Opposition Focus | Tottenham Hotspur
Former Watford Observer sports reporter Tom Allnutt, who now covers Tottenham for the Press Association, gives us the inside track on Saturday's visitors.
Spurs are without a win in three league matches. Would it be fair to say they are in the middle of a sticky spell?
“Their form is not very good at the moment, they've had a real dip since the Real Madrid double header and gone off the boil. It might be a good time to play them.”
Can you pinpoint any reason for the mini slump?
"There are a few factors, really. They've had some big Champions League games against Real and Dortmund, which may have taken a lot out of them.
“Toby Alderweireld has also been out injured and he's a key miss. They've had to shuffle the team round, particularly with regards to moving Eric Dier into the back three. That has left them light in central midfield. Dembele has also been struggling with injury and they've had to deal without him, which has been a big blow.
“They had a similar dip this time last year and were quite poor. They made it up over Christmas, January and February to storm back to challenge for the title but the squad is still thin and they really rely on 12-13 players. They still don't have the depth that Man United, Chelsea and Man City have.”
We saw a tweet from you earlier in the week that Spurs have won half the number of games as they had before Pochettino released his reveal-all book. Do you think that it's a factor then?
“When it came out, I just thought it was a strange thing to do for a manager who puts such high importance on things staying in-house and who likes trustworthiness and everyone being close together. A lot of private conversations have been revealed with players who are still there.
“And even though there was plenty said about Kyle Walker who has left, he still has a lot of friends there, so it just seemed a bit of an odd thing to do. I certainly don't think it's the only thing [behind the dip in form] but perhaps players are less quick to follow Poch like they used to and hustle less than they did before. It's not quite a black and white issue but the results since the book came out certainly show a dip in form.”
Is Dele Alli not playing not quite as well as he was?
“It's a funny one with him. He's the kind of player who can have an average game yet still score twice and lay on another. He's one of those players who doesn't contribute much to a game but then, all of a sudden, can make the difference. If he doesn’t score or assist he can be fairly anonymous and look quite sloppy. His goal record is still pretty good and let's not forget he scored twice against Real Madrid and is still only 21.
“His consistency is not quite there yet and he gives the ball away a bit too much but he's still an incredible talent. He hasn’t been quite as good as last season but he's a high-risk player and takes chances others wouldn't.”
You mentioned Alderweireld earlier. Just how big a loss is he to injury?
“He's a great defender and a big miss. There are not many better than him right now. He's really important to the way Tottenham attack as he's so good at playing out from the back. His distribution is good off both feet; he can pass long or short and is almost like Xabi Alonso in the way he plays from the base of midfield. The transition from defence to midfield is not quite as smooth when he's not playing. They miss him going forward and defensively.
“He also makes others around him better. Davinson Sanchez made a great start for a player of his age and where he came from, but he's made a few mistakes in recent weeks and I think it's no coincidence that's happened because Alderweireld hasn't been there. He makes others play better.”
So, Alderweireld is definitely out with a hamstring problem. Anyone else?
“Wanyama will definitely be out with a knee problem. He won't be back until the end of the year. Dembele is always a question mark. He's got some ongoing niggles so there's a chance he might play. Winks has been ill this week so I guess he'll have to be assessed but I'd think he would be fine. Apart from that you've just got the rotation of the full-backs. Rose and Aurier played against Leicester so I'm guessing it will be Trippier and Ben Davies on Saturday.”
One big boost must be the return of Erik Lamela...
“He made his first appearance in over a year against Leicester and the expectation was that he'd need a lot of time, as he's been out for so long. Apparently he's been fit for a few weeks and was ready to play but his confidence was just a bit vulnerable.
“He didn't feel ready. However, he looked really sharp against Leicester and set up Kane's goal. I don't think he'll start, unless Poch decides to roll the dice, and he'll most likely be on the bench. He'll be important in the next few weeks when the games come thick and fast. He can really pick a pass and his workrate really sets the tone.”
Is there a feeling Pochettino might not know his best side?
“Spurs have a pretty set lineup, especially with the attacking trio of Eriksen, Ali and Kane up front. That's pretty settled. Injuries have left him short in the centre of midfield and he always rotates the full-backs. I think one of the problems this season has just been a combination of injuries and players not playing as well as they did last season.”
The Hemel Hempstead-born Harry Winks won't have far to travel on Saturday. How's he been performing?
“He's doing really well and is one of the real success stories of the season. Every time he plays he shows no fear. I watched him at the Bernabeu, against the likes of Luka Modric and Tony Kroos. He got the ball in the first two or three minutes and instead of playing the obvious, simple pass he made a big switch across the pitch. He has the ability to play his game against the top players.
“He just doesn't give the ball away and, refreshingly, he's not been over coached and always looks to play forward and be really positive. The biggest compliment you can pay him is that the team hasn't really missed Dembele.”
Spurs played us off the park in this fixture last season and also won a highly-charged game at Vicarage Road in 2015.
“Spurs have got a pretty good record there – and Trippier certainly loves playing at Vicarage Road, but they are coming up against the best Watford side in years and it's not the sort of game you'd want when you really need a win.
“Spurs like it at Vicarage Road as they have a bit of space to play on the break and they'll be slightly more optimistic than if the game was at Wembley.”
This feels a more motivated and talented Watford side than the one you've played in the last two seasons, though...
“You look really, really good. You've made good starts in each of the previous two seasons but it looks like Silva will keep driving them on to push into the top half, possibly even the top eight. You seem to have so many players who are confident and playing above themselves. Some of them look really talented.
“I like the look of Kabasele – he's having a good season and I thought Feminía had a great game against Chelsea. And everybody knows just how good Richarlison is. I expect Silva will have a good gameplan and you'll fancy your chances of taking at least a point on Saturday.”