First Team 11/01/2018

“The Summer Is Always Better”

Watch the full 10-minute interview with Filippo Giraldi above free, no sign-up required. 

“We are extremely happy with our squad,” remarked Watford Technical Director Filippo Giraldi as he spoke to the cameras this week.

As we approach the halfway point of this January transfer window, the Hornets are yet to add to their ranks. Giraldi outlined a focus on restoring key injured players to the squad, and said the club would not be making additions for the sake of a fresh face.

The Italian, who has worked as a lead component in the Hornets' recruitment team since the Pozzo family took ownership of the club in 2012, gave a refreshing view on what he billed the 'emergency market'.

“Usually we use the January transfer window to correct what is wrong, or if there has been issues like injury,” he explained. 

“We have done that in the past with Niang and Cleverley, there was an opportunity and we took the opportunity - as we will do this year if the right opportunity comes. But, we are extremely happy with our squad. We think we have a very talented and well-balanced squad.”

Injuries, short and long-term, have prevented Head Coach Marco Silva from working with the club's full arsenal of talent, as the Hornets sit in a respectable 10th place in the Premier League after 22 games – their best position at this stage of a season since promotion. 

Watford fans have seen key summer signings Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah in exciting but all too brief glimpses. The impressive Kiko Femenía has missed the last five. Miguel Britos hasn’t been seen in a Watford shirt since November, Younès Kaboul longer still. 

It is hoped the return of these and other important first-team players will play a crucial role in the second half of the season.

Nathaniel Chalobah was called up for the England squad before a knee injury halted his progress with the Hornets

“We need to recover some of the injured players,“ Giraldi admitted. 

“If you look at some of the injured players, we are without Chalobah, Hughes, Kaboul, Britos, Kiko, and Cathcart until now, very important players for us that have not been part of this group and when they were playing this team were top five, top six in the table. 

“Our most important thing now is to recover the injured players and if the right opportunity comes, as always, we will take it. 

“It is also very important to keep our best players, and we will try to do everything to keep all of them. We want to become a stronger team every year, so our intention is to make this team better every time.”

Giraldi noted the club's preference for signing players between seasons without ruling out bringing in players this month who could improve the squad. 

“The summer window is more important than January,” he said. 

“They [new players] have more time, they have the whole of pre-season to adapt to the team and the ideas of the coach so it's always a better time to have players coming in.

“It's good for me to explain how we are working. We never stop. Our club is always ready to sign players. We are in daily discussion with Scott [Duxbury] and Gino [Pozzo] to see what we can do. 

“Watford will never stop trying to sign top and talented players. We have already signed players who are doing very well in their development that are not necessarily under the lights. 

“We have a striker who is the most sensational player, in the Segunda Division in Spain. He's doing very well, a lot of big clubs have already approached us. He will have his development there and when he is ready he will come to Watford. 

“We have plenty of contact, and we have agreed in principle a deal with some players but we like to keep that for ourselves for the moment. Once the time will be ready, you will know.”


Opposition Focus | Southampton

Big Saints fan Tim Dykes, who used to edit the sports pages of the Watford Observer, tells us all we need to know about Saturday's opponents...

What on earth has gone wrong at Southampton?

Watford fans could be forgiven for thinking Saints have got their just desserts for sacking Claude Puel - but it wasn't finishing eighth and reaching the League Cup final that cost the Frenchman his job, it was the joyless brand of football his team repeatedly served up. And if anything, it's got worse.

In Mauricio Pellegrino, the club have managed to appoint somebody even less ambitious than Puel - and his tactical naivety and unwillingness to make positive substitutions are sources of increasingly vocal frustration among supporters.

The few optimists amongst us are clinging to the hope that whatever malaise a sulky Virgil van Dijk had brought upon the training ground has now lifted and that the first of the five wins probably required to survive will come at Vicarage Road, but that would require abandoning the brand of toothless, possession-based football Pellegrino seems to favour.

Who's joining Van Dijk at Liverpool next summer?

Yes, very good. Former Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina is head and shoulders our most valuable player - combative, energetic, great touch and vision - but he's been hampered by a sore ankle for months and has only managed six full games in 16 appearances. Besides Lemina, the squad is now sorely lacking players who could realistically hope for moves to top six clubs.

How about the famed Saints Academy - who's next off the conveyor belt?

The production line has dried up a bit, largely due to a lack of first team opportunities. It was relatively easy to blood the likes of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana on our way up through the leagues but the brightest young talents - such as Harrison Reed and Sam Gallagher - have had to go on loan to Championship clubs in search of regular football since graduating. It can work out, though. Jack Stephens spent years on loan at Swindon and Middlesbrough and is now a bona fide first team regular.

Is the squad fully fit?

Charlie Austin is out until at least March thanks to a hamstring injury and with Manolo Gabbiadini out of favour, few Saints fans will be surprised to see goal-shy Shane Long asked to lead the line again.

With Cedric Soares still sidelined and doubts over his deputy Jeremy Pied's fitness, the Saints have a yawning hole at right back.

Untested Polish centre-half Jan Bednarek made a nervy appearance there against Fulham last weekend and, unless Pellegrino switches to three at the back, the 6ft4in Pole may retain his place at Vicarage Road. Richarlison could have a field day.

Having suffered concussion, Wesley Hoedt may not be cleared in time to feature, in which case Stephens and Maya Yoshida will form the centre-half pairing.

Southampton sit 17th in the Premier League table, clear of the bottom three only on goal difference

How will the rest of the team line up?

The only thing Fraser Forster seemed able to hold in 2017 was his starting position - a repeated frustration for the fans until Alex McCarthy was finally given the nod. Two clean sheets in his three appearances so far suggests he will retain the gloves.

Ryan Bertrand will play at left wing back feeding a safety-first midfield likely to be made up of Lemina, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and serial card collector Oriol Romeu. Behind Long, Pellegrino is likely to keep faith in Sofiane Boufal and one-paced Dusan Tadic, although James Ward-Prowse's rare goal from open play last weekend won't have harmed his claims for a starting berth.

What have you made of Watford this season?

Watford's run of defeats against unfancied opposition in December came as something of a surprise to Saints fans. Our game at St Mary's in September saw Southampton produce the sort of performance that has set the tone for the season, while Watford seemed strong, fast-paced and direct.

Everyone talks about Richarlison but Andre Carrillo was outstanding that afternoon. Based on that display we expected Watford to be knocking on the door of a Europa Cup spot and apart from a freak defeat against Stoke, with a confident young manager and some talented players, everything looked rosey until recently.

I doubt we can read too much into the result against Bristol City, who had two eyes on their League Cup tie — so it's unclear whether you're back on track.

How do you expect the game to pan out?

Regardless of who scores first, it's almost inevitable that Watford will score last. Under Pellegrino, Saints seem incapable of building on a lead and consistently invite pressure in the second half of matches.