By Kevin Affleck
Abdoulaye Doucouré accepts Watford, given their red-hot form, will go into the game against Manchester United with an increased sense of expectation, believing victory over the Red Devils is no longer the outside bet it once was.
With four thrilling wins out of four and 12 points already in the bag, the game at Saturday tea time could be viewed as something of a free hit for the Hornets, a game in any other season they would be expected to lose and where anything else would be viewed as a bonus.
But there has been such a mentality shift at the training ground and confidence levels are so high that there is a genuine belief in the squad that they could make it five from five by toppling the 13-time Premier League winners. After all, Tottenham wiped the floor with United at Old Trafford and yet the Golden Boys ambushed the same Spurs side at Vicarage Road.
“Tottenham was a big test for us and now against United it's a bigger test,” said Doucouré. “Now everyone expects Watford to win. Manchester United will respect us a little bit more, and if we can do something good on Saturday it will be a good thing for the squad.”
United head to Vicarage Road mindful of the fact that the Golden Boys rolled them over in 2016 for the first time in 30 years and that no team has won more home games than the Hornets since Javi Gracia turned up in January.
“We play good at home because we are more comfortable,” said Doucouré. “We have our fans and our family there and we want to show good things in front of them. It will be perfect conditions on Saturday.
“United have very good players, a very good squad, a great manager – and you have to respect them – but this year we are in good condition and we play at home like we did against Tottenham. We have to take our chances.”
The match will pitch Doucouré against Pogba in a tasty midfield battle. Throw in Étienne Capoue and there is a really Gallic flavour to the contest in the centre of the park. Doucouré goes way back with Pogba, all the way to their days in the France Under-16 side. The pair were swapping messages during this summer's World Cup.
“I know Paul for a long time,” Doucouré said. “It is always great to play against him. I want to play well against him and help my team and win the midfield battle and win the game. If Paul is a little bit less for his team I'm sure it's good for us.”
The Hornets did minimal transfer business this summer and that continuity has done wonders for the consistency of performance. In came Ben Foster, Gerard Deulofeu, Ken Sema, Marc Navarro, Ben Wilmot and Adam Masina, but arguably the most important signature was the one Doucouré put on a new improved five-year contract.
“I'm very happy,” said the midfielder. “I signed my contract and we won four games so far. There was a lot of speculation last summer, but I am always focusing on Watford and my football. I am very happy with my new deal, with this project, and with this club. I am very happy to stay at Watford and I want to take my level as high as possible this year.”
Doucouré has been solid if unspectacular so far this season, and has been allowed to ease himself back into action following an injury-disrupted pre-season because Capoue has been so commanding alongside him. Capoue has made more tackles and interceptions combined than any other player in Europe's top five leagues this season. The most exciting thing is that the team have won four from four and yet Doucouré, the double Player of the Season winner, is yet to hit peak form.
“Last year I scored a lot of goals but this year I have one assist,” Doucouré said. “It is not my priority to score – it's to defend. I will score some goals this season I'm sure, but the most important thing is to keep my level and work hard.”
Gracia has named an unchanged team for four straight matches and all the outfield players in the starting XI were ones who finished last season, suggesting Gracia is getting the best out of what he already had at his disposal and that the new players will have to work hard to get their place in the team.
“We don't change a lot the team,” Doucouré said. “We've got very good players and we kept all the players apart from Richarlison. We have a lot of new players in the team, not in the starting XI, but they have good mentality. When we score a goal everyone is together. I didn't play when I arrived for six months but I kept my level, I got my chance and I took it. It's the same for some players on the bench and out of the squad now. They have to keep their mentality and stay together.”
The team spirit is evident to anyone who has seen the Hornets play or train this season. The squad look energised, together and there is a sense of fun and adventure in the way they are going about their business. There has even been talk in the media about the Hornets doing a Leicester.
“Seriously, no,” said Doucouré. “It's only four games, it's nothing. The championship is very long. We had a good start last year and we know everything can change very quickly in the Premier League. We are not the new Leicester. It's hard to compete against the big teams, but we won against Tottenham and we can win against anyone.”