get his second consecutive start alongside Doucoure in the defensive midfield of Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 set-up.

The home team won both matches last term, with Everton engineering a fightback from two down in the final 23 minutes for a 3-2 win in the corresponding fixture as Oumar Niasse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored before Leighton Baines converted a penalty on 91 minutes.

Richarlison and Christian Kabasele scored for Watford, who have taken just one point from their five Premier League matches at Goodison Park while shipping 12 goals.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Everton are solid 4/5 favourites to pick up all three points and extend Watford’s recent run of misery in this first Silva derby, while the Hornets are 4/1 underdogs. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 11/4.

Oddsmakers are torn on the proficiency of the sides’ offences, with 10/11 odds in both directions regarding the 2.5 goals threshold. There is a slight lean for both teams to score at 4/5 odds, slightly better than the 19/20 offered for at least one clean sheet.

Richarlison and Tosun lead the line for potential first-goal scorers at 9/2, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin a surprising third choice at 11/2 ahead of Theo Walcott (6/1), Gylfi Sigurdsson (7/1) and a trio of Toffees at 8/1 — Bernard, Ademola Lookman, and Kieran Dowell. Deeney is also in that group at 8/1 for Watford’s top option, with a trio of his mates — Success, Gray and Stefano Okaka all at 9/1.

Tosun and Richarlison are also joint-favourites for an any-time goal at 11/8, with Calvert-Lewin (7/4), Walcott (15/8) and Sigurdsson (9/4) rounding out the top five. Deeney is again the best of the bunch for the Hornets at 13/5, with Success, Gray and Okaka all behind him at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Since the animosity that fuels this intriguing match is consigned largely to the executive boards of these two sides, it is hard to imagine it will be an ill-tempered affair, but one never truly knows. But there is one thing clear about this contest: Everton need a win here ahead of their mini two-match gauntlet at Manchester City and home to Spurs since those contests could go a long way to determining if the Toffees do indeed have European ambitions.

The expectation is Silva will return to the customary 4-2-3-1 in which Richarlison leads the line after slotting him on the wing to give Cenk Tosun some run up front versus Newcastle. Theo Walcott will likely return on the right flank, and the only other question mark is whether Kurt Zouma will get a second consecutive start with Michael Keane expected to be restored to the first XI.

Watford will miss Capoue, but there were positives to be had from their late flourish versus Manchester City. How the Hornets carry that into this match will be key to halting their recent slide. It also means their left side tandem of Jose Holebas and Roberto Pereyra have to provide menace on the offensive side to get Gracia’s team to kick on.

While the Toffees have not been in a purple patch themselves offensively, they have been effective on defence with three clean sheets in their last eight league contests while allowing more than one goal just once in that stretch. This time, that airtight quality gets them three points and a nice fillip ahead of their trip to the Etihad to face Manchester City.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Everton 2, Watford 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 15 Preview — Watford (6-2-6) vs. Manchester City (12-2-0)

It took 45 minutes to shake off the post-Champions League hangover, but after that it was business as usual for Manchester City, who look to maintain their unbeaten status in the Premier League on Tuesday at Vicarage Road versus Watford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Citizens (12-2-0), coming off a 2-2 midweek draw at Lyon that secured their spot in the round of 16 for Europe’s top club tournament, were held to a 1-1 stalemate Saturday versus Bournemouth when the first-half whistle blew. Guardiola did not exactly light into his side at the interval, but the message was received as Raheem Sterling restored City’s lead before the hour and Ilkay Gundogan secured the win 11 minutes from time.

“We were flat but after, we were more aggressive and we changed the game. I asked them for more at half-time but my speech was ridiculous because in the first five or ten minutes, it didn’t work – it was the same as the first half,” Guardiola told City’s official website. “Raheem Sterling changed the game and Leroy Sane was fantastic too. What we have done in the Premier League is incredible and it means a lot to me.

“It’s not one or two games – it’s every day, every day, every day. Maybe today, we didn’t make a good performance for 90 minutes but 75 was good. It is a lesson we have to learn, how to win when we are tired. Maybe in the future, it is going to help us to do what we’re trying to do.”

