The four key players behind Watford’s historic Premier League start

The four key players behind Watford’s historic Premier League start

After four games at the start of the new Premier League season, three teams still hold a 100 per cent record.

Much attention has centred on Liverpool and their perfect start, conceding just one goal while winning their opening four league games for the first time in Premier League history. Just below them sits a big-six rival. Under new manager Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea have also won the first four games of the new top-flight campaign, only the sixth time they have done so in the competition’s 26-year history.

But one rung down in the league table is a surprising name level on 12 points ahead of the first international break. Watford, who were branded “soulless” and tipped for relegation last season, have started their first full season under Javi Gracia perfectly.

It began with a 2-0 home win over Brighton & Hove Albion, and Watford just kept on winning. A 3-1 victory against Burnley came next, followed by a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace.

On paper, Watford’s 100% start was meant to come to an end at home to Tottenham Hotspur, who last season finished third and themselves came into the game on a three-match win streak. Yet, despite falling behind the Hornets beat the north-Londoners for the first time in the league since 1987, showing the rest of the Premier League that Watford are not to be slept on this season.

After four games, only Liverpool (one) have conceded fewer goals than Watford’s three, and only Chelsea (10) and Manchester City (11) have scored more than the Hornets (nine). But in terms of individuals, who, aside from Gracia, are the key men behind Watford’s perfect start to the 2018/19 Premier League season?

1. Troy Deeney

When you think of Watford, one player comes to mind more than any other. Troy Deeney IS Watford, captaining the Hornets for the past four seasons in both the Championship and Premier League – scoring the famous goal against Leicester City in the 2013 play-off semi-final second leg, sending his side into the final when they were on the brink of bowing out – though they would eventually lose the final to Crystal Palace.

Against Tottenham, Deeney was key to pushing Watford’s perfect start on, and his importance to the club was shown by his performance. Like the rest of his team, Deeney had a slow start to the game, but after Spurs took the lead, the 30-year-old picked himself up and Watford alongside him. There was an extra skip in Watford’s step once Deeney took control of the game, and it was the captain who drew the Hornets level with a powerful header.

The header came moments after he used his strength to muscle Davinson Sanchez off the ball near the byline, something which galvanised both the fans and his teammates while also showing Spurs that Watford were ready for a fight. Deeney’s effort against Spurs added to his goal and assist in the 3-1 win over Burnley, and his performances this season will be vital for Watford.

Key stat: Troy Deeney has now scored in 100 separate games for Watford in all competitions. He is only the fourth player to do so.

2. Roberto Pereyra

Roberto Pereyra has endured a patchy Watford career so far, managing just seven goals in 47 games across all competitions. It is worth noting his debut campaign in England was hampered by a knee injury, but transfer rumours suggested Watford were willing to let Pereyra leave this summer.

But what a decision keeping him turned out to be. In Watford’s first game of the season, Pereyra scored twice in a 2-0 win over Brighton and showed the club and fans that they need not mourn the sale of Richarlison to Everton so badly.

Playing on the left side of a 4-2-2-2 formation, Pereyra switches between directing attacking his opposition full-back to lurking around the edge of the area off the ball, hurting opponents in more than one way.

Pereyra got his third of the season in Watford’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, a game many had expected to be dominated by Wilfried Zaha. Instead, we got to see just what the Argentine can do when in the mood. No player at Watford has completed more take-ons than Pereyra’s eight this season, and the winger has also been fouled five times – with only Abdoulaye Doucoure (six) and Jose Holebas (nine) targetted more.

Key stat: Roberto Pereyra has been directly involved in 10 goals for Watford in the Premier League since 2017/18.

3. Jose Holebas

Like Pereyra, Jose Holebas’ future had been in doubt this summer, with the full-back’s disciplinary record starting to become a worry for Watford despite his commitment in matches..

But Holebas has looked a new player so far this season, enjoying a more attacking role in Watford’s 4-2-2-2 system. The 34-year-old set up both of Pereyra’s goals in the opening 2-0 win over Brighton, from five chances created, the most in a single game of any Watford player.

In terms of the rest of the league, only David Silva, Mohamed Salah and Gylfi Sigurdsson have created more chances in a single Premier League game so far this season (all six).

Against Tottenham, Holebas was largely pinned back in the first half as the away side took control, but after half-time the Greek defender did not waste his chances.

Holebas created two chances against Spurs, and recorded two assists, both beautiful crosses into the box first for Deeney and then for Craig Cathcart to help Watford come from behind and maintain their perfect start.

Should Holebas continue to play well in this system, and cut down on his yellow cards – his biggest flaw – the Greek defender could be one of Watford’s best players this season.

Key stat: No player in Europe’s top five leagues has recorded more assists than Jose Holebas (four) this season.

4. Christian Kabasele

All four of Watford’s regular defenders this season have been strong, but one has stood out more than the rest in their perfect start.

Christian Kabasele has played every minute in the Premier League for Watford this term and has been key to the club conceding just three goals in their four games.

The Belgian has made more defensive actions than any other Watford defender so far this season, including 12 interceptions, three blocks and 25 clearances, being responsible for 24% of all the Hornets clearances in the Premier League.

Kabasele’s best performance came in the 2-1 win over Tottenham, where he, alongside Craig Cathcart, helped keep Harry Kane and Lucas Moura largely quiet – Spurs only scored through an unlucky own goal for which Ben Foster must take a large proportion of blame.

Against Tottenham, Kabasele made 20 defensive actions, clearing the Hornets’ lines on 15 occasions. This is the most by player has managed in a single Premier League game so far this season.

Up next for Watford after the international break is a tough game at home to Manchester United, and Kabasele and co. will be hoping to have a similar performance against the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba.

Key stat: No player has made more interceptions in the Premier League this season than Christian Kabasele (12).