Scouting Report: Watford

In a career at Vicarage Road which spanned more than a decade, Australian international Richard Johnson played 277 times for Watford, and was a key part of the side that won promotion to the Premier League in 1999.

After turning out for the Hornets for the final time in August 2003, the industrious midfielder went on play for Northampton Town, Colchester United, Stoke City, Queens Park Rangers and Milton Keynes Dons.

Johnson is still much-revered for his dedicated service to the Watford cause between 1992 and 2003, and has a huge affection for the club where he spent the best years of his career.

He spoke to this week, and gave us the lowdown on the Hornets ahead of their clash with the Blues on Saturday. He started by offering his thoughts on their new manager, Javi Gracia…

Making an impression
I think Javi’s going to look for lots of energy, attacking football, and keep that solid base at the back. He’s got a lot of potential at his fingertips with the attacking side of the team, so I think he’ll mainly focus on that. He’s had a couple of good results since he’s been here.

I’ve been impressed with him. He’s managed at a high level, is well respected at the clubs he’s previously managed, and has brought a lot of experience with him. He speaks decent English as well, and he’s trying to connect with the supporters. In terms of getting the fans on board and speaking with the media, he’s been very good for the club.

The ‘bounce’ effect
There’s always an uplift in energy when a new manager comes in. Players who have been on the outskirts have a new opportunity to cement a place in the team – there’s that honeymoon period where intensity levels rise. I think Watford came away from the intensity they had at the start of the season a little bit, so he’s going to have some fresh ideas. We’ve got some very talented and technical footballers – it’s a question of getting the confidence back. 

Richarlison factor
He’s direct. He’s good off both feet, he comes inside, he takes people on. His all-round play is very good. He came on as sub in the first game of the season [a 3-3 draw with Liverpool] and from then he’s gone from strength to strength. He’s had a little bit of a dip in recent weeks, where a some tiredness might have set in, but he’s been by far the biggest threat we’ve had this season. He’s been excellent.

Former Blues making their mark
We brought in Gerard Deulofeu in January and he’s settled in great. He’s got lots of energy, and loves to get at people. He’s brought back the intensity we lacked before Christmas.

Tom Cleverley’s been great for us, too. His energy levels are unbelievable. He closes down from the front, gets back and helps out in defence, and keeps things nice and simple when he’s on the ball. His performances early in the season were part of the reason we were high up the table.

Injury woes
We lost Nathan Chalobah in September [fractured kneecap], which has been a big loss to the team. Early in the season the midfield three we had – Cleverley, Chalobah, and [Abdoulaye] Doucouré – was working well. Their pressing and intensity early in games was a big boost, and I think that’s where a lot of our results came from. Cleverley’s been out recently, too. Will Hughes came into the side, and after looking good he got bad hamstring injury. We’ve had a quite a bit to deal with, and to see where we still are in the league has been a massive plus

Where the game will be won and lost

I think it’s going to be quite even. For Watford, it’s all about the start – keeping that solid defensive base, and nullifying Everton’s threats. There are some fantastic players at Everton, and with Sam in charge they’re going to be hard to beat. They’re a lot more organised now. He’s done a great job.

We’ll have to move the ball quickly, get into those wide areas with Richarlison and Deulofeu, and have the strikers feeding off their crosses and through balls. 

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