Much has been made of Watford’s excellent start to the 2018/19 Premier League season, but they travel to St. Mary’s Stadium this weekend looking to respond.
They have two wins from their last six games and, despite a good display, fell to a 1-0 loss to Newcastle United last weekend.
Intense battles will be contested all over the pitch as both clubs fight to haul themselves back on track, but here are three particular ones Saints must win in order to take all three points from this match.
Danny Ings vs. Gerard Deulofeu
It’s reasonable to expect Ings not to plough quite such as lonely a furrow against Watford as he did last weekend away to Manchester City.
There’s every chance he’ll either be joined by or even support another forward—as has been the case in most games this season—and be asked to return to his hybrid No. 9/No. 10 role, in which he’s required to score, but also contribute plenty in build-up passages and when moving the ball forward.
When paired with Shane Long, Ings has done quite a lot of creative work in the centre of the pitch, leaving his Irish colleague to run the channels, split wide and create space.
It’s a very similar system to the one Watford apply through Isaac Success and Gerard Deulofeu, the former making stretching runs (often to the left) and the latter floating into little pockets. Deulofeu can collect and turn, then set off running, slide a pass in or shoot—just like Ings. Which man does this the best will go a long way to deciding Saturday’s outcome.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg vs. Abdoulaye Doucouré
Watford will be missing their Player of the Season so far, Étienne Capoue, for this tussle, as he accrued his fifth yellow card of the season against Newcastle last weekend.
The Frenchman has been imperious through 11 games, setting a physical, aggressive tone in midfield and near-single-handedly collapsing opponents’ midfield plans. Any midfield that isn’t extremely press-resistant has fallen at Capoue’s hand.
But he’s out, and while Nathaniel Chalobah will likely step into his place and fulfil Capoue’s defensive duties, it’ll be Doucouré who is looked to to lead in midfield. He’s also had a very good campaign, but in a more creative, offensively impactful way.
A physical, strong, capable dribbler with a knack for an assist, he profiles similarly to Højbjerg. Both will try to control matters in possession, and both will take any opportunity to rumble forward and make the difference.
Alex McCarthy vs. Ben Foster
Southampton vs. Watford will pit two in-form English goalkeepers against one another, as McCarthy and Foster seek their fourth and third clean sheets of the Premier League campaign, respectively.
Both have produced spectacular individual performances this season to help their side win points—McCarthy against Burnley and Crystal Palace, Foster against Fulham and Huddersfield Town—so precedent is there for one (or both) of these men to have a major say in the outcome of this game.
Intriguingly, both are also competing against one another for spots in Gareth Southgate’s England reckoning, with 35-year-old Foster not yet retired from international duty, and McCarthy receiving call-ups to the last two squads.