Can Nigel Pearson save Watford from Premier League relegation?

Can it be 3rd time lucky for Watford that is the question being asked as the troubled Premier League team look to survive in the top flight this season.

Nigel Pearson has stepped into the club and he is charged with saving the Hornets skin. He is Watford’s 3rd manager this season following the sackings of Javi Gracia and Quique Sanchez Flores. It was thought that bringing back Sanchez Flores in September would save the club but they got worse, flirted with the bottom three and then exchanged who would be bottom of the Premier League with Norwich for most of the season.

When Pearson was appointed the club were bottom of the league and had earned just 9 points and were 6 points from safety. It is safe to say that even though that gap remains at 6 points under Pearson Watford look like a different club, even showing shades of how good they can be from last season, finishing in the top half of the table and reaching the FA Cup final.

For a club who have lost 10 games this season, 55% of their games so far they have only been defeated once in their last four encounters. Witness the change and it couldn’t have got better than beating Manchester United 2-0 just before Christmas. It was a magnificent result and was highlighted by the fact that United had turned a corner, were playing great football, had climbed up the table and were one of the best in form sides in the league. And yet here was Watford not just sneaking a very lucky win but being worth their victory too. What a managerial change can do?

Pearson has history saving clubs from relegation. One of his most famous was saving Leicester who would go on to win the Premier League title in 2016 under Claudio Ranieri. No one is suggesting the same of Watford if he were to save them, but look at how history would have changed for the Foxes had Pearson not done his job in the first place.

The Hornets went on to draw against another in form side in Sheffield United and as a result of decent form they have exchanged once more with Norwich for the bottom of the league trophy and are now 19th.

This weekend Watford are at home to Aston Villa where one would expect them to pick up all three points and that would be a major boost for the club in survival given that Villa re directly above them and have a 5 point gap over the club. Watford then host Wolves on New Years Day and will face Villa again by the end of January.

Indeed January looks on paper to be a month where Watford could genuinely plan the great escape, only a game against Tottenham looks like being the hardest match to win.

There is confidence pumping throughout the squad now and it would take a brave man to predict that Watford under Pearson will go down this season, clearly the fight to stay up begins now and continues into the next decade.

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A resurgent Paul Pogba can fire Manchester United into the top 4, if he wants too

How will Paul Pogba be remembered at Manchester United and on the bigger picture how will he be remembered in world football, if for example, he was to stop playing this second?

Obviously Pogba is a world class player, you don’t win the World Cup and play for Juventus and Manchester United. But at the same time it does feel as if Pogba at times has not given everything to the cause. Was he ever 100% committed when he played for Juventus? His time at Manchester United in reality will be remembered for magical moments, bursts of inspiration and some great goals, but it will also be remembered for confrontations with managers especially Jose Mourinho and niggling injuries.

Pogba can still change that attitude and end the season on a high and it was telling how good Pogba looked when he made his return against Watford a week ago. True United in United fashion this decade lost the game, and against the bottom side but Pogba came on from the bench and in the 30 minutes he had changed the way United were playing. He was fearless in his attacks from midfield and his pace and vision were also superb. We were seeing the very best of Pogba, the same version of Pogba we saw at the 2018 World Cup where his performances especially in the knock out rounds were superb. There is no doubt that when Pogba wants it, Pogba is a wonderful player to witness.

It should have come to no surprise then that in United’s next game against Newcastle they would win 4-1 with an outstanding performance and another confident game for the Frenchman. So now one wonders if United has a chance to finish in the top 4?

At this moment Chelsea are making it rather easier for them than it should be. The gap to 4th should be and could have been 15 points at least instead it is just 4 points and United do have a genuine chance to make a top 4 challenge. Of course other teams have bunched up in the league because of Chelsea’s bad form and United are in 8th place.

Wolves, Tottenham and Sheffield United stand between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team and 4th. But United do have fire in their belly and before the Watford loss there is no doubt that the club had found their form again and we were seeing a United side who looked the business when Solskjaer first took over from a sacked Jose Mourinho a year ago.