Last weekend’s match started a run of six straight weeks with two matches, which means personnel rotation is pivotal. Guardiola made six changes from Wednesday’s starting XI as Bernardo Silva – who scored City’s first goal – and Ilkay Gundogan returned from injury.

Sergio Aguero was a spectator from the club boxes due to a “muscular disturbing,” and Guardiola will likely hold out the centre-forward for a second straight matches as a precautionary measure since “there are a lot of games and we don’t want to take risks of injuries. One month or a month-and-a-half loss with nine or ten games is too much.”

The goal City conceded was the first by an opposing forward in the run of play in league action. The reigning champions have yielded just six Premier League goals – one more than they have in five Champions League matches.

Watford (6-2-6) are in a difficult stretch of schedule and a tough patch of play at the moment, their winless streak reaching four (0-1-3) after a 2-0 loss at Leicester City on Saturday. This will be the third straight match against a top-eight side, a run that concludes on the weekend at Everton.

Keeper Ben Foster felled Jamie Vardy in the 11th minute, leading to a penalty the forward converted. James Maddison volleyed home a second before the half-hour, and the Hornets spent the rest of the match in an uphill slog where good build-ups were thwarted by a lack of cutting edge in the final third.

“It’s the same (as other away games),” said Gracia to Watford’s official website. “We need to be demanding. We need to improve these situations. You can see in the last games we are losing points, losing options to get better results because we are not efficient. When you score goals, you feel more comfortable and maybe you finish better. Maybe when you don’t score you lose confidences you need.”

Gracia has a huge selection headache on his hands thanks to a straight, late red card given to defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue for a two-footed challenge on Kelechi Iheanacho. Capoue, who had served a one-match ban versus Southampton for accumulating five yellow cards, would miss the next three matches unless Watford’s appeal is successful.

It remains to be seen if the FA will act quickly enough to overturn the ban for this match, but Gracia said the club will try.

“I spoke to Iheanacho and he said there was no contact by Capoue,” forward Isaac Success said. “I feel sorry for him because he has been one of our best players. Let’s see what the FA will do because it was never a red card.”

“I saw it clear because it was in front of me, but I prefer not to say anything, only what Iheanacho said,” Gracia added. “He said Capoue didn’t touch him. That is more important than what I can say. Yes, we will appeal. It doesn’t depend on me (what happens), but we are going to appeal. Someone spoke with him (Iheanacho) and told me (what he said).”

City have won eight on the bounce against Watford in all competitions, outscoring the Hornets 27-4 after the sides played to draws in both matches in 2006-07. Guardiola’s team have smashed home 11 goals without reply in their last two trips to Vicarage Road, including a 6-0 hiding last term as Aguero had three goals and an assist.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Coral, City are 1/4 favourites to at least maintain their two-point lead atop the table with a victory. The odds of Watford ending their eight-game losing streak to the Citizens with a draw are 5/1, while a shock Hornets victory that would mark City’s first league loss offers a 9/1 return.

There are 4/9 odds for there to be more than 2.5 goals, while oddsmakers have a 7/4 listing for fewer than that threshold. It is even money for there to be a clean sheet in at least one direction and 3/4 odds for both teams to find the back of the net.

For first-goal scorers, Aguero leads the line despite his questionable status for this game at 14/5, followed by Jesus (10/3) and Sterling (4/1). Mahrez and Sane are both 9/2, with David Silva lurking further back at 13/2. On the Watford side, Troy Deeney is the top option, albeit an overall longshot at 12/1. Success, Andre Gray and Gerard Delofeu are all 14/1 selections to make it 1-0 for the hosts.

Aguero and Jesus are both better than even-money odds to find the back of the net over the 90 minutes at 8/11 and 10/11, respectively. Sterling has 23/20 odds to score for the second straight match, and Sane and Mahrez are both 11/8 to tally. Silva has 15/8 odds to score, while Bernardo Silva and Gundogan have 14/5 odds to also make it goals in back-to-back matches. 

