We’ve generally been much improved since football returned, but Wednesday night’s surrender at Manchester City was unacceptable.
I can take a hammering if we try our best, have a go and are simply outplayed by a side that’s just ‘too good’ for us, however we looked beaten from the off, were casual throughout and didn’t lay a glove on them. It was a pathetic effort.
Here we face a Watford side who’ve looked pretty woeful since the restart and an ex-Mag in Nigel Pearson who’ll be desperate for a big win to steer the Hornets clear of the drop zone.
We may be mathematically safe and are now highly unlikely to secure a top 10 finish, but I hope to see a big reaction here and much improved performance.
(4-2-3-1): Dubravka – Manquillo, Lascelles, Fernandez, Rose – Bentaleb, Shelvey – Lazaro, Almiron, Saint-Maximin – Gayle.
As ever it’ll be Dubravka in net, but it looks to me like there’ll be two changes in defence based on Bruce’s pre-match comments.
It sounds like Lascelles is fit to return – and it’s just as well based on how we coped without him on Wednesday – meaning he should return alongside Fernandez (who had a stinker vs City) should he come through training. The skipper may have struggled in his last start vs West Ham, but his organisation skills were sorely missed a few days ago. Some continue to criticise him, but we wouldn’t have folded like that with him in the side!
Krafth appears to have picked up a knock in midweek, meaning Manquillo seems likely to start at right-back after being rested at Man City, meanwhile Rose should continue down the left, with him being one of very few who didn’t have an absolute shocker at the Etihad.
In the middle, Hayden and Sean Longstaff are probably going to miss the final few weeks of the season with hamstring injuries, so we’ll have to hope Bentaleb can play as he did in the 4-1 win at Bournemouth – not as he did in that 5-0 drubbing at City. He’s got ability and can look strong and slick when he wants to, but his performance on Wednesday was abysmal, with him constantly giving the ball away in awful areas and putting a toe into tackles he should’ve won.
He was that bad that Bruce may even be tempted to give Matty Longstaff his first Premier League start since January, however I can see him starting Shelvey (who was taken off early on Wednesday) and the Schalke loanee – the partnership that worked a treat the last time we played a 4-2-3-1 formation in a winnable game away from home (Bournemouth, 4-1).
As for the attacking trio who’ll operate behind the striker, Saint-Maximin and Almiron thankfully look like they’ll be OK to return based on Bruce’s comments in his pre-match presser. Our two best players since football returned and a duo we look completely lost without.
Then it’ll likely be between one of Lazaro, Ritchie and Joelinton for the final place. The Brazilian could move back to the wing after leading the line at City or Ritchie could keep his place after seemingly returning to full fitness, however this is surely the perfect time for Bruce to take a good look at Lazaro? He may have struggled at Man City, spending most of his time camped in his own half, but there’s surely no way we’ll be signing the talented Inter Milan loanee on a permanent deal if he’s not given a start against a Watford side there for the taking.
Up top, Gayle looks nailed on to lead the line. He was rested in midweek but has looked lively in his last two starts, bagging a goal at Bournemouth and an assist in a sharp display in our 2-2 draw with West Ham.
Here’s a few of the ‘ones to watch’ in Nigel Pearson’s Watford side:
Ismaila Sarr – He’s struggled recently and not looked quite the same player after returning from lockdown, however he’s got bundles and pace and could give an ageing Danny Rose all sorts of problems if he’s at it. Will be interesting to see how the Spurs loanee handles him!
Craig Dawson – The former West Brom centre-back is Watford’s top scorer since football resumed, with no Hornets player having more attempts on goal following the restart – highlighting what a threat he’s been from set pieces! He lacks pace and could be got at defensively, but it seems he’s one of their biggest threats at the other end!
Troy Deeney – A real handful who doesn’t always pose the greatest goal threat but often plays a key part in bringing other Watford attackers into play. He’s struggled of late, but their captain should be bang up for this in a bid to keep his boyhood club in the top flight! It will be interesting to see who wins the physical battle if he goes head to head with Lascelles!
The good news is that Allan Saint-Maximin, Miguel Almiron and Jamaal Lascelles could all return to the starting 11.
Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden will miss out again with hamstring injuries, Andy Carroll is a doubt and Emil Krath could also be sidelined after Bruce confirmed he picked up a knock on Wednesday.
Ciaran Clark has been ruled out for the season and the game will come too soon for Florian Lejeune, however Bruce has hinted that the Frenchman could return “next week”.
Watford have no new injury issues, however long-term absentees Gerard Deulofeu and Isaac Success will miss out, along with ex-Mag Daryl Janmaat.
If Saint-Maximin, Almiron and the skipper really are fit to return for this one, I can see us beating a Watford side who looked extremely poor against Norwich in midweek.
They won 2-1, yet looked there for the taking defensively and flat as a pancake in attack, so I can see ASM and Almiron doing damage and us looking much more solid if we respond to the hammering at Man City and have Lascelles back in the side.
Watford may well play with a bit more confidence and desire after that win in midweek gave them some much needed breathing space over the bottom three (they’re currently 4 points clear with better goal difference), however I fancy us to get back on track here with a narrow win.
Prediction: Watford 1-2 Newcastle