Can Watford ride Richarlison and Gerard Deulofeu up the table into an Europa League spot?
Watford put in their best performance of the season in taking down defending champions Chelsea, 4-1 on Feb. 5. A beautiful Eden Hazard goal in the 81’ minute cancelled out Troy Deeney’s 1st half goal from the penalty spot before a flurry of late goals from Watford saw them pull away and capture the three points.
Daryl Janmaat quickly answered Hazard’s strike in the 83’ minute with a left-footed finish off a give and go in the box. Gerard Deulofeu, just arrived on loan from Barcelona, added a third with a slightly deflected goal, and Roberto Pereyra scored the final goal with a powerful strike after gathering himself from a fake shot.
The hosts played with a man advantage for most of the match after Chelsea midfielder Tiémoué Bakayoko received his second yellow for a bad challenge on Richarlison in the 30’ minute. But Watford was creating chances before the Blues were reduced to 10 men
powered by Richarlison and Deulofeu putting constant pressure on Chelsea’s backline.
Richarlison has been the most exciting Watford player throughout the season and should be courted by bigger teams this summer. He’s been a threat on the left side, consistently taking on defenders and cutting onto his favored right foot for shots.
His new running mate was slotted in a more central role, playing behind Richarlison and Deeney, but was having most of his success running on the right. He was fouled by Thibaut Courtois to give Watford the penalty kick, and gave problems to Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and David Luiz all night.
This tandem gives new Watford manager Javi Gracia pace and creativity on both flanks, making this team more dangerous on the counter. Watford have captured eight of a possible 24 points against the big six clubs this season, but Richarlison and Deulofeu present a speedy problem on the break when those bigger clubs commit men forward, especially when considering how shaky most of the big six are in the back.
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Deulofeu’s arrival takes pressure off of Richarlison while forcing opponents to prepare and handle attacks on both sides of the pitch. When the game slows down or when they have to break down a non big six team, they have multiple players that can take on defenders and create for themselves and others.
Watford find themselves middle of the Premier League table six points clear of safety. They have the players and momentum to avoid being in a serious relegation fight, but there’s a chance for this club to make their second ever appearance (1983-84 UEFA Cup) into European competition.
The Hornets find themselves six points behind seventh placed Burnley, and could climb up the table into the final European slot. They have quality attacking players, a surprisingly deep squad and understand this could be the final months with Richarlison and Deulofeu playing for them. A European spot may entice Richarlison to stick around for one more season, and allow Watford to cash in on his talents after another campaign.
Overall, Watford has been one of the better teams outside of the top six to watch this season. Richarlison is always a delight, Deeney makes life miserable for opponents with his physicality, and now Deulofeu adds another spark to their attack. We will see if this attack, duo in particular, can vault them to a Europa League bid.