For the hosts, Deeney is 7/2, while the aforementioned trio of Success, Gray and Delofeu are all 4/1 picks. Roberto Pereyra and Stefano Okaka also join that 4/1 list, while Domingos Quina is another notch back at 5/1.

PREDICTION
One of the fun things for the month of December will be “Guess the City lineup.” While injured winger Kevin De Bruyne had odds listed in this match as a goal-scorer, Guardiola all but shot down that possibility as well as a potential return for the upcoming weekend clash at home versus Chelsea. 

In theory, Guardiola could overturn his entire back four for this match and use Delph, Stones, Kompany and Walker. He wants to get Fernandinho rest, and it would not be surprising to see it in this contest with Chelsea looming. How he does that is anyone’s guess, but Gundogan in the center role flanked by the Silvas would be one such possibility.

Regardless of who is up front, and Aguero will not be among them if reading between the lines of Guardiola is up front, there is still plenty of talent available. One potential player who could make the 18-man roster in addition to Phil Foden is Brahim Diaz, who had a brace in their Carabao Cup win over Fulham last month.

Things are somewhat bleak for Watford’s prospects to get a point from this match, let alone three, and worse if Capoue is unavailable to help command the midfield. The Hornets have also lacked scoring punch of late with one goal in their last four matches and none in the prior two.

Gracia’s bemoaning of the lack of precision in the final third does not bode well for this match since Watford will undoubtedly not have a substantial amount of possession, and what few chances they do create must be capitalised upon. If the Hornets are not careful, this match could get out of control quickly — they have conceded three goals in the opening half-hour of their last three matches.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Watford 0, Manchester City 3.

OTHER EPL Match Day 15 Previews:
Bournemouth (6-2-6) vs. Huddersfield Town (2-4-8)
Burnley (2-3-9) vs. Liverpool (11-3-0)
Wolverhampton (4-4-6) vs. Chelsea (9-4-1)
Manchester United (6-4-4) vs. Arsenal (9-3-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 13 Preview — Watford (6-2-4) vs. Liverpool (9-3-0)

The international break came at a perfect time for Liverpool, who resume their chase of Manchester City on Saturday with a tricky contest at Vicarage Road against Watford.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

 

The Reds (9-3-0) are two points back of the reigning champions and kick off a tense eight-day stretch that has a crunch encounter against Paris-St. Germain midweek in Champions League before the first Merseyside derby next Sunday at home versus Everton.

By the time the international break rolled out, injuries had wreaked havoc on Liverpool’s midfield, which had been thinned to the point Jurgen Klopp had shifted to a 4-2-3-1 formation out of his 4-3-3. But the week off gave everyone a chance to heal, and as a result, only Adam Lallana is unavailable for this game.

“In past seasons, I think it’s been a really defining period in the season for us,” defender Joe Gomez said of the upcoming stretch in which Liverpool will play 11 matches in the next 40 days. “So we know how important it is and how tough it’s going to be with the amount of games in a short period of time, but we’re ready.

“All the teams in the Premier League face this same task and we’ve just got to be ready for it and try to get as many points as we can.”

Liverpool also locked up a key component of their attack during the break, signing striker Sadio Mane to a new contract through 2023. The Senegal international, who joined Liverpool on a £34 million move from Southampton back in 2016, has 40 goals in 89 matches across all competitions for the Reds, including seven this term.

“This is a big boost for everyone and another demonstration of how the players we have at this club are committed, not just to our present but our future also,” Klopp told the club’s official website. “I can’t think of a single club anywhere in Europe that wouldn’t want a player like Sadio available to them, so the fact he wants to remain with us says something about where we are currently.”

It was also revealed that Liverpool worked a clause into Philippe Coutinho’s contract that Barcelona would have to pay £100 million on top of any transfer fee to pry any player from Anfield until the end of next season. The Catalans infuriated Liverpool with their relentless pursuit of the Brasil international, who left Merseyside in the January window for £142 million.

Watford’s entire starting XI might not cost £142 million, but the Hornets have punched above their weight class thus far and enter this contest in seventh place. The Hornets (6-2-4) were somewhat fortunate to escape St Mary’s with a 1-1 draw against Southampton before the break, with Jose Holebas scoring eight minutes from time for an equaliser that came after a Saints goal was incorrectly chalked off for offsides.

