Quique Sanchez Flores, Javi Gracia, What's the difference?
Background image: Gregner Ravik // CC BY 2.0
Four games, zero wins. You don’t get into the chairmen’s good books with such results. Especially when the chairman is named Pozzo. A winless start cost Javi Grazia his job after being talked up as last season's Premier League Manager of the Year. To be fair, Watford limped to the finish line last season when a seventh place finish looked possible. Maybe Gino Pozzo wasn't overreacting.
The Italian has gone through managers like the Tories go through Prime Ministers. With a reputation for impatience, a limited budget and ruthless treatment, you wouldn't think any gaffers would come back for seconds but Quique Sanchez Flores has. We know the Spaniard is on a short leash. The question is what he'll do with the time he's given?
Gracia liked to play the 4-4-2 double-six formation popular with many Spanish coaches. Others call it a 4-2-2-2. West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini used the shape to make magical boxes wherein his Villarreal squad would create space, chances, goals and wins. It took the Yellow Submarine to new heights and Pellegrini on to Malaga, Real Madrid and Manchester City.
The Hornets buzzed into the table's top half until late in the campaign based on the double-six's honeycomb structure. Defensively oriented, Gracia preferred to keep the shape narrow. Rather than give midfielders enthusiasm to get wide, he encouraged his wingers to fold into the middle. Contrasted wing play, if you will. Watford clogged the middle of the park but the fullbacks bombed forward on the outside.
Hopeful long balls were cut down with the ones taken more frequently finding their target. Due to the narrow play, the Hornets' shooting accuracy also improved.
Against more difficult opponents, like Manchester City, Gracia would play a lone striker to add another midfielder. It didn't help in the FA Cup final when City doused his side with a half-dozen unanswered goals.
The style suited Roberto Pereyra, however. Last campaign, he was mathematically superior to his prior self before he played under Gracia, recording more than double the touches in dangerous areas, contributing more creative plays made and shots.
In the end, however, working short passes in a more confined space hurt the side and made life easier for opponents. Hertfordshire's little caesar gave the thumbs down from his box in the Vicarage Road coliseum and the axe fell on Gracia.
Unfortunately, Pozzo's fault isn't his impatience. Rather, it's that he blames the manager rather than the tactics for poor results. When Quique Sanchez Flores last managed Watford, he tended to play a more compact shape as well. So too did Marco Silva.
Quique's last project was in the Chinese Super League with Shanghai Shenhua. He lasted 17 games. he wavered between a 3-5-2 and the mirror image 5-3-2, reluctant to allow his wingbacks to consistently attack.
When he let them loose, they trampled Beijing Renhe 5-1 but minimising risk is a top priority for Sanchez Flores. He will avoid defeat rather than pursue victory. He broaches team selection through systematic eyes to reach a calculated victory. Flores asks a lot from his forward players, not exclusively to look for goals but to make whole team contributions. Jose Mourinho would approve.
When Fredy Guarin and Odion Ighalo didn't track back, Shenhua tended to lose even when they scored. When Ighalo extended himself against Henan Jianye, however, pressing defenders and harrying midfielders from behind, the side picked up the three points.
At Vicarage Road, QSF has Gerard Deulofeu, Troy Deeney, Danny Welbeck, Andre Gray, Isaac Success and Ismaila Sarr at his disposal up front. He'll be looking for the ones who work hardest.
Watford fans shouldn't expect Quique Sanchez Flores to reinvent the wheel in his second spell at Vicarage Road. Both he and Gracia prefer controlled play, at their own pace with heavy midfield formations.
As fate would have it, Gracia performed better in his full-season compared to Flores while playing similar football. Gracia had the side passing more accurately, scoring more goals and winning. Given Pozzo’s willingness to rotate managers, he might want to keep in touch.