First Team 11/01/2019

Gracia: “I Am Happy, But I Always Want More”

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.”

First Team 10/01/2019

Team News: Crystal Palace

Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.

By Kevin Affleck

A delighted Javi Gracia will have a bumper squad to choose from this weekend after reporting positive news from the treatment room.

The Head Coach said this afternoon that Andre Gray and Christian Kabasele both returned to full training with the team this afternoon, meaning Sebastian Prödl (knee) is the only player out injured. 

"We have 26 players ready," said Gracia ahead of the game at Crystal Palace. "This is good news for us."

Gray has recovered from the lower leg problem that has seen him sidelined since the home defeat to Manchester City at the start of last month, while Kabasele has been passed fit after the heavy blow to the left-hand side of his upper body against Chelsea. 

Gracia must now decide if a couple of days' training is enough for the pair to be considered for the game at Selhurst Park.

"It's a little bit soon for them to play in one or two days, but we'll see," said Gracia. "We have more options and I think it will be better if we continue, keep training and we'll see their evolution."

Gray could find himself fighting it out with Adalberto Peñaranda for the second striking option Gracia ideally likes to have on the bench. Stefano Okaka was on the bench five times this season, but he has joined Udinese on loan in search of regular opportunities, thus creating an opening for one of the other strikers.

"First of all, speaking about Stefano, in my opinion he is a great player and a great person as well," said the Head Coach.

"He was very important for the squad, not for minutes he can play but for many other things. In this moment the club, the player and me thought it was better to make this step and to go on loan for rest of the season. In this position, we have many strikers, many different options and it was better for all of us to make this decision."

Marvin Zeegelaar has also joined Okaka at the Serie A side owned by Giampaolo Pozzo.

"Marvin is another situation, as Okaka was with the team," said Gracia of the left-back who last played for the first team in February of last year against West Ham.

"I didn't speak with him in this case, but the club speak with him and they decide it was better to make this step."

It would not be a press conference right now without a question about the coveted Abdoulaye Doucouré.

"I can't tell you anything different as nothing has changed," said Gracia. "He keeps training in the same way he was doing and, in this moment, everybody knows, he is playing well, scoring goals and he is a very important player for me. I don't have any new news. For me, he's in the same point as the last weeks."

So many mangers or coaches use press conferences at this time of year to plead for more players, to send a message to the board or the owner that they are one or two short, but not Gracia.

"I am happy with the squad I have," said the Head Coach. "I think with the players we have, we can complete a very good season and if, in one week or in some days, something changes, we'll see and I'll tell you what I think about that. I prefer to value my players because they deserve it. We need to be ambitious and demanding with the players we have."