United though need Pogba to be on his game if they are going to challenge for a top 4 spot. Sure form came to the club when Pogba was ironically injured and on the sidelines for a few weeks. But now he is fit he will play and if he doesn’t find consistency then that will be an extra ‘ghost’ player on the field for the club which will help no one.

Does Pogba want to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the United greats? He could be and still has the time to be. Now much like he did with France in that glorious World Cup win he needs to drag his team across that line, or he may just forever be known as a player that could have instead of something that did.

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Watford 2-0 Man Utd: Nigel Pearson picks up his first victory as Watford’s manager whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now looks to be on borrowed time

With Manchester City taking on Leicester City and Chelsea travelling away to Tottenham Hotspur in gameweek 18, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United had the opportunity to take the advantage by potentially beating struggling Watford whilst witnessing at least two of the four teams above them to drop points. However, a lot of unfortunate things had happened that was not expected.

Ahead of the Sunday afternoon fixture, Solskjaer would have been aiming for the much needed three points and a dominant showing, with the side unable to confidently do both on a regular basis. Meanwhile, for Nigel Pearson, he would be looking forward to finding his first league victory with Watford before Christmas as his men have started to show more hunger and determination.

Now focusing on the match as a whole, the visitors had expectedly controlled the possession and were the side that had managed to create more chances and completed more shots on goal. On the other hand, it was the hosts that were more direct and with the intentions of being dangerous in the final third of the pitch for the first hour of the game, as they were able to get through United’s defence with ease and were causing problems through Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu.

There wasn’t much happening in the first half if we are being brutally honest, with both teams failing to complete a shot on target whilst they were incapable of stringing a couple of passes from one side of the pitch to another. Given the lack of tempo and urgency that was provided by either sides, it had looked like they were awaiting to pounce on each other’s mistakes and break on the counter.

Following the half-time break, Watford started on the front foot and won a set-piece from a dangerous area in United’s half. Will Hughes took the free-kick, which was nodded on by Christian Kabasele, as Sarr’s unconvincing shot somehow went through the hands of David De Gea and into the back of net. The Spaniard had now been at huge fault for a goal in back-to-back league games.

It didn’t take Watford long to double their lead, as Aaron Wan-Bissaka committed a foul in the penalty box by bringing down Sarr whilst intending to intercept the ball. The captain Troy Deeney stepped forward to take penalty and smashed the ball into the net as De Gea dived to the opposite goal post, with the game looking more or less done and with the chances of a comeback being slim.

Once Paul Pogba made his return and entered the match after the hour mark, United began to dominate the ball, were occupying in the right areas of Watford’s half and were managing to move it around at a good level. Despite a few good chances being saved by Ben Foster, the result remained the same, as the Hornets picked up a huge victory whilst the Red Devils went back to square one.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from United’s latest league fixture…

The lack of consistency from the backline is starting to be costly

United had looked like they were building a great defensive core, with the arrivals Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, however, the last couple of weeks the side’s backline have gone back to their old selves of making constant mistakes and being out of position and high up the pitch. Because of this, Watford were able to attack through the flanks with ease and with just a matter of a few passes.

From De Gea’s blunder for the first goal to Wan-Bissaka giving away the penalty a few moments later, the two huge defensive errors allowed Watford to gain the victory whilst United lost the three points. On top of that, Lindelof was being targeted by the opposition’s physical presence whilst Maguire and Shaw were doing just enough but have not been showing these qualities regularly.

United have to learn to be on the front foot, especially against the lower teams

For sure, the side’s results in the big games have been absolutely immaculate, but the team have to play 15 other teams in the league, where they have to show their quality, composure and dominance on both sides of the pitch. It’s one of the reasons to why Chelsea and Leicester are in the top four, two teams who don’t have a better squad than United but are more complete as a team.

Given the unconvincing style of play remaining the same, the current line-up not being consistent enough and Solskjaer having no plan B at all, the side’s hopes of being dominant against the lower teams will not be happening anytime soon. Also, the amount of times the ball is cheaply given away and the lack of high press on the opposition does not help the team’s cause of fixing this issue.

