If Nigel Pearson’s Watford can come away from Villa Park with all three points tonight then for the English manager and his side, the turnaround will be complete. He will have taken a Watford side that looked destined for the drop from the bottom of the table in December to relative security in just under two months in charge. It has been a remarkable turnaround for the boss who has been heavily criticised in the past.
When Pearson took charge of his first game at Anfield, against the runaway leaders, his side was beaten, but the shoots of hope were beginning to come through. A week later against Manchester United his work came to fruition as the Hornets won just their second game of the season, disposing of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side with a 2-0 win.
The blueprint for Watford’s newfound success has been a rigid 4-2-3-1 formation which has made them incredibly compact and difficult to play through. A flimsy backbone has been transformed into a rigid spine comprising of the two Craigs, Cathcart and Dawson, doing the basics at the back while Nathaniel Chalobah and Etienne Capoue in front of them have provided a solid shield.
With Troy Deeney, a focal point up top Pearson has been able to go direct when needed but the real success story has been Abdoulaye Doucoure who has flourished in the number ten role under Pearson. In comparison to the likes of Juan Mata and James Maddison, Doucoure is not your traditional number ten looking to break the lines but instead a skilful powerhouse who not only brings quality but a physical presence in both boxes. Two goals and one assist in his last three games have proven that Pearson has made the right call here, with Doucoure’s late runs into the box troublesome for opposition defences.
Tactical tweaks have allowed Pearson to prove his managerial nous and it would be amiss of us to suggest that the British manager has just implemented a high level of discipline to achieve results. Gerard Deulofeu is being used to maximum effect on the counter-attack while the pace of Ismalia Sarr exploited Spurs’ youngster Japhet Tanganga on several occasions last time out.
Although it is not the only reason for Watford’s success, the level of discipline Pearson has implemented can be clearly seen when looking at his side as Deulofeu and the now-injured Sarr worked hard to track back for the team while the unfashionable but effective Adrian Mariappa has reinvented himself as an imposing right-back. This combination of players not only make Watford a dangerous counter-attacking option but a difficult proposition to beat in the air or on the ground.
Yet there is still work to do for Pearson. Despite the perceptions, the Hornets have not been effective from set-pieces this season, scoring a league-low of one this term while conceding seven. The quality is there in the squad however and perhaps it has just been a case of believing in a manager’s philosophy.
This is perhaps typified by the 2-1 home win against Wolves, in which Watford were down to ten men for the final 25 minutes after Christian Kabasele was sent off. The boys in yellow and black outran Wolves by 5.4km as a team, even with a man less to secure all three points. Commitment.
The Hornets have improved in every aspect under Pearson. In front of goal they are now scoring 1.57 goals-per-game whereas they were averaging 0.6 under Quique Sanches Flores and a paltry 0.5 under Javi Gracia.
The statistics back up the viewpoint that Watford are also no longer a soft touch when defending in front of their own goal. Under their two previous bosses this term they were conceding on average two goals-per-game whereas under Pearson, that figure has reduced dramatically, to just 0.8.
Pearson’s recent record in the Premier League is only second to the imperious Jurgen Klopp. In his last 16 games in charge in the top flight of English football, he has accumulated 36 points, including winning seven of his last nine games in charge of Leicester as they avoided the drop.
In comparison, the ridiculous Klopp has won 46 points while Pep Guardiola has won four fewer points than Pearson, on 32. Current Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers who has received heaps of praise this season is the next closest on 31 while the likes of Jose Mourinho (23) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (22) are both further down the list.
Give Nigel Pearson the credit he deserves. He is the master of getting the best out of his players and is now establishing himself as a fine Premier League manager.