After gaining their first ever win on the opening day of a Premier League season against Brighton last weekend, Watford now travel to Burnley in their first away excursion of the season.
While the Hornets have not lost their first away game of the campaign for three years, the Clarets and their meticulous, hard-working approach will surely put that particular record to the test.
So how can Watford get the better of Sean Dyche’s men come Sunday afternoon?
Exploiting the flanks:
Both teams enjoy playing their football in the wide areas. And, intriguingly, they both prefer playing down the left side — 47% of Burnley’s attacks have come down the left, compared to Watford’s 43%. As the Hornets employ a more balanced spatial emphasis in attack, they should be able to exploit Burnley's bias down the left flank on the counter attack.
The full-backs are also heavily involved for both sides. Jose Holebas assisted both goals for Roberto Pereyra in the 2-0 win against the Seagulls, while Matthew Lowton and Stephen Ward of Burnley are willing runners who are crucial to the Clarets’ buildup play.
Javi Gracia needs to set his side up in such a way that they have ample defensive cover in the wide areas as well as the ability to counter down both wings. While Watford may be lacking in pace — due to the prolonged absence of Gerard Deulofeu for another week — there should be enough technical ability within the team to cause Burnley problems moving up the pitch.
Dyche’s Clarets are renowned for their physical prowess, which is largely down to their wealth of tall players in almost every position. However, this season, Gracia has assembled the tallest team in the league — with an average height of 184.2cm compared to Burnley’s 182.7cm. Nevertheless, the Lancashire outfit have an aerial duel success rate of 52%, which betters that of their opponents by 12%.
With prolific headers of the ball leading the line for both teams — Chris Wood for Burnley and Troy Deeney for Watford — it seems this game will likely feature a large number of long balls from deep and a bombardment of crosses into either penalty area. The outcome of the match could well rest on which team defends these scenarios better.
The Hornets were dire on the road towards the end of last season, losing their last six away games and failing to score in their last eight — in fact, Watford have scored just one away goal in the whole of 2018. It was a major feature of their customary post-Christmas nosedive in form: they weren’t winning because they weren’t scoring, and they weren’t scoring because they weren’t creating any chances.
Gracia will hope that the work done in pre-season will have amended this problem. Watford proved last weekend that they are capable of dominating games as they harried Brighton relentlessly and created a wealth of goalscoring opportunities, so there has clearly been some improvement from last season.
If Watford take the game to Burnley, they are much more likely to win than if they sit back. The talent of Pereyra and Will Hughes, if utilised correctly, will create plenty of chances for the Hornets to score. And, with two strikers up front and midfielders Abdoulaye Douocuré and Etienne Capoue, who both have a knack for scoring goals, sitting behind, Watford will have a good chance of hitting the back of the net on Sunday — if they can create the chances.