Watford vs Southampton Preview: Crucial points on the line
Photo by Getty Images/Bryn Lennon

Watford vs Southampton Preview: Crucial points on the line

The Hornets and the Saints lock horns at Vicarage Road, from which both will feel they need to take maximum reward in order to continue their respective pursuits for European qualification and survival.

Jake Horwood

With the end of the season drawing ever closer, the value of each and every point gradually increases. Both Watford and Southampton will be seeking all three from their encounter at Vicarage Road as the pressure to realise their aspirations mounts.

For Watford, Tuesday evening offers a fine chance to construct ground between them and their rivals for 7th position, especially with a crunch tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers looming at the weekend.

Last Saturday saw the Hornets triumph 2-1 at already-relegated Huddersfield Town. A brace from Gerard Deulofeu put the visitors out of sight before Karlan Grant pegged a stoppage time consolation for his side.

Meanwhile, Southampton's loss against Newcastle United acted as a timely reminder that their gruelling relegation struggle is far from over, though the Saints could take heart from their showing. An untouchable Ayoze Pérez scored a hat-trick for the hosts and ultimately proved the difference between two otherwise evenly-matched sides.

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Sitting five points clear of the drop zone and with a game in hand on 18th-placed Cardiff City, a win here could be vital in Southampton's quest to secure survival and amend their poor start to the campaign.

Previous meetings

The reverse fixture at St Mary's Stadium ended 1-1, but it was a controversial affair which fuelled debate in the following weeks. Manolo Gabbiadini gave Southampton the lead and their advantage should arguably have been doubled when Charlie Austin saw his strike contentiously ruled for offside.

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Watford also had reason to bleat as considerable penalty shouts were waved away after Ryan Bertrand felled Nathaniel Chalobah in the area, but José Holebas eventually rescued a point for the visitors.

Last season's corresponding fixture also sparked polemics as Abdoulaye Doucouré's stoppage time winner was revealed to have been guided in by his hand.

The 2017/18 encounter at St Mary's, which the Hornets won 2-0, remains only the second time they have triumphed over the Saints in the Premier League.

Southampton have lost just one of their last 11 meetings with Watford in all competitions, and are unbeaten at Vicarage Road since 2007.

View from the dugout

A place in the prized FA Cup final is already secured, but Watford boss Javi Gracia insists that hard work is far from a matter of the past for his players. With 7th position and subsequent entry into the Europa League still to fight for, the Hornets have ample opportunity to rewrite history for the club.

As such, the Spaniard argues his side need Tuesday night's points more than their opponents, whose safety from relegation remains yet to be mathematically confirmed.

"I think before the game, my players know perfectly that we need the points more than them," he said. "It is the best mentality to get the points available. If we don't play with that feeling, it is difficult to get results. They really need the points as well. We will try to compete as well as possible because I'm sure we will have to if we want the points.

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"All of the teams are honest and always they play very well an it is always difficult to get points in the different circumstances. We have to be concentrated until the end. If we don't do that in the next games, I'm sure we won't be able to achieve the results we want."

Ralph Hasenhüttl would argue to the contrary. He inherited the helm at St Mary's when Southampton had won just one of their first 15 league matches but has lifted the Saints up the table, reinstalling vibrance into the club in the process.

Now, a win at Vicarage Road would banish fear of relegation — though it would still be numerically possible — but Hasenhüttl urges his side will have to show more assertion and exertion in order to obtain that victory.

"The message must be that a little bit of playing football is not good enough for us. We have to be aggressive again. We have to work harder than we did on Saturday because otherwise against Watford, a very strong team, it is again a big problem to take something.

"I think we have the quality to win there," the Austrian said. "But we need a really, really clinical and perfect performance. To go there is nearly as difficult as to play against one of the top six, so we need a very, very good performance."

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After a positive spell of results, last weekend's loss in the north east was something of a blow to Southampton's increasingly good form, but Hasenhüttl maintains that his team are functioning at a high level from which they can continue to amass points.

"For us, it's about getting better during the game, like against Newcastle. If we do so, then I am convinced about my team that we always can score, we always can win games, also away games, so I am not frightened about this game. But we must be clear that we need a better performance than Saturday."

Team news

Watford captain Troy Deeney serves the second of his three-match suspension after picking up a red card against Arsenal just over a week ago.

The Hornets are boosted by the return of Roberto Pereyra and Adalberto Peñaranda, but remain without Holebas, Tom Cleverley, Domingos Quina and Sebastian Prödl.

Meanwhile, Southampton will need to assess the fitness of defenders Jannik Vestergaard and Yan Valery, but otherwise have a fully fit squad at the ready.

Predicted XIs

Watford — Foster; Femenía, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes, Pereyra; Deulofeu, Gray.

Southampton — Gunn; Stephens, Yoshida, Bednarek; Valery, Ward-Prowse, Højbjerg, Bertrand; Sims, Ings, Redmond.