Monday night saw Sean Dyche take on his former team in Watford. Watford have been in fine form in recent weeks, impressing against a poor Manchester United side and beating West Ham in extraordinary circumstances – coming back from 2-0 down to win 4-2. So the 1,400 travelling Watford fans were in high spirits before the game with many expecting points, particularly against a Burnley side who had gone a disappointing four games on the bounce without a win.
Watford made one change to the team that beat Manchester United 3-1, with injured new recruit Daryl Janmaat missing out. His replacement, Nordin Amrabat, slotted into the right wing-back position of Watford’s 3-5-2.
Burnley made two changes from their last game, with Sam Vokes coming in for suspended Andre Gray upfront and new summer signing Jóhann Guðmundsson coming in for Scott Arfield.
Watford easily beaten in the air
During the opening game of the season, Southampton’s equaliser came from a corner. Gillingham’s winner, too, came from a low cross that was bundled home. Two of the three goals Watford conceded at home to Arsenal came from crosses. West Ham scored from a corner and a cross and, finally, Zlatan Ibrahimović crossed in for Marcus Rashford to score last weekend.
So it was easy to see Dyche that had done his research on Watford and was focusing on getting Burnley to deliver crosses into the box from the wings whenever possible, with an incredible 23 crosses attempted. It worked, with Burnley looking dangerous whenever a cross came in, and both goals coming from the situations mentioned above.
Troy Deeney said in his post-match that Watford were “bullied all over the pitch” – and he was right. Burnley implemented a very compact midfield press to pressurise the Watford back-line into eventually pumping the ball long, which was very effective, then winning the header and regaining possession – which would then be pumped into the Watford half where the Burnley attack was far superior in the air, winning every first and second ball. This was reflected in the statistics with an incredible 66 aerial duels throughout the match compared to the average for the Premier League over the weekend which was only 29 aerial duels per game.
This was reflected in the statistics, with an incredible 66 aerial duels throughout the match compared to the average for the Premier League over the weekend which was only 29 aerial duels per game.
In the above picture you can see Burnley’s midfield is compact on one side of the pitch to stop Miguel Britos being able to play through the lines into the Watford midfield, leaving his only option to pass back to Gomes in the Watford goa; or another of the back three – the Burnley midfield then shuffling across to stifle any attempt to play through.
It’s hard to break-down exactly why Watford are suffering from this as all of the goals conceded have been slightly different, whether it’s the wing-back not blocking or being able to stop the cross coming in, the centre-back not tracking a run, or the goalkeeper not doing well enough. They did, however, look much better when they switched formation to a fluid 4-4-2.
3-5-2 Watford’s undoing
Walter Mazzarri’s substitutions changed the game in favour of Watford, and they were looking dangerous towards the end of the game – but the damage had already been done. Isaac Success has looked a real livewire this season when he’s been bought off the bench and with Amrabat’s defensive vulnerabilities becoming obviously apparent (having spent most of his career as a striker and winger rather than a wing-back), it made sense for Watford to switch to a four-man defensive system.
While you have one man less in the box to defend against crosses, which is a big disadvantage – an argument that can be countered by the fact that it’s not currently working anyway – the players would most likely be in a better position to stop the crosses from happening in the first place. This would also help Watford’s build up play, with a creative threat in Success being allowed to thrive alongside Roberto Pereyra, who has been fantastic since signing from Juventus.
Burnley’s midfield masterclass
I mentioned above about how Burnley’s midfield defended, but it was how they attacked that really caught my eye. The central midfield trio of Hendrick, Defour and Marney easily out-muscled and out-played the Watford midfield of Capoué, Behrami and Pereyra. Hendrick was the most advanced of the three and was constantly in behind the Watford midfield ready to pick up the header down from Vokes whenever a ball was played over the top.
We see the ball marked with the blue line and the three Watford central midfielders underlined in red. Despite Vokes being man-marked, there’s no Watford player close to Hendrick, who has got in behind the Watford midfield to challenge for the second ball. This happened time and time again, with Watford’s midfield being too adventurous going forward, leaving holes for the long ball to be played up the pitch.
Serious questions will be asked by Watford manager Mazzarri as his team have now conceded nine goals in just seven games from crosses or corners. A switch in formation looks to be the answer and I wouldn’t be surprised if that change were to happen against Bournemouth.
Burnley are looking good, with the signings of Defour and Hendrick a real statement of intent on wanting to stay in the division; while the football isn’t always pretty, only results matter and if Burnley can lure in some other teams to fall into the same trap then they’ll have a strong chance of staying in the Premier League.
By Stuart Reid. Follow @From_The_Wing