Affleck's Angle: Huddersfield Hit For Three
Kevin Affleck offers his perspective on Watford's win over the Terriers
What is it they stay about statistics? Something about there being three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.
That was well and truly borne out on Saturday when the Golden Boys lost out in just about every facet of the game to Huddersfield.
The Terriers had more possession, won more duels, more aerial duels, made three times as many interceptions, generated more shots on target, enjoyed a better shooting accuracy, slung over more crosses and made more passes. One of the few areas the Hornets did enjoy the wood over Huddersfield was in the number of clearances made – 23 to the visitors' 13 – but even that doesn't reflect well on the Golden Boys as it suggests they were under the pump. Javi Gracia was bang on the money when he said “this wasn't our best game”.
And yet, despite all that, his side ran out 3-0 winners, could have had six on another afternoon and were left celebrating their best ever start to a top-flight season. Football can be a funny old game sometimes and perhaps the quick-learning Hornets have picked up that canny habit of winning while not being at their best. You cannot, after all, play well all the time and perhaps this was the game's way of redistributing the points they should have had at Fulham and Arsenal. Football has a knack of evening itself out over the course of a season.
The fact the team was able to win with something to spare while operating in third gear was down to the fact they were better and more decisive in both boxes. As David Wagner admiringly pointed out afterwards, the Hornets “are a quality side, with quality individuals. We were not able to deal with it”.
The individuals he was probably largely referring to were Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Deulofeu. They have the ability to turn any game on its head and it's no wonder when you consider their pedigree. Pereyra was playing for Argentina against Brazil less than a fortnight ago while this time last year Deulofeu scored in back-to-back games for Barcelona and was part of a front three that included Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.
“You don't come through the Barcelona system unless you are a top player,” said Jermaine Jenas on Match of the Day.
This is now the calibre of player being attracted to Vicarage Road, this is the level the bar has been raised to.
And these are not players here on loan or players looking for a final pay day to top up their retirement fund. These two are fully paid-up members of the project and are at the peak of their powers. In fact, rather excitingly, the best may be yet to come from this gifted pair.
They sprinkled their stardust in the space of nine first-half minutes on Saturday and that was the game won, done and dusted, just like it was at Wolves. It was similar to how Arsenal turned on the afterburners late on at the Emirates, with star performers Mesut Özil and Alexandre Lacazette coming to the fore. The Hornets have their own blue-chip players to decide games such as these in a flash.
“We struggled a bit early on, but the two goals made us more comfortable in the game,” said Isaac Success.
Deulofeu skipped past Chris Löwe and then Jonathan Hogg like they weren't there before ripping one past Jonas Lössl. It was so similar to the one Pereyra flashed across Thibaut Courtois against Chelsea in February. Pereyra never seems to score a tap-in and he continued his relentless pursuit of this campaign's Goal of the Season award with yet another contender, this time a wondrous solo effort.
“Roberto Pereyra's goal was a brilliant goal,” said Phil Neville on Match of the Day. “One of the best goals you will see in the Premier League this season, the way he dances round players, in and out and past three or four players – and a great finish at the end with the composure.”
It was so tough to choose between Pereyra's and Deulofeu's, so Gracia offered an alternative view.
“I prefer the last one,” he said, which tells you everything you need to know about his style of management, where the team always comes before any individual. The playbook routine was clearly something they had been working on. They tried it at Wolves but it didn't come off, so they worked at it some more.”
“It's exciting to see what we are doing in training happen in the game,” said Success.
The fact Success was the executioner was fitting as, with the exception of Étienne Capoue, no player has blossomed more under Gracia's management. He is starting to look like the player who gave Pablo Zabaleta the run-around at the Etihad in December 2016.
In a couple of first-half minutes, he rolled his man superbly to set up a raid down the left and then won a free-kick deep in his own half after tracking back and doing some donkey work. The way he muscularly shrugged off Jonathan Hogg and Christopher Schindler in the same second-half move was a stunning display of raw strength and was testament to the extra gym work he did before the team even reported back for pre-season.
“I am so happy because I struggled last season,” said Success. “I've come back to the team and have had a few opportunities from the coach. I've been trying to fit in the team.”
Ben Foster, meanwhile, looks like he has never been away. He made seven saves on Saturday – the most he previously made was the four against Manchester United – and let's not forget the way he hared off his line in the second half to legally clean out Laurent Depoitre in a way Christian Kabasele would have been proud of.
“Foster played well and this speaks volumes,” said Wagner. “It was a top performance.”
It is hard to look beyond Foster's display in that FA Cup quarter-final against Plymouth in 2007 as his best in a Watford shirt, but this ran it close. A lot has changed at the club in the years between Foster's two spells, but rarely has the outlook been so promising and some of the most eagle-eyed pundits are really starting to sit up and take notice of what, slowly and stealthily, is happening in this south-west corner of Hertfordshire.
“Watford are a good side,” said Gary Lineker. “They play some really good football.”
Photo credits: Sol Tomlinson & Sam Lomas