Watford vs West Ham United Preview: Who will put an end to their faltering start?
Photo by Getty Images/Jordan Mansfield

Watford vs West Ham United Preview: Who will put an end to their faltering start?

After two winless games for both, the record is there to be straightened at Vicarage Road.

Jake Horwood

Perhaps lofty expectations are only there to be tempered, and maybe they can never be truly fulfilled. But after slow beginnings to their respective Premier League campaigns, both Watford and West Ham United will have their hearts and minds set on turning a corner in the clash at Vicarage Road, with much-needed momentum and optimism surely to be granted to the winner.

For the Hornets, this poor run of form stretches back into the tail end of 2018/19 when the unforgettable route to the FA Cup final somewhat masked the disappointment of a dire conclusion to the league campaign. It's now five consecutive losses in the division for Javi Gracia and his players, with just two goals scored and no less than 13 conceded in that period.

Compared to the capitulation at the hands of Brighton & Hove Albion on the opening day, last weekend's trip to Everton witnessed a marked improvement in Watford's performance. The visitors were sunk by an early goal from Bernard but arguably played well enough to warrant a better result, and they will be hoping to ensure the upward curve continues here.

Meanwhile, West Ham's opening day result was no better, but the 5-0 drubbing they were subjected to was in all probability a greater indication of the sheer brilliance of victors Manchester City than the Hammers' lack thereof. The 1-1 draw at Brighton last weekend was in many ways a more substantial cause for concern, especially given that, without the heroics of goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański, West Ham could well have whimpered home from the encounter on the south coast.

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Manuel Pellegrini saw his squad bolstered significantly during the summer, with a total outlay of around £70m lavished on talented new recruits. Sizeable spending brings heightened ambitions which may now have been moderated after an unsteady beginning to the season, but once the signings have embedded into a settled squad, the fortunes at West Ham are expected to ameliorate.

Previous meetings

Even aside from the players on display on the pitch, this has the ingredients of an entertaining tie. Each of the last ten encounters has witnessed at least two goals, and red cards, penalties and high-scoring away wins are all highly likely if the statistics are anything to go by.

The most recent meeting took place on the final day of 2018/19, when a top-half finish was at stake. West Ham emphatically claimed 10th by romping to a 4-1 victory at Vicarage Road, in which Hammers skipper Mark Noble scored a brace and José Holebas saw red early in the second half.

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But for Watford, last season wasn't one of complete doom and gloom against West Ham; they had already won 2-0 at the London Stadium in December thanks to goals from Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu.

Since the Hornets returned to the Premier League in 2015, they have enjoyed the upper hand against the Hammers, winning half of the eight encounters and losing three.

View from the dugout

Gracia has enjoyed a successful career with Watford to date, steering the club clear of a relegation scrap immediately after his appointment and achieving the club's most prolific Premier League campaign ever last year, on top of the Cup run. But now represents his most daunting challenge so far in Hertfordshire, and the Spaniard stresses that he and his players need the fans more than ever to play a part in any much-desired improvement.

"The supporters deserve something else," Gracia admitted. "We have to do it. We have to keep calm, keep playing with the intensity we need and everybody knows we want the three points. We want the supporters to enjoy it with the team and in this moment I'm sure they will be helping the team. It's the moment to see the reaction and to try to get the points.

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"In every game we need to show our desire, our passion and this way we have chances to win the games. If we don't do it every game, it will be very, very tough for us because all the teams have very good players. The first thing we have to do is try to be very concentrated and try to show our level."

No points and no goals in two games is hardly impressive reading, but West Ham boss Pellegrini will not be caught up in discussions of the adversity of his opponents here, and knows that any single match in the Premier League could produce any result regardless of what the spreadsheet reads.

"If we base our chances in this match on Watford's form then I think we are going to make a very big mistake," warned Pellegrini. "Football changes in every game, and I think it's more important to think about our team. I think West Ham must not be compared with any other team. We must try to win games; it doesn't matter who we play.

"I've said from the very beginning that we don't have a target this season," he asserted. "We need to improve on what we did last season. I think that the Premier League will not teach you anything that you didn't know before. There are always tough games and difficult teams to beat. We need to play every game as a final; after that, we'll see how many points we have at the end of the season."

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Team news

Watford captain Deeney has undergone knee surgery and will be sidelined for several weeks as the 31-year old recovers from the operation.

In further worrying news for the Hornets, Abdoulaye Doucouré and Roberto Pereyra are doubts with ankle and thigh problems respectively, but new signings Danny Welbeck and Ismaïla Sarr could feature.

Meanwhile, Noble is in line for a return to the West Ham squad after overcoming the calf injury which forced him to sit out the opening two games.

Club-record striker Sébastien Haller and Felipe Anderson are also available having missed the trip to Brighton last weekend.

Predicted XIs

Watford — Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Hughes, Cleverley, Capoue, Quina; Deulofeu, Gray.

West Ham United — Fabiański; Fredericks, Diop, Ogbonna, Masuaku; Wilshere, Rice, Lanzini; Snodgrass, Haller, Anderson.