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The Spaniard has taken the Hornets from a bottom half side to top half finish and the FA Cup Final

Out of work since getting sacked by Rubin Kazan in the summer of 2017, Javi Gracia signed an 18 months deal with Watford FC, taking over a lost and clueless Watford squad which had managed a grand total of 3 points in their previous 11 games. Gracia hit the ground running and managed to turn out Watford’s fortune for the good after Marcos Silva left them in a sorry state of affairs.

After a bright positive start, winning his first 3 home games in-charge, including their 4-1 demolition of Chelsea, Javi Gracia suffered due to a hurried mid-season appointment, coupled with a squad assembled by over 10 managers in less than 6 years. Still, Gracia was able to achieve 15 points out of 42 in his first season in charge, leading to a 14th place finish for Watford.

Although the positives under Javi didn’t reflect onto the table position in his first year in charge of the Hornets, they were there to see.
The owners showed faith and stuck with Gracia through the summer, and were repaid in the best manner as Watford started the season with a bang, achieving its best start in over 3 decades, Javi Gracia became the first manager out of the 10 since the Pozzo family took over, to have achieved and signed a contract extension at Vicarage Road.


WHAT WENT WRONG UNDER MARCO SILVA?

Silva inherited a squad which had finished 17th, just 6 points above relegation, in the 2016-17 season. Taking over an injury-ravaged squad with Chalobah fracturing his kneecap, Hughes struggling for fitness and small niggling injuries, coupled with his frictions with the board over transfer targets meant Silva could never get his preferred side onto the field. But despite all the problems, Silva had Watford flying.

 In October 2017, Watford sat at a record high 5th position in the league. An ambitious and talented Marcos Silva pushed for a move to Everton which couldn’t materialize. What followed was a string of poor performances from a team headed by a man with his heart set in Goodison Park. Watford amassed 5 points out of 33 before Silva was sacked, and Javi Gracia was given the reigns.



JOURNEY UNDER JAVI GRACIA:

Coming to Watford under Gracia, his new team had 15 players out injured! Watford made some shrewd useful signings in the winter transfer window, roping in the likes of Gerard Deulofeu. But with a dishevelled squad and barely any time to prepare, Gracia struggled to adapt to the English game. Failing to get the best out of his squad and led them to a 14th place finish.

Over the summer, with a full preseason under his belt and time to come up with a system suitable to the strength of the players at his disposal, Gracia implemented a 4-2-2-2 system with two creative attacking midfielders, namely Will Hughes and Roberto Pereyra playing as inverted wide midfielders. Both the attacking midfielders have been given the freedom to move in-field into their natural comfort zone, which allows the fullbacks Jose Holebas and Daryl Janmaat to move into the space vacated by the inverted duo.

The importance of the fullbacks in the system Gracia implements is evident by Holebas’ terrific return this season with 6 assists to his name. They have the license to roam forward and put crosses into the box for the likes of Troy Deeney, a big physical traditional CF who can act as a Target man for the team.



Javi Gracia has usually opted for the duo of Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu up front, a combination of traditional English striker who wins the aerial duels, hold up the ball and use his physicality to open up spaces for the pacy and creative players. The likes of Deulofeu have hugely benefitted from playing alongside a powerhouse, the two opposites two perfectly complementing each other and getting the job done for the Hornets.

The duo has 16 goals and 10 assists between them so far! Not afraid to play it long, Watford look to break quickly if they see an opportunity to do so. While the likes of Hughes are adept at moving into midfield to conduct play, Pereyra excels at initiating counters.

Gracia has put together an effective attacking unit at Vicarage Road scoring 48 goals in 32 PL games. The Hornets average 11 shots on goal with 8 dribbles per game whilst also winning an average of 8 fouls in the opposition box per 90 minutes. But arguably the two most important players in the system implemented by Gracia are his dynamic midfield duo – Doucoure and Capoue.

Assigned the guard the back four, the duo is expected to make late runs forward in order to support their inverted wingers in attack. While Capoue is the more defensive of the two, often screening his back four, Doucoure is an all-action dynamic midfielder who cover the entire pitch effectively with his energy and tackling ability.

Gracia has tightened things at the back as well. Despite keeping only 7 clean sheets, Cathcart and Mariappa have formed a formidable partnership at the back. The acquisition of Ben Foster from the relegated West Brom has proved to be a masterstroke as the English goalkeeper has made 92 saves(!) so far, an average of almost 3 saves per game. Even though Watford have a leaky defence, conceding 12 shots per 90 minutes on an average, they do manage 12 interceptions and 18 tackles but concede 12 fouls per 90 minutes of play.



WHAT HAS CHANGED?

With the team comprising of almost all the players from the previous season, there hasn’t been an out worldly change in terms of personnel. What has changed though is the manager at the helm. Utilising different formations until he found the one which suits his team the most, Garcia has them pressing higher and faster with emphasis on scoring quick counter-attacking goals while defending as a team to concede less.

Gracia first remarked that the team needed discipline – both on and off the pitch in order to succeed, something he has hugely managed to achieve this season by implementing a system of fines. Players showing up late to training are fined 100 Euros a minute!

His keenness on discipline has shown onto the field as well with their organised and aggressive pressing. Registering more tackles, more interceptions and conceding half as many shots as they did their previous season, Gracia has managed to turn his squad into a selfless team.

Javi Gracia has successfully managed to instil a feeling of comradery among his players. When Ben Foster was asked whether he’d like to play the FA Cup final, Foster remarked “Heurelho deserves it and should play without a doubt. He has never let this club down and never will. He was fantastic today” and refused to play the final in case he was picked. 



WHAT NEXT?

Watford sit 10th in the Premier League table, only 3 places and a single point off the Europa league spots with 13 wins and 13 losses to their name along with 7 draws. Although Watford haven’t had the best of results against the top 6, they have fared fairly well in some games.

Drawing games with Everton and Southampton, the Hornets caused a massive upset as they beat Tottenham Hotspurs 2-1 at home. They really came into their own against Crystal Palace – humbling them 5-1 with Deulofeu bagging a hattrick.
The real cause for celebrations at the Vicarage road, however, has been their fabulous FA Cup run.

The Hornets are one step away from FA Cup glory this season with only Pep Guardiola’s side the last hurdle in their ambitious run. Facing Crystal Palace in the Quarter finals, Watford registered a 2-1 victory moving into the Semi-finals of the competition.

The semi-final was a different story, however. With only 11 minutes left on the clock, Gracia’s side trailed with two goals. But an inspired Deulofeu came up big for his side as he pulled one back via a glorious curler and his partner in crime this season, Troy Deeney scoring a 94th minute penalty! Deulofeu won the tie for his team with a goal in the extra time leading them inches away from FA Cup glory.

Javi Gracia has managed to put together a potent side with the limited resources he had, with his tremendous meticulous work. The fans will be hoping for their team to cause an upset as they gear up against Arsenal next. With the Europa league spot and FA Cup to play for, these are some exciting times at Vicarage road.

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