How Nigel Pearson lifted Sarr and Deulofeu's spirits
Background Image: Paul Ashwin, CC by SA-2.0.
Nigel Pearson made an incredible start at Watford; The Hornets lost just one Premier League game in eight after he took over in December. Unsurprisingly, Watford’s defence improved under the Englishman with just two goals conceded. The new Head Coach also draws the absolute maximum out of his attacking players, with Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu flourishing in recent weeks.
Between them, Sarr and Deulofeu contributed four goals and three assists in their last eight. Before Pearson’s arrival, the pair only managed six-goal contributions in their 17 previous matches. Pearson relies on his dynamic duo to provide pace and flair going forward while they also provide ample chances when on the counter, too. Both link up well with Watford icon Troy Deeney, who has scored four league goals under new management. Deeney hadn't scored a solitary league goal this season under Javi Gracia or Quique Sanches Flores.
Before Pearson’s arrival, Sarr was introduced to the starting eleven slowly by Gracia and he'd largely struggle following his £30million move from Rennes last summer. The 21-year-old produced moments of class earlier in the campaign but on the whole, Sarr looked tentative which affected his decision making in attacking areas. The biggest sign of the lack of confidence came when he squandered a huge chance against Liverpool in December as the ball fell to him six yards out but the winger would scuff his attempt and Jurgen Klopp's men won the game 2-0.
Since then, Sarr's composure and decision making are improving. He played a key part in the wins over both Manchester United and Wolves recently, largely thanks to his ability to win the ball in good areas, getting into intelligent positions and drawing fouls. This direct approach saw him open the scoring and later he won a penalty in the 2-0 victory over the Red Devils. Sarr also showed great composure to win the ball back and set up up Deulofeu’s opener in the 2-1 win over Wolves on new year's day.
Watford 0:0 Tottenham
Ismaila Sarr played 88 minutes
Accurate passes - 23 (85%)
Key passes - 4
Long balls - 1 (1)
Big chance created - 1
Ground duels (won) - 9 (4)
Aerial duels (won) - 1 (1)
Was fouled - 2
Interceptions - 2
Sarr also provided the momentum for Watford to take control of the game against Tottenham Hotspur last time out, targeting young full-back Japhet Tanganga. Within minutes of the second half starting, the Senegalese international set up a chance for Abdoulaye Doucouré and later missed a good chance to score himself but was denied by Giovani Lo Celso; further encouraging signs of Sarr’s growing confidence.
Onto Deulofeu, who was an integral part of Watford’s attack last season and finished the 2018/19 campaign with 15 goals and five assists. Like Sarr, his consistency dipped at the beginning of this term. Aside from two brilliant performances against Arsenal and Norwich, the Spaniard's frustrations appeared to be surfacing as he was often used as a lone striker and chasing lost causes with no impact on matches under Gracia.
But Deulofeu's attacking brilliance is encouraged by Pearson, who plays him in his more favourable wide left position allowing him to cut inside and run at defenders. His crucial goal against Sheffield United on Boxing Day came after he chased a long ball, raced past the Blades defence and finished well = demonstrating how dangerous he can be. Deulofeu was commended after the game by Pearson and it seemed to pay dividends as he put in a Man of the Match performance against Wolves, contributing a goal and assist on new year's day, showing a new willingness to drive into attacking positions for the team.
Sarr and Deulofeu look like different players under Pearson and are playing with freedom and confidence. Keeping the two wingers fit and in-form will be vital for Pearson, but with news of Sarr suffering a hamstring injury late on against Spurs on Saturday, he may face one of his first major dilemmas as Watford manager in the coming weeks...