Watford must rebound from Man United disappointment vs. Leicester
Leicester City visit Vicarage Road on Saturday and the next game can't come soon enough. One of the most futile of life's endeavours is moaning about not getting the result you deserved from a football match. If you have chances to score goals and you don't take them, the hard truth is that you deserve to get nothing. But that doesn't alleviate the intense frustration that has been gnawing at Watford since the referee blew the final whistle at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. The only way to get over that is to win.
Watford were the dominant team for long periods against Man United and created several very good chances. The Hornets lost 4-1 and 4-0 on their previous two visits to Old Trafford, so a 1-0 defeat was a marked improvement, but little consolation. You do not get the chance to win at that famous stadium very often. Not only is this a distinctly non-vintage United team, but they were also missing many of their established first team players in midweek. Watford did everything required to capitalise on these circumstances -- right up to the point of scoring a goal.
Goals have been a problem all season. It was easier to ignore when Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney were creating and scoring chances every week but even when results were good, it was obvious that the weight of responsibility rested entirely with those two players and Ighalo was shouldering by far the heavier burden. It was naive to expect Ighalo's sensational form to carry the team through an entire season. At some point a plan B was going to be required but Watford have not yet found one that works.
Watford's ultimate strength is in defence and it took a moment of sublime skill and technique from United's Juan Mata to claim three points with a superb free kick. But if such misfortune in front of goal can be attributed to bad luck in one particular game, this excuse cannot apply to the entire season.
Ighalo has 14 goals in the Premier League this season, Deeney has eight -- a very impressive return from their front two. But Watford's next top scorers are four players tied on one goal. The only midfielders to have registered are Almen Abdi and Ben Watson. Watson's goal was a fluke, scored direct from a corner.
Expectations should be realistic in that Watford aren't going to have three or four midfielders weighing in with five or six goals each. But if one or two don't make a more significant contribution, then the entire team has to accept the consequences of their strikers having an off day, as Ighalo did at Old Trafford.
There's a case for benching Ighalo given that he's definitely out of form, but he is the best goal scorer at the club has and the team hasn't exactly shone on the rare occasions that he has been rested. With only 10 games remaining it's highly unlikely Quique Flores will feel compelled to start tinkering when he can spend the entire summer fine-tuning his team's approach. What is important is that they can finish the season on the up, enhancing the status of the club ahead of what is likely to be another busy transfer window.
This week, Flores spoke of his club's ambition to become established among the elite clubs in the country. Despite an impressive debut season such an aim still feels slightly far-fetched, but he was making those remarks in the context of playing title-chasing Leicester City on Saturday evening.
While it remains to be seen whether Leicester can hold on to their seat at the top table for more than one season, it look increasingly likely that a top four finish is the bare minimum they can expect at the end of a stunning campaign.
What Leicester have done isn't just a blueprint for Watford; it's something for all less fashionable clubs to cling to. It's also a wake-up call for the biggest clubs that have squandered hundreds of millions on mediocre talent. In response, the same clubs are alleged to be holding talks about a breakaway league, which suggests they're not too happy about unwanted intruders gatecrashing their annual carve up of the honours.
When Watford played Leicester at the King Power Stadium, the outcome was essentially decided by the unfortunate Heurelho Gomes having his worst game of the season. It was his error that gifted the Foxes their opening goal; he followed it by making a poorly timed challenge on Jamie Vardy, conceding a penalty that was converted for the second. Other than that, there was very little between the two teams.
Lots of fans might feel similarly about Leicester -- it is hard to point to their outstanding qualities that set them apart from the competition. But they are a clever team that play to their strengths, and the way they recently dismantled Manchester City at the Ethihad was one of the most impressive away performances of the season. Watford will know exactly what threat Leicester pose but preventing it is difficult, as most teams have already discovered.
Michael blogs about Watford for ESPN FC. Follow on Twitter: @Regista_Michael.