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Watford in summary
at 23:15 30 Jul 2016

I came away from that impressed and encouraged by what I saw. It only took me five-minutes to realise we’ve improved from last season in lots of different ways.

It’s pre-season though, so you can’t get carried away both good or bad results and performances. These matches can be hard because the environment and circumstances are not the same as a competitive match.

But here is what I took away that I thought was really good.

Jake Bidwell and Jordon Cousins have improved us and their athleticism and mobility have altered the dynamics of the team. While we all love Clint Hill and Alejandro Faurlin, I thought it was really obvious the team were able to move up and down the pitch and compress and press the play much more easily here.

In addition, there are other improvements these two bring. Not only was Cousins’ positioning excellent, he read the play well and made some excellent interceptions before making simple passes to players in better positions. That’s crucial, as it’s easy to do too much and this allowed us to make some rapid counter attacks. He was also very vocal and I’m impressed by his tactical awareness. He guided other players into better defensive positions and continuously checked on those around him to make sure they were where they needed to be.

For Bidwell, there was a moment in the first-half where Grant Hall was hurt in a challenge as Watford threatened to break through. Bidewell spotted the danger from the other side and the speed he came across to cover and help was first-class. It’s this difference in tactical awareness and mentality that bodes well for us. Bidwell also used the ball very well and made simple passes, and the timing and distance of some of his passes put us and himself in some better attacking positions. If he carries on in that vein all season, he will become a clear contender for a player of the season shout. I really liked how he never passed too soon, which is a mistake a lot of defenders can make who don't quite have the creative aptitude of those in front of them.

But what about the rest?

Sebastian Polter put in a performance here that was his best for the club. It might be a pre-season match, but he led the line terrifically well and was a handful for Watford. He looked fitter, sharper and more confident and I was impressed by how much improvement we saw with his basics like his first touch, his hold up play, his ability to bring others into play and the timing of his runs and body style to win headers and flick ons. But he also had that burst and thrust that he didn’t have last season. He hit the bar with a fantastic header, but the goal he scored was utterly superb. He was able to take the ball around the penalty box, turn and get the ball out of his feet in order to take the touch that allowed him to power past his marker and fire home. A great strikers goal. If he plays like that consistently in the Championship, he will be one of the most feared strikers in the division. He linked well with Tjarron Chery as well, who was also very lively and found space between the lines excellently.

There was a nice balance about us throughout the match, and we looked decent and assured both in defence and attack. I liked how Chery pressed the defensive midfielder of the other team from behind if they had possession of the ball and how he and Polter dropped deep to make a wall that was difficult for the opposition to penetrate when they had the ball.

I liked how the defence dealt with Deeney and Ighalo, who were a handful, but who we managed to snuff out with some assurance. The defence looked comfortable on the ball and confident about where to hold their line and knew they had the pace to recover from a higher line.

We seldom wasted the ball when in possession too. We were calm and made good use of it, and we didn’t go direct too soon, but we didn’t hang around and dally on it too long either, and that’s because the midfield was mobile and full of technical players who were able to pick passes, play triangles, switch play or recycle possession appropriately. It helped that Polter was really on his game too, because they were able to go direct occasionally and know that he was likely to win his dual if they put it in the right vicinity.

I was also impressed at how well we pressed the play. We seemed to know when to press collectively and when to hold collectively and that allowed us to remain solid when without the ball and dangerous when we won it and could hit on the counter.

We pinched the ball high up the pitch on a couple of occasions, but it was how well we dealt with the transitions and turnover of play that impressed me most. We were fast if we lost possession, but even better if we were countering ourselves. We moved the ball quickly and seemed to know where to put it, which led to plenty of decent attacking moves that led to chances on goal.

All in all, there were some positive building blocks there to work with. If I were JFH, I’d have been very happy with that ahead of the Leeds match.

Obviously you can’t always tell how things will pan out when the real thing kicks in, and whether we will be a counter attacking team or one that’s going to have to try and break the opposition down. Here we looked excellent on the counter at times, but still did well when we had decent bouts of possession and played some really good football in patches. So it will be interesting to see how we cope with those scenarios once the season is underway.

The squad may be a little bit thin in depth, but we look like we have a fairly strong first eleven, who if we can keep fit and fresh, have more than enough about them to do well.

I think the key positions for me from watching that would actually be left midfield and right back, which is we can make consistent improvements to the performance levels in those areas, then we’ll be a very decent team indeed.

I heard some people complaining at the match, even when we were playing well, and saying that we looked a bit short and thin for players, but there's still a month to go before the window shuts and we'll very likely add to the squad before it closes.

The main thing is not to panic, there's plenty of time, and if I were the club, given the market rates we should think about the loan market if we're being priced out. We also need to be aware that with all the money in the Premier League, there is still a chance we could lose some players that we don't want to. But I'm sure the club realise that and have a plan of action for some of those possibilities.

I for one am looking forward to the season. I think we've made some very decent progress, and have signed well this summer and improved the first-team and have plenty of players in the ranks who are now in their second season and ready to take the next step forward too. While I don't know where we'll end up, my current feeling is we will be better overall than last time around.

p.s. kit and crest look superb. So happy with them.
[Post edited 30 Jul 2016 23:25]
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