Watford were thwarted by technology and missed opportunities as a contentious Dele Alli 86th minute goal meant the Hornets were held to 1-1 draw at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. The wait for a first league win of the season stretches to nine for Quique Sanchez Flores’ side, but it’s not far away.
Story of the match
Watford came into the game with a glimmer of hope, only Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City had more attempts on goal than Watford's 108 in the Premier League this season. Two weeks on from the clean sheet and goalless draw to Sheffield United, Flores would have hoped to see further evidence of his side’s progression and potential. He saw it.
Watford made two changes coming into the game, with Nathaniel Chalobah and Craig Dawson replacing the benched Andre Gray and injured Sebastian Prödl in what was a 5-4-1 formation without the ball and 3-4-2-1 in attack, with Roberto Pereyra and Tom Cleverley behind Danny Welbeck.
Tottenham Hotspur have found themselves in a similar period of introspection following two defeats in the last three league games and a chastening collapse to Bayern Munich in the Champions league. In response to the defeats, Mauricio Pochettino made seven changes to the defeat away to Brighton & Hove Albion, with Son on the bench and Dele Alli joining Lucas Moira and Harry Kane up-front in a 3-4-2-1 in attack and 5-3-2 in defence.
It was an auspicious start for Watford. Against the backdrop of Tottenham's raucous South stand, Welbeck was an early casualty. Chasing after a through ball from Cleverley. The injury happened to be a rallying call for the Flores’ men as Gerard Deulofeu came on in his stead.
Four minutes later and Watford were ahead. A 50-yard cross-field ball from Craig Cathcart found an overlapping Daryl Janmaat. Moving passed Danny Rose, Janmaat took a couple of touches before crossing an enticing ball across the Tottenham 6-yard box for Abdoulaye Doucoure to calmly slide home on the run and into the corner of the net in front of the South stand.
Watford continued to maraud forward as Tottenham demonstrated time and time again why their crossing accuracy was 14% going into the game, that number deteriorated further over the 90 minutes.
In the 38th minute, Watford had a strong shout for a penalty turned down. Deulofeu was felled by Jan Vertonghen in the Tottenham box but VAR didn’t deem the error ‘clear and obvious’.
Watford didn’t let the decision affect them.
With Chalobah in a holding role, Cleverley and Doucoure had the freedom to support Pereyra and Deulofeu. Watford had identified a weakness down the Tottenham right-side and continued to create chances but were missing that clinical edge to take the game away from a disjointed and frustrated Tottenham side.
Watford went into half-time leading for the first time this season, prompting Pochettino to swap Heung-Min Son for Davinson Sanchez.
The change nearly paid immediate dividends as Son struck the bar from 8 yards after 49 minutes.
Less than a minute later, Watford responded in kind as Deulofeu had the goal gaping 6-yards out. Low on confidence, he chose instead to pass back to a chasing Pereyra 12-yards out who had his effort blocked. Another big Watford chance went begging.
Over the next 30 minutes Watford played on the counter but continued to create chances. Pereyra was mesmerising at times, twisting the Tottenham defence inside-out, but, as has been the same all season, Watford couldn’t find that killer instinct. Janmaat and Deulofeu will both feel they could and should have scored.
Aside from Son striking the bar, Ben Foster has little to do until the 86th minute.
Tottenham were chucking the ball into Watford box with abandonment at this point and seemingly devoid of ideas on how to break down this resolute Watford defence. Fortunately for them, Watford were in a charitable mood.
A push, mix-up, fumble and hand-ball later, Tottenham found themselves level, and with that went Watford’s hopes for a first win of the season. However, as Gino Pozzo said after the game, “There is lots to be happy about”
Takeaways from the match
After 95 seconds, Watford fans could be forgiven for wondering what they had got themselves into as Danny Welbeck pulled up with a hamstring injury, to be quickly replaced by Gerard Deulofeu.
Flores adapted and it was to be his first masterstroke of the afternoon as he put Pereyra up-front to torment the fragile Tottenham defence.
It was the Pereyra Watford fans have seen only fleeting glimpses of in the last couple of seasons. He had the ball on a string all afternoon as he showed composure, class and more than a touch of magic, weaving in and out of the Tottenham defensive line. Vertonghen, in particular, will be glad to see the back of the Argentinian.
