Why is Javi Gracia on the hot seat at Vicarage Road?
Background image: Paul Ashwin, CC BY-SA 2.0
Gino Pozzo isn’t known for his patience. His father, Giampaolo owns Serie A club Udinese. Not one to wait on his inheritance, Gino convinced the old man to partner with him in purchasing Watford in 2012 and allowing him to run the Premier League side.
His first significant act was to sack Sean Dyche. Gianfranco Zola became manager. The Chelsea legend was axed midway through his second season. In all, nine bosses have managed games for Pozzo between 2012 and 2018, including Oscar and Billy McKinlay, who acted in caretaking roles early in the 2014 season.
It’s said there are exceptions to every rule, however, and a first time for everything. In November 2018, Gino Pozzo stunned English football when he extended Javi Gracia’s contract. It was like a newly discovered species.
At first, it seemed an astute decision. The Spaniard took the Hornets to the FA Cup final and kept them in the hunt for a Europa League place for most of the campaign. Unfortunately, the 6-0 hiding administered by Manchester City at Wembley now seems like a harbinger of bad news.
In 2019/20’s early doors, Watford are bottom of the table, the only pointless Premier League side. Andre Gray’s eighth-minute volley against West Ham this weekend was their first and only goal of the new session. They’ve conceded seven.
Suddenly, a tenth manager doesn’t seem too far off. Gracia is testing Pozzo’s patience which, appropriately enough, is like poking a stick into a hornet’s nest. The bookmakers don’t expect Gino to tolerate the current situation for very long. Most have Gracia at near-even money to be the next managerial dismissal.
What’s gone wrong? Gracia typically sets up his side in a narrow 4-2-2-2, trying to clog the middle while allowing opponents to run the flanks and pump service into the box. The tactic works well along Watford’s left flank but not so much on the right.
Left-back Jose Holebas, centre-half Craig Cathcart and defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue are a stone wall that right-sided attacks break upon. On the other side Kiko Femenia, Craig Dawson and Abdoulaye Doucoure are Swiss cheese.
Graphic: Martin Palazzotto Data: WhoScored.com
In their opening match against Brighton on 10 August, Graham Potter attacked frequently from both flanks but found twice as much joy from the left side. Accordingly, both Marco Silva and Manuel Pellegrini overloaded that side, attacking from the middle and left while barely paying lip service to the right.
Femenia is the prime suspect, making Dawson and Doucoure look worse than they are. According to WhoScored, the Spaniard allows attackers to dribble past him 1.7 times per 90. On the other side, Jose Holebas permits 0.3. Femenia’s 1.3 key passes and 0.7 successful dribbles are why he’s in the lineup but a right-back exposing his teammates in that manner is a severe defensive liability.
Gracia must either make a tactical adjustment to seal off the Watford’s right flank or bench Femenia in favour of Daryl Janmaat. The Dutchman’s eight minutes this season don’t offer comparable statistics but in 2018/19 he contributed 0.7/90 each in key passes and successful dribbles while surrendering a more acceptable 0.5 dribbles against.
Whatever decision Gracia makes, it must be the correct one and it must come soon. Gino Pozzo isn’t going to wait.