Gracia: “We've Created An Atmosphere”
Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.
by Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia had his feet firmly planted on the floor when he spoke to the media at London Colney on Friday. He is not about to get too carried away by the Hornets starting the season with two impressive wins from two, just like he was not getting too downbeat by the team's away form last season. Gracia is a pretty level-headed cookie.
He is just focussing on creating a consistency of performance that means, by and large, the results will look after themselves. He wants this good run of form to be something sustainable and not just a flash in the pan.
“It is always important to start well,” said the Head Coach. “We have played only two games and they are two important wins, but it's only two games. It's only the beginning. It's a good moment for us, but I know we need to keep calm and know bad results will arrive in the future and it will be better to arrive there with not only good results, but having created something we can believe in.”
Crucially, the players look like they believe in what Gracia is preaching on the training ground. They, for example, are executing the press he likes to the letter and also buying in to his tactical flexibility. At Burnley, they switched seamlessly from a classic 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 to close the game out.
“4-4-2 or 4-3-3 are numbers for me,” he said. “The most important thing is the quality of players. I cannot tell you if in two or four games we may change. The players not playing in this moment keep the level of the team.”
This reinvigorated group of players appear to have benefited from reporting back for pre-season training to find the same coach in-situ. Gracia laid the foundations at the back-end of last season and is now, with a bit more time, slowly building the rest of the house.
“It will be better to start with the coach you know from the last season because you don't need time to adapt to new things, new training, new situations,” Gracia said.
“For me, to do a good job in pre-season was important to have the possibility in these games to compete at the level we did. The spirit is important, we create a style of play where the players feel comfortable, where they feel part of something. We've created an atmosphere and we are showing all our features.”
A remodelled and refocussed Troy Deeney, in particular, is thriving in the new environment. He gave Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk a real searching examination without any personal rewards against Brighton, and then got the reward of an assist and a goal in a towering performance against Burnley. He looks a player reborn.
“I don't need to see Troy score goals to know how important he is for us,” said Gracia. “I always say in this team, we don't always depend on the strikers to score goals. We have players like Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes to score goals as well. We know Troy is very important for us, scoring or not scoring.”
Gracia is also getting the best out of Hughes. The Head Coach had to wait a while to use Hughes as he was injured when he turned up, but he is quickly emerging as one of his go-to and most trusted players.
“I know it [his quality] and I knew it from the first day I saw him,” said Gracia. “You can see he is a different player, a high-quality player, always with a big commitment with the team. He has a lot of ambition.”
This team has lofty ambitions and there is an expectation now following a haul of six points from two games. Palace are next up and we know there is never a dull moment when the Hornets meet the Eagles.
“All the games against Palace are always very close,” said Gracia. “There are not many chances. I think this next game will not be different. We try to keep our level, keep our style of play and play at home, with support of our fans, we feel better.”
The game also pitches the Hornets against Wilfried Zaha, the mercurial Palace winger who has been booked for simulation in each of the last two fixtures between the two sides. Gracia respects Zaha's ability but will not be making any special plans for him.
“Our plan is always different,” he said. “You play against someone and you need to adapt. We are going to play against Palace with two good strikers. They score a lot on the counterattack and you have to adapt different things. It's not something different because we play against a special player or not.”
The match will also give Gracia the chance to pit his wits against Roy Hodgson. The pair must rank as two of the nicest men in football.
“I met him last season and I was speaking with him for a short time, but I could see his very nice person,” said Gracia. “It's a pleasure for me to speak with someone of that experience. It's an honour to meet him.”