Paul Pogba’s return brings a few positives, being sorely missed by the manager and the team

When Paul Pogba stepped on the pitch, nearly every United fan was excited and in content, as they saw the side’s best player make his return from injury and play for the team once again, despite the ongoing rumours of him leaving the club. And making an appearance for just 25 minutes, he was able to create a key chance, attempt a good shot on goal and complete 27 successful passes.

With United’s midfield looking unbalanced and missing the much needed quality, Pogba’s return will massively help the team and most important Solskjaer himself, who will need his key individuals to help them get out of this poor form. When the Frenchman is in the team, he makes the side tick and helps the ball move from midfield to attack with ease, whilst also helping the likes of Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford constantly get into the game with his incredible range of passing.

Treble would be Pep Guardiola’s crowning achievement in England

When Pep Guardiola arrived in England, becoming Manchester City’s new manager in the summer of 2016, they said he would find a very different environment to the one he’d made his own so emphatically in Germany and Spain. Across the board, it was claimed that the Catalan coach would receive the test of his career in the Premier League.

How those suggestions look foolish now. Guardiola has done to the English game exactly what he did to both the  Bundesliga and La Liga, winning back-to-back Premier League titles, collecting an astonishing 198 points over those two seasons. And City’s dominance could be underlined further still this weekend.

Manchester City v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Group Stage - Group C

Indeed, Guardiola can complete a treble of domestic trophies by leading Man City to victory over Watford in the FA Cup final. It might not be The Treble, which traditionally comprises the Champions League trophy, but a clean sweep of domestic honours would provide a stark illustration of where City are as a team and a club right now.

Not even Sir Alex Ferguson’s Treble-winning team of 1999 were as dominant of the English game as Man City are now. Guardiola and his players stand on the brink of an historic achievement, but not even the sight of three domestic trophies in the cabinet at the end of this season will effectively reflect the quality of this team.

They might get even better next season. Guardiola is relentless in his quest for excellence and so it has been speculated that City will sign a long term replacement for the ageing Fernandinho this summer and possibly even a new right back. Ben Chilwell, a left back, has also been spoken about for quite some time.

The English game is entering a new phase in its history. City are kings and it will take an almighty effort to dethrone them. Liverpool, of course, finished just one point behind the Etihad Stadium side in the Premier League table and yet the gulf felt somewhat bigger than that. Liverpool gave everything the had to stretch to 97 points. City, on the other hand, strolled to 98.

Guardiola always viewed England as the true litmus test of his managerial ability. Whether that was warranted or not, he has succeeded in glorious fashion. Victory on Saturday would provide Guardiola with his crowning achievement in English football.

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Watford, ownership and the beauty of reaching the FA Cup final

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Next weekend Watford will play in the FA Cup final, their first since 1984 when Everton beat them and Everton’s fans sang out to Watford owner at the time Elton John ‘I guess that’s why they call us the Blues’ a reference to one of John’s famous lyrics.

Nobody saw it coming for The Hornets who have had a fantastic season in the Premier League culminated by this superb cup run. Even at the semi-final stage it seemed that Watford were down and out when they were trailing Wolves 2-0. But they came back in one of the great cup ties and won the game 3-2. They will play Manchester City where they will clearly be the underdogs but at the same time they have nothing to lose and might just pull off one of the great surprise results.

But how did it all come down to this? It was only last summer that the club lost Marco Silva as manager to Everton in a deal that brought alongside it a lot of animosity between the clubs. But Silva did not achieve the heights with Everton that in coming manager Javi Gracia has. a 40.7% win rate with the club which is his personal highest in years and there has been a determination within the club to do well this year, led by outspoken but ultra confident captain Troy Deeney.

Last summer it was time for the club to do business and they started off with brining Gerard Deulofeu into the team. The Spanish player had played some time in the Premier League before switching back to Barcelona so he already had experience and pace of the game in England. It was a great deal for the club who paid just over £11m for the playmaker who has had a solid season for them.

