Watford v Manchester City: Jonathan Wilson's Tactical Preview


Vincent Kompany will be out with his calf strain for another three to four weeks, which probably means Nicolas Otamendi and Eliquim Mangala continuing their uncertain defensive partnership. A first clean sheet of the season for the pair at Leicester on Tuesday certainly doesn’t mean that they are suddenly a rock. Sergio Aguero should play but, as Manuel Pellegrini acknowledged, he always needs three or four games after an injury to get back to his best. Samir Nasri is still out but Fernando should return to the squad while Pablo Zabaleta, having been on the bench at Leicester, may be available at right-back. 

The Watford left-back Nathan Ake is suspended after his red card against Tottenham on Monday.



There seemed something vaguely hallucinatory about the announcement over Watford’s PA system during the 3-0 win over Liverpool that they were a point off the Champions League places. That prospect has receded now, a draw at Chelsea and a defeat at home to Tottenham leaving them six points adrift, but that doesn’t change what an extraordinary start to the season Watford have had. Before the Chelsea game they’d won four in a row.

City lead Watford by seven points, but they remain wildly inconsistent. They haven’t won away from home in six in the Premier League, a run of games in which they’ve scored only two goals. Only home form – six wins in their last seven – has kept them within touching distance of the leaders.



City were comfortable winners when the sides met in August, goals from Raheem Sterling and Fernandinho early in the second half giving them a 2-0 victory. This is a different Watford side, though, more confident and with an attacking set-up that has evolved as the season has gone on. Odion Ighalo, with 14 goals this season, has the pace and directness to trouble the porous heart of City’s defence.



There’s been much talk recently of how Leicester and Watford have brought 4-4-2 back into fashion, but neither really plays with two out-and-out forwards. Troy Deeney plays far deeper than Ighalo, strange combination of target-man and number 10, his threat coming from his application of his physical attributes in an area that is often the preserve of more technical players. Six goals and five assists demonstrates his effectiveness. 

That’s a worry for City, who can look vulnerable at the back of midfield – as they did late on against Leicester after Fernando Ulloa had come on for Gokhan Inler. There may be a case for bringing in an additional holder – either Fabian Delph or Fernando, if he’s fit – to play alongside Fernandinho, rather than relying on Yaya Toure, who continues to combine brilliant patches of around 10 minutes with long spells of ineffectiveness.



Against Leicester, Raheem Sterling didn’t really play as a winger, constantly drifting in off the left almost as a second striker. That in turn meant David Silva playing deeper than normal and Aleksandar Kolarov at times having to cover the whole of the left flank. The idea, presumably, was to use his pace against Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, but against Watford he will surely operate in a more traditional left-sided role, trying to expose Allan Nyom, who can look clumsy at times. If not, there may be opportunities on the counter for Almen Abdi. 



No side has played more than Watford’s 81 long balls per game this season, and with City averaging nearly 56% possession and Watford 45.6%, it’s not difficult to work out the probable shape of the game, with City dominating possession and Watford sitting deep, looking play direct and hit on the counter. Whether they succeed is down to two issues: can City discover some creative spark away from home, and can Ighalo rattle Otamendi and Mangala as he did, say, Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel?



Given City’s away form and how well Watford have played this season, it’s a little baffling that City are as short as 1.69 to win. It also seems a little odd, given their lack of goals away and the fact that Aguero is not quite at 100% yet that under-2.5 goals for the game is as long as 2.20, but the value bet is still surely Watford +0.5 as 2.23.