What is the keys to having a successful season and winning promotion? It’s obvious isn’t it? Stability and being able to beat your rivals in the big games. Perhaps tell that to Watford F.C. who have been promoted from the English Championship – probably Europe’s most competitive and exciting league – to the Premier League, with one game of the season still to be played.
When Serbian manager Slaviša Jokanović took charge of Watford in game 12 on the 18th October, he became the club’s fourth manager of the season. With 45 games played, Watford have suffered 11 defeats, seven against rivals for the promotion spots.
Watford lost home and away to both Norwich City and Ipswich Town, scoring no goals and conceding eight, as well as suffering defeats against Bournemouth, Derby County and Wolverhampton Wanderers. However Watford proved to be flat track bullies against teams from 9th to 24th, winning 21 of 25 games and losing only twice.
Although not an excuse for their poor results against the big teams, five of the seven red cards shown to Watford players came against direct rivals, two of which were shown in the opening minutes of a 3-0 defeat to Norwich and a 2-0 loss to Bournemouth.
When analysing Watford’s data from the SportsMatrix database, what stands out is an inability to score freely against their rivals. In 14 games against the top eight, Watford averaged 0.93 goals a game, failing to score in six of these games. Against the other Championship teams they averaged 2.77 goals per game, failing score only twice.
If they lacked a sting in attack against their rivals, the Hornets had fewer problems defending against the good teams, conceding on average 1.50 goals per game, compared to 1.46 goals a game against the other Championship teams.
Watford’s three strikers, Deeney (21 goals), Ighalo (20 goals) and Vydra (15 goals) contributed 56 out of the 90 goals scored; but against their rivals they found it more difficult, with Ighalo scoring four times, Vydra three and Deeney only twice.
Watford provided a significant threat from set pieces, scoring six times from direct shot free kicks. But none of the goals scored from free kick shots or corner kicks came against their rivals.
Although Watford reached slightly fewer goal scoring chances against the top eight teams (10.1 compared to 11.9), it was the quality of these chances which more significant. Against their rivals they averaged 0.7 high level scoring chances, scoring 0.2 goals per game; but when playing the other Championship teams they reached two high level scoring chances, averaging one goal per game.
This clearly reflects in Watford’s chance conversion rate, with only 9% of Watford chances converted into goals against their rivals; whilst against other teams 15% of chances were converted into goals.
Watford reached their highest percentage of chances from passing moves, both against their rivals and against other Championship teams, but reached a lower percentage (18%) of chances from dribbles against the top teams, compared to games against the weaker teams (25%). Conversely, a quarter of the chances created by the top teams came from dribbles, whilst only 16% of chances created by the weaker teams came from this style of play.
Top scorer Troy Deeney averaged 0.3 goals per game from open play against the top eight clubs, with a third of his attempts on target and 29% struck from long range. Against the other teams in the Championship over 50% of his attempts were on target, with only 16% hit from long range and 81% from medium and close range.
Similarly Odion Ighalo averaged an exceptional 1.2 goals per game from open play against the weaker clubs, managing 0.6 goals per game against the top eight. Matej Vydra, who appeared frequently from the bench, was an exception, averaging 0.4 goals per game, against both the top teams and other Championship teams.
Thanks to the impressive work of Jokanović and his backroom staff, ably backed by the financial resources and scouting network of the Pozzo family, it would be no great surprise to see Watford do more than just survive next season in the promised land of the Premier League.