Sánchez Flores: "We are ready to fight"
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Could it also be true that all bad things must come to an end? Watford will certainly believe so — their 2-0 victory over Norwich City earlier this month put an end to a 15-game barren run in the Premier League and finally heaved the Hornets up from the foot of the standings.

An anxiously expectant Carrow Road was silenced after just 76 seconds when Gerard Deulofeu scored a superb solo effort to give the visitors the early advantage. Their lead was doubled just after half-time through Andre Gray, and would be maintained for the rest of the match despite their reduction to 10 men following the dismissal of Christian Kabasele in the 67th minute.

It was a match Watford simply had to win, and they did. Now, two weeks later, the Hornets are preparing to host Burnley at Vicarage Road, searching to turn that crucial result into some much-needed positive consistency.

Perhaps that won't have been helped by the occurrence of the recent international break, often an unwelcome distraction from pressing domestic concerns. However, head coach Quique Sánchez Flores views it instead as a chance taken for the squad to regroup and refine every aspect of their performance ahead of the next assignment.

“This is football," he said. "What we want is to use well the time. Everything we do is working hard with the days we have. We’ve all recuperated after the break, and now all I want is that we keep up the morale, the attitude, the confidence, using well the last win in Norwich, and trying to transmit to the fans that we are ready to fight.”

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A tactical reformation

That Friday in Norfolk was a night when Watford, arguably for the first time this season, delivered the full package. The technical mastery of Deulofeu's individual goal or the audacity of Gray's will make the headlines, but rigidity of the defence was just as important in securing the win.

It's something Sánchez Flores, since his arrival in September, has been working on tirelessly. The Hornets had conceded the third most goals in the division and failed to make up for it at the other end of the pitch. Drilled well in the art of defence — as fans know well after his first spell with the club in 2015/16 — the Spaniard set about pursuing success in that area once again.

Initially, the problems persisted, but three clean sheets in the last five games indicates a solution may have been found. The obvious emphasis has paid off, yet Sánchez Flores insists he values productivity in the attacking phase just as highly and will ensure it is not neglected.

“It’s not enough for us just to play in a defensive way. Of course, it was one of my assignments when I came because they conceded a lot of goals. Not conceding is a good base for everything, but I want to create a balance between defence and attack.

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"We are training in both directions, working really hard to make good decisions, finalise plays, be more relaxed. But it’s a hard process, a long one, and little by little you can enjoy the changes.”

Key to the newfound defensive resilience has been the transition to a tactical system accommodating three centre-backs — what it sacrifices in the final third appears to weigh less than the benefits of greater organisation and fewer mistakes.

The head coach freely admits it's not a formation he would usually prefer to employ, but insists it was the most appropriate formula to ensure results on the pitch after his appointment. Nonetheless, it may not last in the long-term.

“Everyone knows that it’s not my favourite system or structure, but we needed to do it because I felt it was the solution to avoid risks in defence and create clean sheets," the 54-year old asserted. "Little by little it’s getting results — we are far from having a perfect system with this shape and we are working hard to improve. Of course in the back of my mind I have my preferred system, and we have good players for it, but we need to recuperate more confidence first.”

Challenging opposition

Saturday sees Watford lock horns with Burnley, a team which, in many ways, embody the traits which the former are striving to recover currently. The cohesion and togetherness they have fostered under the leadership of former Hornets manager Sean Dyche has seen the Clarets establish themselves in the top flight, and it looks once again as if they will be able to evade this season's relegation dogfight.

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For the home side, the primary aim of their afternoon exertions will be to ensure that the victory over Norwich was not merely a one-off. Those three points continue to carry boundless significance, but only if they become the foundations for many more.

Sánchez Flores is under no illusions about the quality of the opposition and the problems they could pose, but remains assured that his own side can earn another favourable result.

“They’re a very good team, working together for a long time with their philosophy, simple but very tough," he said. "We know it’s an uncomfortable opponent because they are strong with two strikers who are very dangerous in crosses and they defend really well as a team. But we have our own confidence, in our system and players, so I hope we can win.”

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