Gracia | “This Is Our Challenge”
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Javi Gracia came into his weekly press conference with an iPad under his arm. He's clearly been doing his research this week on Saturday's free-scoring opponents and he's keeping his game-plan close to hand.
Some of the clips on his tablet of Liverpool in full flow will make for pretty scary viewing, but the Head Coach is not daunted. This is a coach who shut out Barcelona twice during their treble-winning season when they slammed in 110 league goals. He's been here before.
"I know Anfield is very difficult for us, but we are looking forward to the match," said Gracia.
"I know if you see they are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, they are top four of the Premier League and it is not easy as no-one won in Anfield [in the league] this season. If we give them the facilities we gave against Arsenal it will be impossible to get points there."
Gracia sounded like a man who has really done his homework when he rattled off the fact that the Reds have scored 68 goals on the counter-attack and are the sixth top scorers in European football this season, facts that only serve to illustrate the size of the task facing the Hornets. But, having said that, he's not going to Anfield to park the bus. He feels there will only be one outcome if they do that.
"I know if we play an open game against Liverpool we have a lot of chances to lose the game," he said. "We need to have a balance to be able to defend, but we need to attack as well. If you play this match only thinking about defending you are going to lose for sure.
"It's very important to minimise the mistakes but I think the best mentality is not to start the game thinking about minimising. We need to be very concentrated, focused on the game, and we need to try to win and look for chances to win the match and to score.
"We need to be careful about some players because they score three, four, five, sometimes seven goals [in games this season]. It's very important to be very concentrated."
You suspect Gracia has stressed that point in training this week, how they can ill-afford to give Liverpool a headstart similar to the one they gave Arsenal at the Emirates after only nine minutes. It could be a long afternoon if they do.
"The first goal we conceded changed the match for us," he said. "We conceded an early goal. We tried all the match and created many chances, but when you don't score it's difficult to have options to win the match. They score the second goal on the counter-attack and then it's very difficult for us."
The three goals conceded at the Emirates were disappointing as it ruined a good defensive spell for the Hornets, one that had seen only three goals shipped in five games. It's clear keeping the back door shut was Gracia's main priority when he took charge.
"At the beginning I tried to improve what I thought was necessary," he said. "The defence is an important thing — and set pieces, attacking and defending we need to improve. We try, day by day, to improve our level of defending."
On the back of more solid foundations at the back, the team is certainly on the rise and with eight games to go they should beat the 40 points they collected last season, and maybe even eclipse the haul of 45 they harvested the campaign before that.
"I don't know what happened other seasons, but this moment we need points to achieve our target," Gracia said.
"I don't know how many points we are able to get, but I would like to improve on the last seasons. I like to do a better job in the last eight games. I think we are in a good moment and we try to do our best. For us the next three points are most important. This is our challenge and we try to do it."