Football Features

“He is a player to trust” – Five things learned as Watford get first win at Norwich

By Ollie Thomas

Published: 22:15, 8 November 2019

Watford are off the mark. 

At the twelfth time of asking, the Hornets have finally got their first win on the board in an early relegation six-pointer against stuttering Norwich.

Emiliano Buendia, arguably Norwich’s best player this season, was caught in possession and punished in just the second minute as Gerard Deulofeu took on the entire Norwich defence – and won – to score his second goal in as many games.

Despite a flurry of Norwich chances, it was Deulofeu again who was at the heart of the next goal: crossing for Andre Gray to delicately flick in the second (via Jamal Lewis leg).

Christian Kabasele’s red card gave Norwich hope but a resolute Watford hung on to clinch a vital win and lift them off the bottom of the table.

Here are five things we learned from Friday night’s game.

1. Deulofeu is crucial to Watford

It should have been obvious to most already, but Gerard Deulofeu is a hell of a player.

The 25-year-old may not have the heights that Barcelona had hoped when he was a youth player, but he certainly offers more than enough for a Premier League team with mid-table aspirations like Watford. The Spanish forward started in a fluid front three alongside Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes and was electrifying, expertly scoring one and setting up another as well as providing the primary outlet every time Watford looked to attack.

It’s quite remarkable that he’s often found himself fighting for a spot in the first team when he’s capable of performances like that. Quique Sanchez Flores will now know, however, the Deulofeu is a player to trust.

2. Hernandez deserves more game time

Granted, a knee injury ruled him out for the majority of the season, but Onel Hernandez could be as important to Norwich as Deulofeu is to Watford.

Starting for just the second time this season, the Cuban winger was a constant menace down Norwich’s left-hand side and single-handedly kept the Canaries in the game with his direct running, dangerous crossing and ability to get cynically fouled twice by Christian Kabasele (who could easily have cost his team).

The only negative to his performance was that he was providing such a threat that Norwich became predictable: what seemed like every single attack eventually making its way out to the left-wing.

Norwich are blessed with good depth in attack, but Hernandez seems to be the cream of the crop.

3. Pukki is a problem

When Norwich beat Manchester City in mid-September, Teemu Pukki was one of the most talked-about players in the league.

Fast forward two months, however, and zero goals in seven league starts makes one question how long it will be before Pukki is eventually left out of the side.

He seems to still get in the right areas but his confidence in front of goal is a fraction of that which he possessed in the early weeks of the season. He offers plenty as a lone striker (he plays the position exceptionally well), but the responsibility of goalscoring is very much on his shoulders and, currently, he is struggling to deal with it.

One can’t blame Daniel Farke for sticking with the man who has been so influential in Norwich’s meteoric rise and, if Drmic’s injury is serious, maybe he will have no choice but to continue to do so. However, if Pukki doesn’t improve, the German may have a tough decision on his hands.

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4. Both defences are an issue

A clean sheet for Watford doesn’t mask the fact that their defence is extremely vulnerable. Once again, Ben Foster was forced into a selection of excellent saves to keep Watford ahead as his defence often floundered.

Christian Kabasele’s sending off was extremely naive and very nearly undid all the tactical work that Quique had done down Watford’s left at half-time. When Hernandez ran at the three centre-backs they looked genuinely frightened; fortunately, Norwich’s tactic of endless crossing (16 from open play) is Craig Dawson and Craig Cathcart’s bread and butter.

Norwich’s defence was only eighth-best in the Championship last season and is an area which they failed to strengthen over the summer – and it shows. They were far too open against Watford (particularly in the first half) and allowed a team who has only managed six goals all season to carve them open at will.

Both sides have talent in midfield and attack, but their defences are letting them down.

5. Watford get what they deserve

Watford have been unlucky this season. Certain underlining numbers show that they’re pretty much average going forward and backwards (maybe slightly below), so 11 games without a win perhaps isn’t a fair reflection on their season so far.

They still made mistakes at Carrow Road but were good value for their win. Norwich didn’t create too many clear-cut opportunities and the Hornets were clinical: something we haven’t been able to say about them at all this season.

It’s easy to forget that this side very nearly finished in the top seven last season and also reached an FA Cup final. Their squad is largely, if not exactly, the same. Flores has more than enough talent at his disposal to keep them up. Maybe this is the kickstart they needed.