Premier League Transfer Review #18: Watford

2017/18 Season

Watford had a fairly solid season in 2017/18, finishing 14th in the table and 11th for xGD. Watford only really made headlines for their managerial drama, with a run of poor form allegedly coming from Marco Silva’s head being turned by Everton, leading to him being replaced by Javi Gracia. @DavidSRudin’s Watford preview for StatsBomb gives better background on the Silva to Gracia change than I could.

Watford’s numbers were okay, but unremarkable – they had the 11th highest xG for in the division and the 7th highest xG against. Defence would be the main thing they want to improve, while in goal Gomes also under performed his xG against (taking into account shot quality and using just shots on target).

It also feels as though Watford could do with adding some youth to their side, particularly in defence. Their only centre-back options younger than 30-years-old are 27-year-old Christian Kabasele and 29-year-old Craig Cathcart.

Speaking of younger players, one younger play who had a strong season for Watford was 21-year-old Richarlison. While he heavily under performed his expected numbers, this underlying numbers were seriously impressive. Richarlison had the 6th highest xG + xA p90 of players under 24-years-old in the Premier League, given he was behind only Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Anthony Martial and Leroy Sane, he was the most productive young player outside the top six.

Elsewhere in the team, Andre Gray had some strong numbers, although he only played 1499 minutes. His xG + xA p90 was the 7th highest for Premier League players outside the top six, but like Richarlison he under performed his xG numbers, scoring 5 goals from 7.78 xG.

In midfield Abdoulaye Doucore made quite a few headlines, mostly thanks to his goal contribution, which came from over performing his underlying numbers. @MoeSquare wrote about how good Doucoure is for StatsBomb, suggesting that he’s pretty much an average level Premier League midfielder, not good enough for the top six, but does have some useful attributes for a club like Watford. With this in mind, it was going to be interesting to see if a bigger club came in for him, given there were a few links towards the end of the season.

Last season Watford possessed the 2nd oldest squad and 3rd oldest average starting eleven in the Premier League, making it interesting to see what they’d do during the summer window.

Incoming

I really don’t know much about Watford’s signings, so this isn’t going to be a very long section at all.

The good news is that Watford have brought in some players at a good age – it’s worth pointing out they also did this last year, it just seems a few didn’t have the desired impact. Watford’s only signing above 24-years-old was goalkeeper Ben Foster from West Brom.

Foster seems to be a short term solution to their goalkeeping problem, as Gomes had the 3rd worst save efficiency in the Premier League last season. Foster didn’t have crazy numbers, but he did save 7% more than expected. Having bought 19-year-old Pontus Dahlberg back in January, there’s a chance Foster is a short team measure before priming Dahlberg for the #1 spot (though I know nothing of Dahlberg so this may also be complete rubbish).

In defence Watford decided to freshen up by adding two younger full-backs, 22-year-old right-back Marc Navarro from Espanyol and 24-year-old left-back Adam Masina from Bologna.

Just looking at the numbers, Masina seemed to be pretty active off the ball, attempting 7.02 tackles + interceptions p90, while his xG + xA of 0.137 p90 isn’t anything spectacular, but seems fairly solid for a side who had the 13th highest xGD in Serie A last season.

Navarro meanwhile had a similar xG + xA with 0.154 p90, but was less active off the ball with 4.82 attempted tackles + interceptions p90.

Like I said, I don’t know much about them and I’d have to watch a lot more before really commenting, but given Watford’s full-back options are all above 27-years-old, it is a welcome move.

If you thought it was bad how I know little of those two names, I’m completely clueless on their other signings. I know nothing of 24-year-old midfielder Ken Sema from Osterund, or 18-year-old pair Ben Wilmot and Domingos Quina from Stevenage and West Ham respectively.

Outgoing

The big outgoing was of course Richarlison. Given his age and impressive underlying numbers, it would have been nice for Watford to keep him, but they were at least well compensated for him. Making Gerard Deulofeu’s loan permanent could be seen as a replacement for the Brazilian. Deulofeu had strong numbers during his loan spell at Milan and he’s still somehow just 24-years-old. Given some time and first team football there is a chance he can kick on and be a productive player for Watford.

Elsewhere, I think it makes sense to move on 31-year-old pair Nordin Amrabat and Mauro Zarate. They didn’t seem to offer Watford all that much and it’s probably best to just cash in now.

Conclusion

Should they have done any more business?

I’d lean towards no. A younger centre-back or another winger wouldn’t have gone amiss, but if they play how they did vs Brighton and have a narrow midfield, this won’t be a big concern.

It’s also surprising not see a few more outgoings given their squad seems so big.

Verdict

I don’t know enough about their incomings to give any real kind of opinion. I like that they’ve targeted younger players but, at the same time, it does feel like they haven’t actively improved on what they had available last year. Javi Gracia seems a competent manager, but I don’t have particularly high hopes for Watford this year.

This article was written with the aid of StrataData, which is property of Stratagem Technologies. StrataData powers the StrataBet Sports Trading Platform, in addition to StrataBet Premium Recommendations.

All transfer fees from TransferMarkt.

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