Javi Gracia’s team are 1-0-2 against Big Six sides thus far, having beaten Tottenham Hotspur and perhaps deserving of a point in their loss at Arsenal. The mood at Vicarage Road has been one of not-so-quiet confidence, with Watford players insistent they are going to take the match to Liverpool and not have any specific changes for this match.

“We’re going to approach this game as we would any other,” right back Kiko Femenia told the club’s official website. “We have great players who can damage their defence and we’re going to try and keep possession of the ball. This will be our way of attacking Liverpool.”

“We will not modify our style,” echoed Gracia. “We will be loyal to our style and play the way we usually do, but knowing we have to be careful with their players because they are very, very good.

“It’s a good challenge for us. We are working hard to live this experience and enjoy the games. Playing at home we feel we are able to win all the games we play. I am sure playing home with the support of our fans it will be a different game.”

The Hornets will have close to a full roster available – defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue is eligible to return after serving a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation. The only injury concern is right wing Wil Hughes, who was forced off in the first half versus Southampton. Troy Deeney came off the bench and turned the match in the Hornets favour, and Gracia must chose among him, Andre Gray, Gerard Delofeu and Isaac Success for his two forwards.

Liverpool’s slack defending on set pieces allowed Watford to steal a point in a wild 3-3 draw last season at Vicarage Road as Miguel Brito grabbed the equaliser in stoppage time. Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah scored Liverpool’s goals, twice erasing deficits created on goals by Watford’s Stefano Okaka and Abdoulaye Doucoure.

The Reds are unbeaten in their last five (4-1-0) versus Watford and 7-1-2 against the Hornets in the Premier League era.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are solid 4/7 favourites to win and keep the heat on Manchester City, while a draw returns 3-1 odds. For those who think Watford can make a breakthrough for what could be a season-defining win, there are 9/2 odds.

The Reds have 13/10 odds for a win with more than 2.5 goals, and there are 10/3 odds on a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. A draw with zero or two goals has 9/2 odds, while a Watford win over 2.5 goals has 15/2 odds. A 2-2 draw or higher or a Watford win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count offer the same 11/1 odds.

As one would expect, Liverpool players lead the toteboard for first-goal scorers as first-choice attackers Salah (3/1), Mane (9/2) and Firmino (5/1) all are in the first four, with Daniel Sturridge a surprise second choice at 4/1. Two more Liverpool reserves — Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke are 11/2, and Xherdan Shaqiri is an 8/1 pick to make it 0-1 before the first Watford option of Deeney at 17/2.

Salah is a better than even money pick to score during the match with 19/20 odds, followed again by Sturridge (13/10) and Mane (7/5), though Firmino’s patchy form sees him drop off to 17/10. Deeney again leads the list of Hornets choices at 11/4, edging out Gray (3/1).

PREDICTION

There is something to be said for the brave talk coming from Watford about how they will play their style and not cower into a bunker mentality against Liverpool. Of course, how those words translate to actions is something that will not be determined until kickoff, but it is still nice to see.

The Hornets, though, have acquitted themselves well against the big boys — they have already beaten Tottenham in league play, perhaps should have beaten them again in the Carabao Cup, and were 0-0 at Chelsea inside the final 20 minutes before losing 2-0. The only time they looked out of place was in the opening 45 minutes versus Manchester United and they were the better club in the second 45 of that defeat.

Getting Capoue back for this match is huge, because he and Doucoure must put in massive shifts if Watford are going to take one point from this match, let alone three. The left side of Gracia’s team — from Jose Holebas to Roberto Pereyra to whoever lines up on that half as forward — will be vital to keeping pressure on Trent Alexander-Arnold to prevent him from bombing up the right side.

The break came at a good and bad time for Liverpool in the sense they needed the time off to get their midfield recharged and regain some of the depth that was rocked by injuries. It was bad in the sense you can sense Salah picking up the form that made him so lethal last season. The question Klopp must wrestle with going forward is 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3? It’s obvious Shaqiri makes a huge impact on that right wing position when he can roam freely, something he cannot do as the right midfielder in a 4-3-3.

