One of the key features of a jubilant start to the season for Watford has been the emergence of Will Hughes as the consistent and game-changing player that earned him so many plaudits during his time at Derby County.
Despite predominantly being an attack-minded player, Hughes has made the most tackles in the Premier League — a testament to Javi Gracia’s defensive reformation at Watford — and also chipped in with a goal in the 3-1 victory at Burnley.
Hughes has been performing so well that it looks likely he will retain his place on the right flank for the foreseeable future, even with former Barcelona winger Gerard Deulofeu shortly returning from injury.
But the 23-year-old remains modest despite the bucketloads of praise that have been thrown at Hughes, the manager and the team collectively, as he refused to entertain the possibility of the Hornets 'doing a Leicester' in a post-Spurs interview with Watford’s official website.
“It’s brilliant, but we can’t get carried away too much,” he said. “You’ve got to enjoy it while you can because throughout the season we are going to suffer and it’s not going to be straightforward every week.
“It’s four games in, and we’ve seen over the years that there’s a lot of quality teams in this league. It’s not going to be easy to carry on this run, so we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground.”
“We had nothing to lose”
The visit of Tottenham Hotspur and their Argentine tactician, Mauricio Pochettino, provided by far the greatest threat to Watford’s 100% record in 2018/19 and many tipped that the Hornets would drop their first points of the season to the Spurs.
Yet Watford prevailed in a famous 2-1 win — their first ever victory over Tottenham in the Premier League. And Hughes believes he and his teammates were good value for the three points.
“We know it was a tough test and I think overall we deserved the win, especially after the second half. They’re a quality team so they can hit you at any time, so we had to be organised.
“Saying that, we felt comfortable defensively in our shape and they didn’t create too many chances. Once they scored, we had to open up a bit and we had nothing to lose.”
Many considered a powerful shoulder barge from club captain Troy Deeney on Davinson Sánchez to be the turning point in the game. Suddenly the crowd were on their feet, hungry for a response having gone a goal down, and the passion from the stands was soon reflected in the players as they replied with two goals to win the game for the Hornets.
Hughes recognises it’s moments like these that makes Deeney such an important figure to the club, especially in games against the better sides where gritty determination will often win a match over raw footballing talent.
“In games like that you need someone like him,” said the former England Under-21 international. “He’s going to battle, he’s going to show his quality, and he thoroughly deserved his goal.”
“We’re a match for anyone”
Watford have now won all three of their home games this season, scoring six and conceding just two. The Hornets also have the joint-best home record in the league since Gracia took over in January, level with Liverpool.
Hughes conjectures the key to such an impressive succession of results at Vicarage Road is finding the balance between over- and under-estimation of the opposition, whereby both arrogance and a lack of self-confidence can be avoided.
“We’re not afraid. You’ve got respect teams when they come here, especially the ‘big six’, but at the same time you can’t be too wary because you’ve got to get about them and put pressure on and I think we did that in all the right areas against Spurs.
Hughes meanwhile praised the commitment of the team after they went a goal behind, saying:
“When you go 1-0 down against a top side, heads could drop and everyone expects them to go on and win the game, but the boys showed real character — it’s a cliché, but they did. As soon as we got that equaliser it gave everyone a lift and the real belief that not only could we draw the game but that we could go on and win it.
“We’re a tough team to play against at Vicarage Road, and if we can improve that away form slightly I think we’re going to be a match for anyone.”
Hungry for more
After a start to the season that Hornets fans could only have wished for, Hughes insists that full focus will be maintained and the hunger to perform well will be enhanced by the return of certain key players from injury.
“The squad depth here is brilliant,” he said. “Nate Chalobah coming back — it’s great to see him out there again — and Deulofeu too, it’s a scary thought really. It’s good competition for the team and while we’re playing well, it keeps everyone hungry.”
Watford will look to extend their perfect start to the season with the visit of Manchester United after the international break.