Tottenham Hotspur vs Watford preview: Victory enviable for both
Photo by Getty Images/Marc Atkins

For the players not enlisted by their respective countries and managers duty-bound to their clubs, international breaks are periods of reflection, introspection, and improvement accordingly. Indeed, they can prove convenient springboards from poor runs of form, or awkward interruptions to purple patches, too. These two will hope the former rings true on Saturday afternoon.

Tottenham Hotspur and boss Mauricio Pochettino certainly had much to ponder over the fortnight. A solitary week saw them demolished on home turf by German champions Bayern Münich in the Champions League, before an equally humiliating 3-0 defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion on the Saturday.

That latter result saw them slip to ninth in the Premier League, already 13 points adrift of early pace-setters Liverpool at the summit — the majesty of locking horns with the Reds in the final of Europe's showpiece competition in June seems an awfully long time ago now, and expectations for the campaign may already be somewhat revised following a surprisingly slow start.

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Meanwhile, their opponents here, Watford, currently occupy the very foot of the table. Winless from their first eight matches and already with new management in the returning Quique Sánchez Flores, it has in no exaggeratory terms been the polar opposite of their flying start to last season, and just half a year has seen European ambitions replaced with gloomy relegation concerns.

Last weekend, the Hornets took a step in the right direction with a goalless draw against Sheffield United at Vicarage Road — their first league clean sheet since February. Nonetheless, profligacy remained where defensive disorganisation was absent to chalk yet another winnable match out of realisation, and Watford's current four-point gap from safety makes the search for those elusive three points ever more desperate.

Previous meetings

Tottenham and Watford met three times across 2018/19, including a Carabao Cup third round clash played in bizarre circumstances at Stadium MK. Pochettino's men emerged victorious from the tie on penalties after an entertaining 90 minutes of action which ended 2-2.

In the league, it was the home team that prevailed in each encounter. The Hornets secured their first ever Premier League win over Spurs at a sun-soaked Vicarage Road in early September before the latter triumphed in the reverse fixture at Wembley Stadium in January courtesy of late goals from Heung-min Son and Fernando Llorente.

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Watford's last victory as visitors to Tottenham came no less than 25 years ago, and that too was a cup meeting — it dates back to 1985 since the Hornets last defeated Spurs at their own ground in the league.

In fact, should Tottenham win at the weekend, it would equal their longest run of home consecutive top flight triumphs over a single opponent.

View from the dugout

While Tottenham's recent form does grant them a right to certain grievances, no side in the league is experiencing more anguish than Watford, whose lowly position does not bode well ahead of their trip to one of the league's perennially strongest sides.

However, Pochettino is refraining from an underestimation of his side's opponents on Saturday, and is expecting them to pose a robust challenge at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

"It's going to be tough," he admitted. "We are our own worst enemy. I was talking with the staff in a very honest conversation as always in these situations, trying to find the best way. In the end, our objective is to put Tottenham in the place that we deserve to be."

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The Argentine has occupied the Tottenham helm since May 2014 and overseen one of the most consistently successful spells in the club's history. Amid this poor run of form, the aim for him is to revive the undoubted capabilities of a team which has underperformed in recent weeks — and the way to do so, according to Pochettino, is via diligence and drive.

"In the last five-and-a-half years it has been all praise about Tottenham, our stadium and facilities as well. When that turns a bit negative you have to listen and work hard to turn things positive again. We work for this club and our fans want to be happy, they want to enjoy the team winning."

Since returning to England, visiting boss Sánchez Flores has been assessed only on his ability to deliver the task that beckons for the rest of this season — keeping Watford in the Premier League. Nonetheless, the Spaniard believes the campaign is still too young for talk of relegation to dominate public perceptions of him and his squad.

"I don't want to talk about that because it's really early," Sánchez Flores asserted. "This is the big problem in football sometimes: there are 30 games ahead an so it's impossible to think about what will happen."

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Similarly to his opposite number, the 54-year old employs a glass-half-full approach to the current predicament, and is confident that a constructive and optimistic view towards the future will pay dividends in the push to climb the table.

"The only thing we have to do is work in a positive way and not think about a bad finish. We have to think about how we can improve, how proud and happy we will be if we are able to do that. This is the spirit."

Team news

Tottenham will be without first-choice goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, whose dislocated elbow is set to keep him out of action until the turn of the year. Michel Vorm has been re-signed in the position and will jostle with Paulo Gazzaniga to deputise from the start.

Playmaker Christian Eriksen sustained a dead leg whilst playing for Denmark and will be assessed, while summer signings Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon have both returned to full training and may play some part.

Former Spurs midfielder Étienne Capoue is sidelined again for Watford with a back complaint, while club captain Troy Deeney has set the target for his return to action in early November following knee surgery two months ago.

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The Hornets will also be without defender Sebastian Prödl and forward Isaac Success due to hamstring and groin injuries respectively.

Predicted XIs

Tottenham Hotspur — Gazzaniga; Aurier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Sissoko, Winks, Ndombele; Lamela, Kane, Son.

Watford — Foster; Dawson, Cathcart, Kabasele; Janmaat, Doucouré, Cleverley, Holebas; Deulofeu, Welbeck, Pereyra.