The only issue with that is Liverpool have so many good midfielders that Klopp would arguably be leaving one of his best 11 players off the pitch to play that formation regardless of which two midfielders he puts in front of the back four. It also seems unlikely he would go to a three-man back given he has two highly competent fullbacks in Alexandr-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, so it would not be surprising to see him oscillate back and forth between these two formations.

The key for this match, however, is not looking ahead to the mid-week clash with PSG in Paris. It’s still only 13 matches into the season, but Liverpool can not afford to drop three points at any point, and even dropping two via a draw as Man City barnstorm England creates consternation. If Watford stay true to their word, this could be an entertaining tilt, but one that Liverpool should win in the end.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Watford 1, Liverpool 3.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 13 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (3-3-6) vs. Manchester City (10-2-0)
Tottenham Hotspur (9-0-3) vs. Chelsea (8-4-0)
Fulham (1-2-9) vs. Southampton (1-5-6)
Bournemouth (6-2-4) vs. Arsenal (7-3-2)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 9 — Wolverhampton (4-3-1) vs. Watford (4-1-3)

A pair of clubs out to prove they have staying power collide at Molineux on Saturday when new boys Wolverhampton look to continue their surprising form against a Watford side hoping the international break provided an opportunity to regroup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Hornets (4-1-3) were the talk of the Premier League ahead of the first international break, winning their first four league matches and first five overall. But Javy Gracia’s side staggered into this most recent recess, taking just one point from their previous four contests and getting bounced from the Carabao Cup.

Wolves (4-3-1), meanwhile, are unbeaten in their last eight matches (5-3-0) in all competitions and have greatly aided their bid to stay up by taking points from both Manchester sides in the early going. Wolverhampton have conceded just two goals during their unbeaten run and have shown a flair for coming on late – 10 of their 11 goals in all competitions have come after the interval.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side, though, is unlike most promoted clubs as Wolves have quality throughout their lineup thanks to its heavy Portuguese tilt. Instead of simply pining for survival, seventh-place Wolverhampton could join a select group of promoted teams who finish in the top half of the table, a feat achieved last term by Newcastle United. The Magpies were just the fourth club to accomplish the feat since 2000, with the high-water mark achieved by eighth-place Reading in 2006-07.

“Wolves are an ambitious project and I want this kind of ambition, this kind of project. The club, the team, the staff wants to go on to the next level and I came to help this situation,” midfielder Joao Moutinho told Wolverhampton’s official website. “It is unbelievable what they did and how good they played last year, and I think with the new players it can help the team to achieve more things.

“We need to continue to do the good work because the most important thing is to think we can stay good, but we need to work more and more to improve, because we know the next game is very difficult.”

Before the break, Wolverhampton accomplished a Premier League first with an unchanged starting XI through their first eight matches. That chemistry is apparent considering eight different players have scored in league play and striker Raul Jimenez is the only Wolves player with more than one goal.

“In Portugal many people didn’t understand our move,” winger Diogo Jota said. Not just me but (Ruben) Neves as well, but we are here now and the people that said things now understand. Of course it was a risk because it wasn’t a shortcut to reach the Premier League, but in the end it was a good move.

“Nuno brought a new identity to the club, even for me the system is different. Before last season I never played in the system with five at the back, but he brought a way to live football which is completely different.”

Wolves’ six goals shipped are fourth-fewest in the league, trailing only co-leaders Manchester City (3), Chelsea (3) and Liverpool (5).

While Watford were unlucky at times in their second quartet of league matches, there was no argument they were given a thrashing before the break as Bournemouth stormed to a 4-0 victory at Vicarage Road a fortnight ago. The Hornets were already down one when Christian Kabasele picked up his second yellow on 32 minutes, resulting in a penalty Joshua King converted.

But there was little fight to Watford after switching to a back three to compensate for Kabasele’s departure as the Cherries scored right before and right after intermission. That left Gracia and his players to stew for two weeks, deliberating tweaks to tactics and personnel for Watford’s 4-2-2-2 formation.

