Watford and Brighton clash at Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon with both sides hoping to get a victory in their opening game of the 2018/19 Premier League season.
Both sides finished one point and one place apart last term which suggests a competitive encounter when these two meet in Hertfordshire at the weekend.
Each team finished mid-table last season, surviving relegation relatively comfortably, but resisting the drop will be the main priority once again.
Watford look for first opening weekend win
Javi Gracia will look to begin his first full season in charge of Watford with a win against Brighton but knows that securing all three points will be a tough task. In fact, no previous Hornets boss has managed a victory on the opening weekend of a Premier League season.
The Spaniard - who took charge in January following Marco Silva’s controversial departure - has had a full pre-season with his players and has made a number of new signings in order to help the club stay in the top flight for a fifth consecutive year.
Watford brought in winger Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona after impressing on loan last term as well as goalkeeper Ben Foster, left-back Adam Masina, Ken Sema, the versatile Marc Navarro, and young players such as Domingos Quina and Ben Wilmot.
The Hertfordshire outfit, however, were one of the few sides to make a profit in the summer window. The sale of star man Richarlison to Everton ensured the club made a healthy £24m profit to the disgruntlement of some who felt key areas of the team were left unaddressed such as up front and at centre-back.
Gracia guided Watford to safety last term but a drop-off in the final quarter of the campaign means they come into this encounter with just one win in their last nine league games. If momentum is what Gracia is looking for, he won’t find any from the backend of last season.
Injuries played a huge part in the downward trajectory that Watford suffered and this forced them to hire a new medical director in January. Their injury record in an unbeaten pre-season, though, looks bleak. Abdoulaye Doucouré, Gerard Deulofeu, Nathaniel Chalobah and Tom Cleverley were without a single minute of pre-season action, and injuries have left the Yellows in a fairly precarious position for the visit of Brighton.
Brighton look to defy the odds again
Brighton and Hove Albion defied all odds last season to stay in the division and entertained many in doing so. Chris Hughton’s side proved entirely capable at this level following a historic promotion last year and, with a sprinkling of a few outstanding individuals, looked right at home in the Premier League.
The Amex Stadium will play host to top flight football for a second successive season and they will hope to turn that into a third with survival come May. The Seagulls, having kept hold of all their star players, will be aiming to improve on last season’s position of 15th but will have the relegation zone firmly in their mind.
In order to do so, Brighton have spent around £60m on a host of smart signings. The club broke their previous transfer record to sign Iran international Alireza Jahanbakhsh for £17m after an electrifying 2017/18 season in Holland which heralded 21 goals and 12 assists from a wide position.
Opting to think outside the box in the transfer market also led to the arrivals of Yves Bissouma and Bernardo from RB Leipzig which gives Houghton some options in both midfield and at full-back. There was no star striker to ease the burden on Glenn Murray up top but Florin Andone and Percy Tau have been brought in.
Like with many of Hughton’s sides, there is an air of calmness around the Brighton camp this summer. The core of the side has remained and have few injury issues to bring into the opening game.
This should lead to an improve start to the season compared to last - which resulted in one point from three games - and allow fans to dream again.
Doucoure fit, Izquierdo not ready
As mentioned, Watford have a host of players on the sidelines for Saturday afternoon’s clash. Nathaniel Chalobah, Stefano Okaka, Tom Cleverley and Gerard Deulofeu aren't fit to start the season just yet.
Ben Foster could make his return to Vicarage Road in a yellow shirt after his signing from West Brom, and the club’s Player of the Season Abdoulaye Doucoure has overcome appendicitis to be involved in the squad.
The Seagulls will be without new signing Florin Andone because of a groin injury and Colombian Jose Izquierdo, vital last term, is not ready to return after his involvement in the World Cup. Alireza Jahanbakhsh could play, while Glenn Murray is fit.
“We feel we’re ready, ” says Hughton
Another exciting and successful season could be in store on the south coast, but manager Chris Hughton will be there to keep their feet on the ground.
He said: "Would I take 17th? Probably the bigger part of me says yes because my responsibility is to make sure this club is in the Premier League the following season. But we have to think about Watford on Saturday and trying to get a result there. We will go into every game looking to get something.
“It's important, we know more than most what a bad start can bring. We all want a good start. If we get off to a good start, there will be teams getting off to a bad start. We just need to make sure we are fully prepared for the first game and make a good game of it. We feel we're ready.”
Watford captain Troy Deeney is thinking slightly further ahead than his countryman, though, and the striker has ambitions of finishing inside the top half of the Premier League table - they, of course, finished second in 1983 - for the first time.
“We’ve had a great pre-season in terms of the hard work we’ve done,” said Deeney. “We haven’t lost a game, so the confidence is really high. Everyone’s buzzing. I think we’ve got to be aiming for top-10 - that will be our mini-league, to try and be the best of the rest essentially.
“We don’t have the budget of the other teams, but we certainly have a great playing squad. We need to be lucky, in terms of injuries and stuff like that, but Burnley proved it last year - it’s not necessarily about having a massive budget, it’s having a togetherness and a willingness to do whatever you need to do to win games.”
With both camps setting out their hopes for the season, both will want to get the campaign underway with all three points under their belt. It promises to be a close affair in what is only the sixth top-flight game between the two clubs. This fixture last season ended in a draw, will there be a different conclusion come Saturday?
Watford - Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Capoue, Pereyra, Sema; Deeney, Gray.
Brighton - Ryan; Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bernardo; Jahanbakhsh, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert; Gross; Murray.