West Bromwich Albion v Watford; The Hawthorns, Monday 8th August 2022, 8pm
Albion’s first home game of the season sees relegated Watford visit the Hawthorns for the first time since 2017. Once again, the game is on Sky TV although the decision to move it to Monday was made by the police first due to concerns over a clash with the Commonwealth Games diving programme at the nearby Sandwell Aquatics Centre. However, given that it is between two of the promotion favourites, Sky may very well have picked it anyway!
The Hornets spent the last two seasons in the Premier League but they picked up just one point from their final nine games at the end of the last campaign and were relegated with three games still remaining with ex-Baggies boss, Roy Hodgson, who was appointed in January, unable to repeat the turnaround in fortunes he achieved at the Hawthorns in 2011.
New boss, Rob Edwards, is the 16th permanent managerial appointment of the Pozzo era at Vicarage Road, the first of which was Gianfranco Zola who replaced Sean Dyche in July 2012, and he represents something of a departure from the usual for the Italian family. By appointing a young up-and-coming coach, there are suggestions that the club will try to build something under the former Telford and Forest Green boss rather that revert to the hire-and-fire culture that has defined it under the Pozzos. Only time will tell if that proves to be the case should Watford find themselves struggling later in the season.
Such concerns were absent on Monday evening when they looked impressive in beating Sheffield United 1-0 at Vicarage Road. A caveat might be that the side included a very potent front three of Ismaïla Sarr, João Pedro and Emmanuel Dennis, all of whom are tipped to leave before the end of the transfer window joining Josh King, Adam Masina and Kiko Femenia who have already left the club. Danny Rose has also effectively left having been training with Tottenham Hotspur over the summer despite being under contract at Vicarage Road.
Sarr and Dennis did not travel to Austria with the rest of the squad for a pre-season training camp, but Edwards evidently wants to get as much out of them as possible before any possible departure and started them both on Monday. Along with João Pedro, they are a class above the majority of Championship forwards and would certainly make Watford strong promotion favourites were they to stay. Unfortunately for Albion, all three may well start at the Hawthorns with no sign that any transfers are imminent.
It will be an interesting tactical battle with Watford’s 3-4-2-1 against Bruce’s likely 4-2-3-1. It was clear from the Hornets’ opening game that their wing backs will get forward frequently and they are a very quick counter-attacking team. The heatmaps from that game showed that the two wing backs, Sema and Kamara, spent the majority of their time in the opposition half with Kamara, on the right side, the more proactive of the two.
That leaves Bruce a similar dilemma to the opening game against Middlesbrough, where he opted for the more experienced and defensively disciplined Matt Phillips on the left wing rather than the more natural attacking threat of Grady Diangana. I’m guessing that he would probably do something similar against Watford, but perhaps there is another option – by playing the more mobile and left-sided central midfielder, Alex Mowatt, rather than Jake Livermore, he should be able to help out Townsend should Grady get caught upfield.
Obviously, the counter to that is that Watford’s attacking three are very dangerous and that Molumby and the central defenders will undoubtedly have their hands full. However, Rob Edwards will be equally concerned with Wallace, Swift and Diangana, should he play, behind Karlan Grant, and I would much prefer to see Albion on the front foot at the Hawthorns taking their game to the opposition rather than concentrating on containing them.
It has to be said that the choice of Phillips on the left last weekend didn’t really work with the reason behind the decision, Isiah Jones, scoring Boro’s goal albeit it was Ryan Giles on the other side that created the opportunity. Personally, I felt it took too much away from Albion as an attacking threat – not only does Diangana have a lit bit of magic in him, but Phillips is not only happier on the right but he also has a tendency to slow play down which is only exaggerated when not playing on his natural side.
Some supporters are, of course, calling for Daryl Dike to start rather than Grant as the central striker. This is understandable and the American certainly had an impact off the bench at the Riverside. However, I can also understand the cautious approach that the medical team are taking with him – the last thing we need is another long term injury for him by pushing him too hard too quickly, and I expect him to slowly get more and more minutes over the coming weeks and ultimately become the first choice. Having said that, Grant was reported to have a minor injury, albeit the manager was confident he would be fit in time.