Domingos Quina also made an impact and was bought for just £1m from West Ham, it is unfortunate that the player picked up an injury in the second half of the season. The club have played more with wingers so that meant that they didn’t really miss the sale of Richarlison to Everton and got £40m for the player. By being patient and not making rash decisions they have been able to release over 10 players to make room in the squad but also bought new players but made a profit too. For now Watford are the perfect business model.

The season may have started off with the team feeling robbed of  a manager and their star striker but in return that anger has turned to hope, passion and hunger, and now they have a genuine chance through hard work behind the scenes and on the football pitch to win their first trophy in a generation.

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EPL Weekend Picks – Week 36

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With only three or four games left in the Premier League season depending on which side you are following, things are starting to get serious! The title race looks all set to go down to the wire, while the relegation battle appears closer than many thought possible just a few weeks ago. Cardiff and Brighton appear the two sides most immediately in danger of claiming 18th and the final relegation place, though Southampton are not yet mathematically safe. Title contenders Liverpool and Man City both have games where you would fancy them to win, with City’s arguably the slightly tougher game. With that said, let’s go for a 4-3-3 again and see which players are worth keeping an eye on and including in your fantasy squads this weekend.

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EPL Best XI – Week 35

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With the Premier League season continuing whittling itself down to what seems destined to be a thrilling conclusion, nothing more was decided during this past weekend’s action. The battle to avoid being the last side to be relegated from the top flight this season remains far from over, while various intricate races / challenges at the top of the table appear nowhere nearer to being resolved. Liverpool remain two points ahead of Man City at the top of the league with City having a game in hand, Everton impressed many by beating Man Utd 4-0 at Goodison Park and Crystal Palace pulled off a great 3-2 win over Arsenal at the Emirates. With all that said, let us now adopt a 4-3-3 formation and take a peek at which players performed the best this weekend.

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EPL Weekend Picks – Week 35

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With just a few games left in the Premier League campaign, things are starting to take shape and will continue to do so with this weekend’s round of matches. There is no Friday night fixture this week, but instead we have a big card of games on Saturday with three coming on Sunday and one on Monday evening, with games every day next week except for Thursday as matches in hand are played. Man City taking on Tottenham in Saturday’s lunchtime kickoff looks to be the biggest game of the weekend, but there are plenty of games in store to keep us guessing. Bournemouth host relegated Fulham hoping to build on their impressive 5-0 win at Brighton last weekend, while Newcastle host Southampton in Saturday’s late game. Let’s go for a 4-3-3 here!

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Can Manchester City win the quadruple?

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After victory over Cardiff City last night which took Manchester City back to the top of the Premier League, a question must be asked, can they win the quadruple?

City have of course already won the league cup in England, not only are they in 1st place in the league but they are also in the semi finals of the FA Cup. They have also qualified for the Champions League quarter final stage. Everything does look set up for Pep Guardiola’s men although there are some very important matches still to come and very tough weeks ahead.

Of course 20 years ago it was the other half of Manchester that was sweeping up trophies as Manchester United won the treble of the Champions League, The League title and the FA Cup. But their rivals City could go one better this season.

Guardiola has already won the quadruple with Barcelona in 2009, in fact he ended up winning six trophies that year as the team won the super cup and then went on to win the FIFA World Club Cup. But how realistic is it that City could win it?

In the league City are locked in a fierce battle with Liverpool to win it. Though City are a point ahead Liverpool could go back on top on Friday night. Although City hold the slight advantage as they have a game in hand, that extra game is away to Manchester United their biggest rivals, so 3 points are not certain. That fight looks like it will go down to the wire.

In the FA Cup City will face Brighton in the semi finals and they will be big favourites to get through to the final where they will either play Wolves or Watford. On paper you would say City will win, but let’s not forget how well Wolves and Watford have done in the league this season and they have become the best of the rest with some impressive results and remain a threat.

Finally in the Champions League City have got to the last eight where they will face Tottenham. This all English match should be a fantastic spectacle and even though City will be favourites to advance to the semi finals we must remember that Tottenham have been strong in this competition this season and have their brand new stadium to boot.

