Watford will look to earn three points on the opening weekend of the Premier League season for the first time in their history when they face Brighton on Saturday at Vicarage Road.
Both teams were tipped to be relegated at the start of the previous campaign but the two clubs managed to stay clear of the relegation battle for the majority of the season, with the Hornets finishing one place ahead of Chris Hughton’s men in 14th position.
Although there are a host of absentees for both sides ahead of the opening match of the season, there are still talented individuals on show who will look to set the tone for the rest of the campaign.
VAVEL have created a 'combined XI' between both teams from the players who are available for this weekend’s encounter.
Goalkeeper - Ben Foster
The former England international Ben Foster just gets the nod ahead of Brighton number one Mathew Ryan. The 35-year-old returns to Vicarage Road after a successful two-year spell at the club, which saw him play his part in guiding the Hornets back into the Premier League in 2006/07 where he was Watford’s player of the season thanks to his outstanding performances.
Ryan had the honour of being the number one choice for Australia during the World Cup in Russia, and he delivered some solid displays. Although Foster was an important part of a relegated West Brom side last season, the goalkeeper was certainly not at fault for the club’s demise and he will no doubt add some stability to Watford’s back line.
Defender – Marc Navarro
Although he is yet to kick a ball in the Premier League, Watford supporters can expect good things from summer recruit Marc Navarro this season. The full-back joined the club on a permanent deal from La Liga outfit Espanyol and once he is given a chance to impress, he could easily become a fan favourite.
The Spaniard notched up three goals during his spell in his native country, and he will no doubt learn more about the position working alongside the experienced Daryl Janmaat.
Defender – Shane Duffy
Shane Duffy was a key member of Chris Hughton’s side last season, featuring in 37 Premier League matches and guiding Brighton to ten clean sheets. The Republic of Ireland international is a no-nonsense defender and amongst his teammates, no player won more aerial duels nor made more clearances in the league than him during the previous campaign. Of course, this season will prove to be much harder than the last but he is one you can rely upon in central defence.
Defender – Lewis Dunk
Alongside Duffy will be his teammate and central defensive partner Lewis Dunk. The 26-year-old impressed so much last season that there were a few calls from pundits and fans alike for him to earn a call-up to the England squad. Hughton will be hopeful that his central defenders will remain injury-free throughout the new campaign, as it will give his side the best chance to ply their trade in the top-flight for the foreseeable future.
Defender - Jose Holebas
Still going strong at 34, Jose Holebas has found his way into our combined XI. Although the full-back was part of a back four who conceded a total of 64 Premier League goals last season, he still managed to come away with decent numbers, albeit at the other end of the pitch.
Holebas provided four assists in the league for the Hornets – only Richarlison could match that tally - which might explain why Javi Gracia’s side found themselves exposed at the back on numerous occasions last season. However, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as Watford will need him to improve on their total of 44 league goals this season.
Midfielder – Dale Stephens
It might come as a surprise but Dale Stephens deserves a place in our team. The 29-year-old impressed during his first ever Premier League campaign. Only three other Brighton outfield players featured more times in the league than Stephens and he certainly proved his worth last season, making the most tackles and most passes for his club in the Premier League.
Although Watford man Etienne Capoue definitely possesses more of a threat in terms of goals from midfield, Stephens is the type of player that goes under the radar but who is appreciated by his fellow teammates.
Midfielder – Abdoulaye Doucoure
One player who couldn’t be left out of this combined XI was Abdoulaye Doucoure. The 25-year-old was the driving force for the Golden Boys last season, finishing the campaign as Watford’s top goalscorer in the Premier League with seven strikes to his name.
His impressive performances saw the Frenchman linked with a number of big clubs across Europe during the transfer window, but he put Watford fans’ mind at ease by putting pen to paper on a brand new five-year contract. It is understood that the midfielder should be fit enough to start the new campaign after recovering from appendicitis.
Midfielder – Will Hughes
Following an impressive debut Premier League season at Vicarage Road last season with two goals and three assists, Hughes will have a key role to play during the early stages of the new campaign with Tom Cleverley and Nathaniel Chalobah out of action. At only 23, Hughes can still improve and look to add to those attacking numbers for the upcoming campaign.
Attacker – Pascal Gross
Pascal Gross was one of the standout performers in the country last season. Brighton managed to secure the German’s signature last summer from the Bundesliga, and it was his goals and assists that kept the Seagulls in the top-flight.
Surprisingly, there was not too much speculation surrounding the attacker’s future at the club during the transfer window but Brighton will be hopeful that Gross is not a one-season wonder. Given his impact in the Premier League last season, Gross’ place in this combined starting line-up was a guarantee.
Attacker – Roberto Pereyra
On his day, Roberto Pereyra can be one of the most dangerous attackers in the league. He can be extremely frustrating at times but he can also produce magical moments, scoring some spectacular goals for the Hornets. The Argentinian managed to score five goals in the Premier League last season and, with last summer’s recruit Richarlison now plying his trade at Everton, it’s time for Pereyra to step up and produce more consistent performances.
Fellow teammate Gerard Deulofeu and Brighton’s Jose Izquierdo would’ve run him close for a spot in our side, but both are unlikely to start this weekend’s match.
Striker – Glenn Murray
The Brighton forward performed so well last season that he was even been tipped for a place in the England national squad. Glenn Murray was a key factor in helping Brighton retain their Premier League status during the previous campaign, notching up 12 goals – Watford forwards Troy Deeney and Andre Gray scored a total of ten goals between them. Purely based on the performances for his side last season, Murray is selected to lead the line in this combined XI.
The Full XI - Foster; Navarro, Duffy, Dunk, Holebas; Stephens, Doucoure, Hughes; Gross, Murray, Pereyra.