As for Okay Yokuşlu, Bruce initially felt that his first involvement would be in the EFL Cup tie against the Blades on Thursday, but he said on Thursday that he is in contention for Monday’s game. He obviously wants to be involved, however, having travelled to Teesside last weekend despite not being in the matchday squad, but I would now not be surprised to see him on the bench for this match.
It’s another tough test for the Baggies, and Albion are perhaps unfortunate to have to face Watford with their reported wantaway front three still in situ, but with the game at the Hawthorns, it is still a match they should be trying to win. Failure to do so would not be a disaster, but Bruce needs a good start if he is to quieten his critics, and three points against one of the promotion favourites would certainly help.
With Albion and Watford having been swapping places between the Premier League and Championship in recent years, the Hornets last visit to the Hawthorns was almost five years ago when Richarlison, who is now at his second club since leaving Vicarage Road, scored a 95th minute equaliser for the visitors after Salomón Rondón and Jonny Evans had given Albion a 2-0 lead. Each club only have two players who featured in that match still at the club – Matt Phillips and Jake Livermore for Albion and Christian Kabasele and Tom Cleverly for Watford.
The history of this fixture is only 45 years old with the clubs first having met at the Hawthorns for a League Cup third round tie in October 1977 that the hosts won thanks to a goal from Tony Brown. That was in Graham Taylor’s first season as Watford boss and they were already top of Division Four. Five years later, the two clubs met in the league for the first time as the Hornets rose to the top flight and the first league meeting at the Hawthorns saw Taylor’s team complete the league double over Ron Wylie’s Baggies at the first time of asking in April 1983 thanks to goals from John Barnes, Nigel Callaghan and Jan Lohman – Martin Jol added a late consolation for the hosts.
In October of the same year, Albion recorded their first league win over the Hornets thanks to two goals in a minute from Cyrille Regis and Garry Thompson. Two seasons later, the Baggies’ 3-1 win in December 1985 was notable only because it was just their second league victory of the season – a Steve Hunt penalty was added to by goals from Robbie Dennison and Imre Varadi in what proved to be the last top flight meeting between the sides until Watford joined Albion in the Premier League in 2015.
Perhaps the most memorable meeting in the years in between came in March 1996. Albion had recently ended a 14-game winless streak in Division One but they were still in the relegation zone as bottom-of-the-table Watford came to the Hawthorns. On a pitch that had partially been cleared of snow, Bob Taylor opened the scoring with a strike from the edge of the box on 13 minutes before Richard Sneekes made it 2-0 a couple of minutes later after he was put through on goal by Andy Hunt. It was the Dutchman’s debut for the Baggies and the start of a remarkable run of 10 goals in 13 games. The hosts looked to have made the points safe when Taylor grabbed his second when he stabbed home a cross by Shane Nicholson. Watford had other ideas, however, and goals from Craig Ramage and Colin Foster made it 3-2 by half time. Albion restored a two goal lead with just eleven minutes left when Sneekes set up Taylor for his hat-trick, the only one of his Albion career. But such had been the porous nature of the Baggies defence that season, there was still time for Ramage and Foster to both add their second goals to make the final score 4-4. The Baggies had the last laugh of course as Sneekes’ remarkable run of form helped them to remain unbeaten for the remainder of the season, eventually finishing 11th, whereas Watford were relegated alongside their arch rivals, Luton Town.
All competitions; most recent game on the right
3 Mar 2018 – Premier League
Watford 1 (Deeney)
West Brom 0
Last meeting at the Hawthorns
30 Sep 2017 – Premier League
West Brom 2 (Rondón, Evans)
Watford 2 (Doucouré, Richarlison)
3 Dec 2016 – Premier League
West Brom 3 (Evans, Brunt, Phillips)
Watford 1 (Kabasele)
Albion’s Record against Watford
If you cannot see the tables, click here.