Deulofeu, for all his endeavour and effort, will be frustrated by his lack of cutting edge. Finding space, carrying the ball with intent and confidence, he couldn’t find the clinical finish that was so warranted of his work-rate.
However, Watford again showed their lack of attacking options and absence of a clinical touch as chances came and went. An onlooking Troy Deeney would have been horrified watching his peers unable to build on his side’s single goal.
Another tale of VAR
You’ve already heard and seen every angle of the incidents, but it would be remiss to not add to the VAR debate following today’s debacle.
In the 38th minute, Deulofeu carried the ball into Tottenham’s penalty box. Shifting the ball left to right, Deulofeu kept the ball close to his feet as he neared the byline. An impatient Jan Vertonghen stuck out a foot and made ‘clear and obvious’ contact with the ankles of Watford’s number 7.
The referee and, crucially, VAR, John Brooks - in his first season as a Premier league official - disagreed. Much to the disbelief of Tottenham fans, Watford fans, those in the media and those in the dugouts. Mauricio Pochettino acknowledged the VAR decisions after the game, saying, “I feel sorry for Quique and for Watford”
To be honest, there isn’t much more to say on the matter than that which has already been said. It was an officiating error. It was a penalty and the Football Association have an ever-growing demand to clarify what constitutes ‘clear and obvious’ in the wake of today’s decisions.
It wasn’t to be the only major drama of the day.
In the 86th minute, Ben Foster, resolute in the Watford goal until now, came to collect a bouncing ball following a push on Christian Kabasele from Harry Kane. 10 yards out of goal and upon pressure from Kiko Femenia, Foster tipped the ball to Dele Alli. Using his upper arm to control the ball, Dele was able to capitalise on the mistake and slide the ball into the corner of the Watford net.
Again, VAR deemed the contact with the arm as not a ‘clear and obvious’ error on the part of referee Chris Kavanagh and the goal eventually stood. This was after a farcical ‘human error’ on the part of the VAR, who seemingly pressed the wrong button at Stockley Park as ‘No Goal’ was broadcast on the big screens.
The stadium was left stunned and confused as Watford proceeded to simultaneously protest and kick-off in the centre circle and the referee assured the players that the goal stood. This was soon verified on the big screens, much to the despair of all those with a Watford bias.
30% possession over 90 minutes, 12 shots against, conceded 11 corners and only 5 fouls, this may have been the most complete defensive performance from Watford in recent memory.
Daryl Janmaat was creative, Craig Dawson resolute, Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele strong and disciplined, Watford’s defence was organised and structured - at times at its scrambling best when out of position for even a fraction of a second.
Flores has been open and transparent about his priorities with this Watford side, defence, defence, defence, and it is paying off.
Without the ball, Watford performed a half-pitch press in a rigid 5-3-2 formation, allowing both for the counter-attack and defensive cover in the event of any developing situation.
Inevitably, this meant a lack of possession, but if the opposition have no-one to pass to then possession is meaningless. Watford are demonstrating significant progress under Flores and slowly it will show fruition. Change takes time.
For the first time this season, there were almost 11 candidates worthy of being mentioned here. Chalobah, Pereyra, Doucoure and Dawson were all worthy of the man of the match accolade. However, Janmaat stood head and shoulders above his colleagues purely for the contribution he brought Flores’ system over 70 minutes.
His value is self-evident. Watford have only lost once this season with Janmaat in defence. Janmaat has lost only two aerial duals in five league games and made 19 recoveries. But his value is best evidenced in attack.
Janmaat is a marauding wing-back who can attack and defend. His positioning today enabled Deulofeu, Doucoure and Pereyra to play further up the pitch, and his overlapping provided further outlets for Watford’s defence, as seen in the 50 yard cross-field ball from Craig Cathcart for the Watford goal. Tom Cleverley’s contribution in covering Janmaat’s attacking instincts also deserve an honourable mention.
In the end, it wasn’t to be for Watford. It was another point in the right direction, but the result is best expressed in how Flores didn’t know whether to laugh or cry in the press conference, instead describing the decisions as, “weird and secretive”
Flores’ frustration at the VAR decisions was evident but he refused to be drawn into criticising the referees in England. In fact, showing his professionalism, he praised the officials for their instincts. But, speaking to VAVEL, Craig Dawson eloquently summed up the feeling of the Watford camp and the game as a whole: “Technology, aye.”