Adapting back to life in the Championship after relegation can be tricky for most clubs, without considering a change of manager (again) and a plethora of player departures, and in the circumstances the Hornets’ start the season is not to be sniffed at.
Vladimir Ivic’s team are just a point off the top two having won four of their first eight matches, with only a single defeat to league leaders Reading, and the Serb’s success so far has been a miserly defence which has allowed just four goals, the second-best record after the Royals.
They say you’re only as good as your last game, however, and Watford missed the chance to enter the weekend in the promotion places by allowing Wycombe Wanderers their first ever point at this level on Tuesday, surprisingly bullied into a 1-1 draw.
They will hope it’s just a blip with the goals yet to flow, though 19-year-old Joao Pedro is showing huge potential.
Watford will need to be on their guard again this weekend against another of the sides likely to be battling relegation.
Barnsley will be full of confidence having picked up their first win of the season in the week, Ismael seeing his side dismantle Queens Park Rangers just days after taking over.
The Frenchman is unlikely to enjoy many nicer days than that one all season, facing impotent opponents reduced to 10 men, and Watford will certainly offer both more resistance and more threat. Opening night went down a treat, but taking anything from this game will be more impressive.
Barnsley will be without top scorer Cauley Woodrow, who excelled against QPR but has suffered a recurrence of a hamstring problem suffered in the warm-up to the previous game. He’ll miss at least the next two matches, which could hand a start to Patrick Schmidt or see Conor Chaplin move to the centre of the attack with Elliot Simoes starting on the left.
Jordan Williams and Romal Palmer will also be absent for this one but Luke Thomas is back in contention after missing Ismael’s first match in charge.
There could be high-profile returns to the Watford bench for Will Hughes and Andre Gray, who have both been back in full training and building up their fitness following long-term injuries, while there is a small chance of captain Troy Deeney also returning.
Stipe Perica will miss out but at least doesn’t require surgery on his arm injury, while defender Christian Kabasele is clear to play following a nose injury at Wycombe.
Barnsley: Walton; Sollbauer, Helik, Andersen; Brittain, Mowatt, James, Styles; Frieser, Chaplin, Simoes.
Watford: Foster; Kabasele, Toost-Ekong, Cathcart; Ngakia, Cleverley, Chalobah, Garner, Sema; Sarr, Pedro.
What the managers have said
Ismael didn’t hide from the size of the task in front of his side this weekend, saying: “It’s a big challenge. Watford is one of the best teams in the Championship with very high quality, with Premier League players in the squad. We need the mentality; we need our intensity to work for each other as a team.
“We know, if we work together, we can beat everyone in this league; anyone can beat anyone and that’s why we believe in our capabilities, our strength and what we can do on the field.
“The win on Tuesday was very important and we are now four games in a row without a defeat, so it’s good for the confidence and gives us a belief in our game.
“We have big opponents in front of us but we are ready to take the fight and take the chance in this game. We know that we can give a lot of problems for Watford and, for the young guys, it’s a big chance to show what they can do.”
Ivic identified hunger and desire as traits lacking in their under-par showing at Wycombe and has demanded more for this clash against another highly-motivated team.
“I want to see more energy, this is the first thing I want to see,” said the former Maccabi Tel Aviv boss. “I want to see us hungry for victory, this is something we need to be every game. Because if we don’t have it, we cannot win.
“If you don’t want the game more than your opponent, your quality cannot do something more. To show your quality you must first of all be strong in your decisions, in the second ball, in every second during the game you must be there.
“This is the first thing we need to improve. The players who will play will be the players who will give maximum, full energy every game. It doesn’t matter about the quality, first of all, they must put themselves for the team and work hard for the team.”
The last time these two sides met was in the 2013-14 season when Watford secured an emphatic double including a 5-1 win at Oakwell.
That is the Hornets’ only win there in the last eight visits, though Barnsley have won only one of the past seven meetings in total.
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