“A lot of the boys are away on international duty and I think the break might do us good,” striker Andre Gray told the club’s official website. “Sometimes you just need to take your mind off it and start again. I think everybody will be ready to come back next week, get their heads down and start again. We need to put it right.”

Some of those players representing their countries put their best boots forward as Roberto Pereyra scored his first goal for Argentina and Nathaniel Chalobah became the first Watford player to represent England since 1987 in earning his first cap.

Kabasele’s absence to serve his red-card ban further thins a back line already without injured right back Daryl Janmaat. Adrian Mariappa likely will take Kabasele’s place in central defence, while Kiko Femenia should retain his spot deputising for Janmaat.

This is the first Premier League match between the teams, who have not met since a 2-2 draw at Molineux in the Championship during the 2014-15 season. Both clubs have 13 wins in the all-time series while splitting the points in the remaining 18 matchups. Watford have just one win in their last 17 trips (1-11-5) to Wolverhampton.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, oddsmakers are respecting both the form and quality of Wolves, installing them as 3/4 favourites to claim all three points. Watford are 19/5 longshots to end their winless drought, and there are 5/2 odds for the sides to split the points.

There are 2/1 odds for Wolverhampton to win with a total of more than 2.5 goals, but the hosts’ defence makes a victory and under 2.5 goals a near-equal pick at 27/10 odds. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw is the next-most likely option according to oddsmakers at 16/5, while Watford offer an 8/1 return on either total with a victory.

Jimenez leads the line for potential first goal-scorers at 4/1, followed by Wolves teammates Leo Bonatini (5/1), Jota, Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro (6/1) and Adam Traore (7/1). Oddsmakers are not showing much love for Watford’s offence as top options Troy Deeney and Andre Gray are 9/1, well back of the no goal-scorer choice (7/1).

Jimenez (6/4) and Bonatini (15/8) are the only players on either team with better than 2/1 odds to score at any point during the match, with Jota just off it at 21/10 while Costa and Cavaleiro are joint 9/4. Deeney is rated slightly higher than Gray for the Hornets, checking in at 16/5 over Gray’s 10/3.

PREDICTION

Well, the first flavor of the month in the Premier League is facing the current flavor of the month. Yet unlike Watford, it currently appears Wolverhampton does have that staying power the Hornets were hoping to find coming out of the previous international break.

The primary reason why is defence. Of course, few promoted teams stumble upon getting a No. 1 keeper who also is the No. 1 for their national team, and in addition to having Rui Patricio between the sticks, there is the added chemistry value of Wolves doubling as the de facto Portugal squad. Since the idle mind is the devil’s playground, one could also wonder if such a heavy contingent of Portuguese players is also turning this into an audition for Nuno to be the national coach if Portugal falters at the Euros.

But that is still a while away. Back to the present, and on the other side, Watford needed this break as much as they did not need the first one. The Hornets will be down two defenders in the injured Janmaat and suspended Kabasele, which puts additional pressure on holding midfielders Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure to keep the spine steady.

The Hornets have gone nearly three full matches without a goal in league play — Gray’s marker in the second minute of their draw at Fulham stands as their most recent one — and he’s also the only Watford player to score in the last four league contests. The hope is Pereyra’s performances with Argentina during the break will translate into a renewed aggressiveness from the early part of the season when he formed a menacing tandem with Jose Holebas on the left.

One of the interesting things about Wolverhampton is how little faze them. They have led for just 123 minutes all season — they have actually been behind (136 minutes) more than they have been ahead — which is a testament to a solid defence and picking their spots to counter. Watford may be more competitive in this match than they were struggling into the break, but Wolverhampton’s form and track record at home versus the Hornets is too much to turn from.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: WOLVERHAMPTON 2, Watford 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:

Chelsea (6-2-0) vs. Manchester United (4-1-3)
Manchester City (6-2-0) vs. Burnley (2-2-4)
West Ham United (2-1-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (6-0-2)
Arsenal (6-0-2) vs. Leicester City (4-0-4)

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