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 11 Preview — Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)

St James’ Park has not been a happy hunting ground for no one tied to Newcastle United this season – not for owner Mike Ashley, manager Rafa Benitez, nor the players and supporters. The Magpies look to stop the bleeding and pick up their first home point of the season Saturday when they host a resurgent Watford side.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Newcastle (0-3-7) are ahead of the only other winless team in the top flight – Huddersfield Town – on goal difference. The Magpies have lost four of their five matches at home by one goal, with three of those coming against the “Big Six.” They have yet to lead at St James’ Park and have been ahead for just 69 minutes combined in all their competitions.

That has taken a toll on all parties involved on Tyneside, with Benitez saying Newcastle had to “find three teams worse than us” following the last home loss a fortnight ago to Brighton and Hove Albion. Some of the discontent was soothed in the form of a scoreless draw at Southampton last weekend, but the Magpies’ woes up front were again laid bare as strikers Yoshinori Muto and Salomon Rondon failed to find an answer against an organised Saints defence and Newcastle failed to register a shot on target.

The struggles have led to more fan discontent, as Magpie Group supporters are planning protests for two home matches in December. Benitez is trying to act as peacekeeper between supporters and players knowing the former prefer him over Ashley, while the latter continue to hold him in the highest respect.

“Our fans are quite clever,” Benítez told The Times. “They know where we are, they know the situation. What they expect is a team that works really hard. You could see them cheering and supporting the team until the end. They appreciate that. At the same time, everybody – the manager, the players – wants to see good players playing well. But they know that is not the case. What they have to do and are doing already is to support the team.”

This is the portion of the schedule where the Magpies must make hay – they played five of the “Big Six” in their first eight matches, and they do not face Liverpool until a Boxing Day visit to Anfield. The fact Newcastle were second-best for most of the match against Southampton and still able to earn an away point gives Benitez optimism his side can turn the tide.

“It means sometimes when you don’t play really well you can still get something,” Benítez said of their schedule. “Against the top sides, if you don’t play well normally, you lose. But with the other teams . . . you could see today without playing very well we could get a draw. We have to be mentally strong, carry on and in January if we are in a good position we can hopefully improve and see what we need.”

Rondon’s return after a three-match absence due to a thigh injury makes him a likely candidate to supplant Muto and lead the line in Newcastle’s 4-4-1-1 set-up. The Magpies have not scored at St James’ Park since Ciaran Clark’s stoppage-time goal in a 2-1 loss to Arsenal on Sept. 15, and they’ve gone 260 minutes without a marker since Muto’s goal gave Newcastle United a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford in a 3-2 defeat Oct. 6.

Watford (6-1-3) enter this contest seventh in the table, three points out of the top four and looking to win a third match on the bounce. The Hornets, who looked so irresistible in victories in their first five matches in all competitions and then so insipid in a five-match winless spell, have re-discovered the winning formula coming of the most recent international break.

Javi Gracia’s side followed up a 2-0 victory at Wolverhampton with a 3-0 romp at home past Huddersfield Town last weekend. Like the win over Wolves, it was a pair of quick strikes that set the tone as Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu scored nine minutes apart before the match was 20 minutes in. The wins are all the more impressive considering first-choice striker Troy Deeney missed both with a hamstring injury.

With 19 points through their first 10 matches, the Hornets are off to their best start since the 1982-83 season, when they finished runners-up to Liverpool following promotion to the First Division under the late Graham Taylor. Gracia, though, is hellbent on keeping his players grounded and trying to simply get through each match without paying attention to history and the table.

“I don’t spend much time looking at the table. That is not good for us. It is better to be focused on the next game and try to do our best,” the gaffer told the club’s official website. “I don’t think we will be the champion. We are going to enjoy every game and make the supporters proud of us. We’ll see what we are able to do. In all the games, I am sure we are going to make a big effort to get the best results.”

Like the Magpies, Watford have a chance to make the most of this patch of schedule ahead of the next international break. The Hornets play at Southampton next week, and the Saints — like Newcastle — are struggling to score goals.

“I prefer to enjoy every game,” Gracia said. “I am very demanding and the best way to achieve a good future is to focus on the present and do our best. It’s our mentality to be demanding. I don’t send much time looking at the table or if we achieve a new record. We have many things to improve.”

Deeney should at least be available for this match, while Gracia has some decisions to make about his back line as first-choice regulars Jose Holebas and Christian Kabasele did not regain their spots after both served one-match bans in the win over Wolverhampton. Kabasele made a late runout against Huddersfield while Holebas was an unused substitute.

Watford did the double over Newcastle last term and have won five on the bounce against the Magpies in all competitions. The Hornets cruised to a 3-0 win at St James’ where Will Hughes and Andre Gray scored on either side of halftime and bracketed Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin’s own goal in first-half stoppage time.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, this game is a toss-up as both Watford and Newcastle have 17/10 odds to take all three points. A draw has slightly longer odds at 21/10. Watford are rated slightly higher for a win with more than 2.5 goals at 4/1, while the Magpies have 19/5 odds. In turn, the Toons are 4/1 odds to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline, just better than the Hornets at 21/5. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has emerged as a favourite with 27/10 odds compared to 12/1 odds for a 2-2 draw or higher deadlock.

There are four top options at 6/1 for first-goal honours — two belong to Newcastle in strikers Joselu and Rondon, while Deeney gets top billing for Watford. The “no scorer” option is a co-favourite at 6/1 odds. There are three Hornets just off the top at 13/2 — Andre Gray, Isaac Success and Gerard Deulofeu — along with Muto for the Magpies.

Joselu and Rondon lead the line for any-time goal-scorers at 9/4, narrowly ahead of Deeney at 23/10. The aforementioned Watford trio are listed at 12/5, while Muto comes in right behind them at 12/5.

PREDICTION

What may be the most amazing thing about Newcastle’s woes at home is that the atmosphere is not totally toxic around St James’. That is a testament to Benitez walking the fine line with his supporters, who are booing the outcomes more than the players’ effort…and all the while loathing Ashley with the fury of a thousand suns.

But back to the pitch. Newcastle seem to lack the creativity and personnel to unlock the middle third of the pitch over the centre line. There are times Shelvey can pick off a gnat at 40 yards with a diagonal ball, but there are also times the Magpies simply cannot play the ball through the middle of the park. The goal Muto scored against Manchester United — coincidentally the last goal Newcastle have scored anywhere — are the kind of goals this side need to score to kick on this season and get out of the bottom three.

Yet for all the things Newcastle have not done and do not have through the first 10 matches, this is a winnable contest. Watford have played well in spurts in winning their last two games — goals within two minutes in beating Wolverhampton and two in nine minutes last weekend versus Huddersfield Town. It was enough to restore confidence to Gracia’s side, but in the bigger picture, the Hornets can be a team with designs on a top-half finish through Deulofeu as he grows in confidence and league-level match fitness.

Newcastle need any sort of break, but it does not seem likely it is going to happen here. The defence is fine, but until the offence catches up, it puts too much pressure on the back four to turn in another clean sheet. Watford right now have the flair and creativity to find that moment of magic, and it likely will only take one for a victory.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Newcastle United 0, Watford 1

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)
Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

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)