First Team 28/07/2019

Gracia: “We Prefer To Compete Well & Detect Our Defects”

By Kevin Affleck

Head Coach Javi Gracia got exactly what he was looking for out of the demanding pre-season friendly with Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.

With The Rs just one week out from their league opener against Stoke City, Gracia knew QPR would go at it hammer and tongs and give his side something of a searching examination fitness-wise in their penultimate work-out fixture.

Mark Warburton’s side certainly asked a few questions in the first half, particularly through Bright Osayi-Samuel, and the Hornets had to have their defensive wits about them in a game that had more than a few similarities to the fifth round FA Cup tie at Loftus Road in February.

“I think QPR played really well,” said Gracia after the 1-0 win. “In my opinion they were not physical – tactically they are a good team. We knew that and that is why we wanted to play against them. We knew it would be demanding for us. It is a good moment to continue against good teams. We prefer to compete well and to detect our defects. That allows us to improve for our next game.”

Slowly but surely, the Hornets are building nicely towards the opening day. They took the lead against Champions League semi-finalists Ajax, knocked over Bayern Leverkusen and them ramped things up intensity-wise against the Championship outfit. 

“Our main target is to accumulate minutes and compete against good teams,” said Gracia. “Then we want players in good condition with no injuries. In this moment, the players are tired but this is normal. Afterwards I am sure we will be better. We could compete now but I think we need more time to be better. The next two weeks will be important for us to train but at the same time to rest because now we won’t have the same amount of training sessions. We need to rest a little bit. We will be ready soon.

“Our target is just to try and win our first game and after that, the second game. This way, this mentality, I think is the best when you look very, very far, it is not good.”

Gracia played three at the back against QPR for an hour in what felt like the first time since the away game with Liverpool last year.

“To be honest, it was one shape we don’t usually play but sometimes we do it,” he said. “I thought it was a good chance for us to do it because we had some players with characteristics today that made it a good option to combine the players we had with that shape. I think it was good.”

First Team 27/07/2019

Pre-Season Report: QPR 0-1 Watford

By Kevin Affleck

Different season but it was the same old story for Étienne Capoue at Loftus Road today. 

The Frenchman broke The Rs hearts with an FA Cup winner here in February and he was at it again this afternoon at the same end. Obviously, a goal in a friendly here is loose change compared to a strike that sends you into the quarter-final of the most famous cup competition in the world, but what it does show is the laconic midfielder is not picking and choosing.

He tried to caress the ball into the far corner after half-an-hour of this lively friendly, like he did in the cup tie, but it took a wicked deflection off Ryan Manning and gave Joe Lumley no chance in the QPR goal, completely wrong-footing the goalkeeper. Capoue didn’t celebrate, as he knew it was only a friendly and that it was more than a touch fortuitous, but he will be quietly pleased that he was in the position to have a strike at goal and that he is sort of off the mark this season.

It was a strange old start for the team and Capoue, who unusually gave the ball carelessly away in the middle of the park within five minutes. You thought for a minute, ‘Oh, it’s going to be one of those friendlies,’  - and it could well have been as QPR had a right good go early on. 

Bright Osayi-Samuel hit the inside of the post; Ben Foster made a hash of a cross from the same player; there was indecision between Foster and Sebastian Prödl that almost let in the forward again; it took a brilliant tackle from the returning Prödl to thwart Manning and Ebere Eze while Foster rushed off his line to make a flying header on the edge of the box. It wasn’t quite the onslaught we faced in the cup game but it wasn’t far off.

The Hornets’ best moment of the first half came when Troy Deeney saw a header cleared off the line by Manning after Craig Dawson had flicked on a corner from Adam Masina. That was really about it. It therefore came a bit against the run of play when Capoue put the visitors in front after a third of the game. The 1,017 Watford fans accepted it gratefully nonetheless. 

Javi Gracia made eight pre-planned changes after an hour but before then, his side could have extended their lead at the start of the second half as they threatened to move through the gears. Kiko Femenía had a cross-shot tipped over; Lumley made a smart save from a Dawson header; Isaac Success had one blocked from close range by Dominic Ball and then Deeney did everything to lay one on a plate for Will Hughes, like he did against Leverkusen, only for the midfield schemer to be off target with his effort. 

Either side of the raft of replacements, Luke Amos flashed one dangerously across the face and then Foster, like he did at Brighton, needed his feet to prevent one from the lively Osayi-Samuel creeping into the corner. 

Stefano Okaka almost managed to sneak one inside the upright himself towards the end for the Hornets but replacement Liam Kelly scrambled it behind for a corner and 1-0 it stayed, just like it was five months ago. The result was the most important thing that night but here there was the bigger picture of building towards the Brighton game.

HORNETS: Foster (GK): Dawson (Cathart 60), Prödl (Mariappa 60), Kabasele (Foulquier 60); Femenía (Janmaat 60), Capoue (Cleverley 60), Hughes, Quina, Masina (Sema 60); Deeney (c) (Okaka 60), Success (Gray 60).

Subs not used: Bachmann, Gomes.