If City can get past Tottenham they would face either Ajax or Juventus in the semi finals, with the possibility of playing Liverpool or Barcelona in a final if form went the way it could. How ironic for Guardiola if he was to have the chance to win a quadruple to face his former side Barcelona in a final.

City may fall short but they have given themselves a fantastic chance to make some history this season.

Manchester United 2-1 Watford: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wins his first game as permanent manager

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Manchester United had the chance to re-enter the top four positions for the first time in recent weeks, with their next fixture being at home to Watford, a side that have won five league games away from home and are sat in the middle of the table. With Arsenal playing on Monday and Tottenham facing Liverpool on Sunday afternoon, it was a massive must for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men to achieve the much needed three points as well as the victory itself in a dominant manner.

As a whole, the visitors were the ones who surprisingly started the game and ended the game on a high note, where they forced the hosts to sit deep for majority of the first half but failed to create the clear chances to test the goalkeeper David De Gea. However, the first goal of the match actually came from United, as Marcus Rashford latched onto Luke Shaw’s perfect through ball and swept it passed Ben Foster, who had rushed out from his line to do his best to put the centre forward off.

Following the Rashford goal, the Red Devils completed the first half in the ideal way, but could have done more to complete the win with the number of shots they had on goal. The two main attempts that will be remembered the most by the Old Trafford faithful at the half time break would be, Anthony Martial’s chance from a corner which was literally hit straight at Foster, and the other one being Rashford’s dribble from the right into the middle but the shot not causing any problems at all as the defenders had it covered.

The second half was the same as the first, with Watford dominating the possession of the ball and grew in more confidence by the minute whilst United were not sure whether to sit deep or to press high up the pitch. United thought the game was set and match with Martial scoring for the home team in the 72nd minute, though, the side faced a huge scare towards the end of the match as Abdoulaye Doucoure pulled a goal back for Javi Garcia’s men, who were simply not ready to give up till the final whistle.

Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from Manchester United’s latest league game…

Midfield were ineffective and sloppy

As the usual midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba came out to play at Old Trafford against Watford, it felt like the three players had not played for a long time or were not familiar of one another. The balance on both sides of the pitch was not there, as they looked out of their depth in the opposition’s half and could not defend consistently enough when required.

Both Matic and Pogba had quite a few poor moments throughout the match, where they lost possession of the ball easily and were unable to pick out the simplest of passes. Meanwhile, Herrera was alright to some extent but failed to influence the game as a whole. Given the performances in midfield, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Fred or Scott McTominay return into the team for the Wolves fixture on Tuesday night.

Watford will surely end the season on a high note

It’s been quite some time where a team from outside of the Premier League top-six had dominated and overrun the hosts at Old Trafford whilst looking like they are going onto to win the match. If Watford had an attacking midfielder with pace and trickery and a much more complete forward, they would have surely converted one of the eight shots they had on target before Doucoure had scored in the final minutes of the game.

Although the current focus is on who will win the league, who will finish in the top four and who will be relegated to the Championship, Javi Garcia’s Watford deserve more appreciation and credit for the type of football they are playing and how well they have done against the bigger teams. Leicester City and Wolves have received a lot of gratitude in recent months for their desire and results in the huge games, but it’s time for Watford to get their fair share of recognition of how they have managed to do it their way.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed when and how to make changes

The questions were raised during the matches against Arsenal and Wolves a few weeks ago, on if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the intelligence to understand when to make the substitutions and how to change the game around. In the first game after the international break, the 46-year-old Norwegian international proved the critics wrong with the two changes that helped his side to win the game.

Solskjaer showed off his cleverness in the second half of the match, where he brought on both Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard for Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, two players that went on to inject more energy and pace into the side’s midfield and attack. Ten minutes after that, Ole was forced into bringing Martial off due to a minor knock he picked up, but was smart in adding Marcos Rojo into the team and went to a back-three setup, as Watford started to pile on the pressure and were looking for the equaliser.