Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia said he will not base his game plan around stopping Wilfried Zaha, who has so often proved to be the Hornets' nemesis.
Watford travel to Selhurst Park on Saturday needing no reminding of the damage the Ivory Coast international has inflicted on them in recent seasons, but Gracia said it will be short-sighted if they just focus on how to stop the mercurial Eagles’ forward.
“We try to do like we usually we do with rest of the teams: with a collective vision, with a collective plan, never thinking about an individual plan. We know he is an important player for them, but you see the quality of all the players they have,” he said.
“They are a very good squad, in Townsend, in Ayew and all of them are dangerous and good players. Zaha is different as he is a player who dribbles a lot and we know it and we have to be ready to control him, Townsend and other players they have. We have to be ready to do little adjustments against Palace.”
Gracia has not let the comfortable FA Cup win over Woking paper over the defensive cracks that appeared against Bournemouth. He spent Tuesday’s session emphasising the importance of keeping the back door shut and reminding them of the work that yielded clean sheets against Brighton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Huddersfield Town and West Ham United.
“We always try to improve and try to work on things,” said Gracia. “In this case, we say we conceded two free-kicks against Bournemouth. We could do better in this. We tried this week to speak about that and to correct this situation.
“I think we are a team who defend well. It's true in the last games we conceded more shots than in other moments, but we are scoring more goals. We need to find the balance because I think we can defend better. We are trying to be better to be demanding and defending better.”
The Hornets kept a clean sheet at home against Palace last season, but they imploded at Selhurst Park on their last visit, conceding two in as many minutes to slip to a defeat that few saw coming in the previous 88 minutes. That game was before Gracia took over, but he knows that clashes with Palace are always hard fought.
“We know the games are very demanding,” he said. “We played against Palace last season and this season and all the games have been very equal and very demanding. I don't expect anything different in this case. We are ready to play, to compete and we try to get a good result.”
The Hornets are on a good little run right now. They've only lost one of the last seven – and that was to an Eden Hazard-inspired Chelsea side.
“I am happy, but I always want more,” said Gracia. “I always want to improve. When we start the season, I want to be the champion, I want to be the first one. I have that vision, that ambition. After that, we will be the best team in the competition. It's my expectation and I want to work with that mentality.”
Watford aren't going to finish first, but they are bang on course for their highest ever Premier League finish, eclipsing the 13th-place they achieved under Quique Sanchez Flores in 2016. But Gracia is still not deviating from the slowly, slowly, catchy monkey approach he has used all season.
“I prefer to speak about the next challenge, the next game and the next step to grow,” said Gracia. “Every game we play is a good challenge for us and is a chance for us to show what we are able to do. This point of view is better because at the end of the road we can see our achievement. I prefer to enjoy every day and be ambitious in every training session. We can improve in every little detail.”
Troy Deeney is renowned for doing extras and he's reaping the rewards of late, scoring three goals in his last two.
“If you see the goals, I agree [he is playing well] because in the last games he scored more goals than at the beginning,” said Gracia. “But he always kept the same level, the same attitude and the same commitment. The strikers have different moments to score and, in this moment, he is taking the chances we have and we try to extend his good moment.”