With July now upon us and England’s quadrennial early exit from the World Cup out of the way, attentions will now inevitably turn to club football and for Watford fans, a season which again offers more hope than could have been dreamt of under previous regimes.
With the Hornets having completed plenty of their transfer business already – some exciting, some less so – I take a look at the make-up of the squad and where, if anywhere, further additions need to be made ahead of the upcoming 2014-15 campaign as Beppe Sannino’s men look to bounce back from what was, by their standards, a poor season last time around.
With Manuel Almunia having presumably turned down the offer of a contract extension at Vicarage Road, Watford acted quickly to secure the services of experienced stopper Heurelho Gomes from Tottenham Hotspur.
While Gomes was known for the odd clanger at White Hart Lane, it appears to have been forgotten by some that he was widely recognised as one of the top goalkeepers in the country during the 2009-10 season when Spurs qualified for the Champions League.
With a wealth of international and European experience behind him, the 33-year-old can go down as another that would have been totally out of reach pre-Pozzo family.
Almunia had a similar reputation when he became a Hornet and made a great success of his time here – there is no reason why Gomes can’t do the same.
As back-up to Gomes, Jonathan Bond will be looking to improve on what was a disappointing 2013-14 campaign.
If Bond was to be afforded some time out on loan, as he surely needs if he is to ever break through as the Hornets’ number one, then efforts will need to continue to be made to sign a third goalkeeper of a decent standard.
Gary Woods remains in talks to renew his deal and he may be the best available option after trialist Chris Lewington opted to sign for Colchester United.
16-year-old scholar Nathan Gartside signed a two-year deal but it would be a surprise if he was involved in the first-team squad.
The number of centre-backs that are now contracted to the club is surely the clearest sign yet that Beppe Sannino intends to stick with the 3-5-2 formation that he inherited from Gianfranco Zola last season.
The squad is certainly well-stocked in this department, and it would be a surprise if any more were signed, but the choice of which three to play appears less clear.
Of the seven who, on the face of it, will be fighting for three positions, only Gabrielle Angella really demands inclusion after an impressive debut season at Vicarage Road.
Of the other six – Joel Ekstrand, Tommie Hoban, Lloyd Doyley, Essaid Belkalem, Gabriel Tamas and Craig Cathcart – none really stand out as obvious picks and it will be fascinating to see which two Sannino plumps for.
Ekstrand is clearly a talented defender and Doyley a terrific club servant, but both had poor seasons by their standards last year while Belkalem, who was hardly involved, has starred for Algeria at the World Cup – receiving national acclaim for his performances this week by being selected in The Guardian’s World Cup Round of 16 XI.
In addition to these options, Tamas has experienced Premier League promotion with West Bromwich Albion while the signing of Cathcart appears to be sensible enough – despite some inexplicable negativity surrounding him because of a few iffy performances in a loan spell five years ago.
There is plenty of strength in depth but it is crucial that Sannino picks his first choice back three early and gives it a chance to gel – too much chopping and changing was one of the reasons for poor defending last season.
Assuming that the signing of Ecuador international Juan Carlos Paredes goes through, we again looked well-stocked in this department.
Paredes will replace the outgoing Marco Davide Faraoni, and will hopefully show much more of an appetite for English football than the Italian. His performances at the World Cup have been good, although most observers would note that he appears far more suited to a wing-back role than full-back, a further indication that 3-5-2 will be Sannino’s Plan A.
It seems likely that Paredes will generally compete with Ikechi Anya for a place on the right-hand side although the Scottish speedster is also perfectly adequate on the left-hand side, just as new signing Lloyd Dyer, who usually plays on the left, can play on the right.
Dyer looks an excellent acquisition having been part of a squad that won the league last season; he is exactly the type of Championship-hardened player that we were calling out for.
The 31-year-old was used as an out-and-out winger by Leicester though and if he is to nail down a starting position at Vicarage Road, rather than just being used as a winger when chasing a goal, he will have to take a leaf out of Anya’s book and work to improve the defensive side of his game – again, presuming that we will be playing 3-5-2.
Dyer will be up against the stiff competition of Daniel Pudil on the left-hand side. The Czech international was one of a few who perhaps had a better 2013-14 campaign than he did in 2012-13 and he will be looking to build on that this time around.
The centre of the park is the one area, with the squad as it is now, that needs strengthening. Even with the (hopefully) inevitable capture of Daniel Tozser, the struggles in midfield last season are evidence to suggest that Sannino may need one more.
With the Hungary international in the side, it would still only take an injury to Almen Abdi to make Watford look vulnerable.
Lewis McGugan actually appeared to perk up towards the end of last season, his goal-scoring record improving markedly, but as we became accustomed to, days will come when he is all but a threat. If McGugan can continue from where he left off, we may have a player on our hands but preparations need to be made for the opposite.
When we was left out or injured last season, in addition to the Abdi injury, the midfield pairing of Cristian Battocchio and Sean Murray, in front of Tozser, were overrun far too often, especially away from home. They are both talented players and will hopefully continue to improve but if a couple of injuries were to leave them exposed as the first choice midfield, it would be a cause for concern.
Tozser and one more, hopefully a holding player, is the order of the day here if we are to be totally comfortable with our options, possibly allowing one of Murray and Battocchio to go out on loan.
This, more than any other area of the pitch, is where we are the envy of the division.
In Troy Deeney, Matej Vydra and Fernando Forestieri we have three, proven, top-class Championship forwards who have scored goals in this division and would undoubtedly be wanted by any other side at this level.
The Deeney/Vydra partnership has been much discussed since the return of the Czech Republic international was announced, and this is of course a huge cause for excitement, but we shouldn’t forget that Forestieri who was superb on occasions last season but was let down largely due to injury.
Vydra was absolutely magnificent at times two years ago, it is hard to remember a better run off form from any Hornet in the last decade than that December-February period, but when he was misfiring, Forestieri stood in very well.
Both will be utilised alongside the main man Deeney, who it is imperative that we keep hold of unless a ridiculous offer comes in. His talismanic status means that he is worth far more to us than he would be to anyone else, and therefore we should keep hold of him.
Mathias Ranegie proved himself useful towards the latter stages of last season and would be an excellent deputy while the return of Diego Fabbrini to the setup is also a positive – the Italian was so close to being devastatingly good at times last season.
Fabbrini could do with spending a few hours in the gym to beef up and must improve his awareness but has all the talent to be incredibly good at this level – he was selected for Italy only 12 months before moving to Vicarage Road after all.
Our forward options are excellent and there is surely no need to invest any further in this area, unless the worst happens and we lose Deeney to the Premier League.
Here’s a line-up that could potentially start the Hornets’ opening game of the season against Bolton Wanderers: Gomes; Tamas, Angella, Hoban; Anya, Abdi, Tozser, McGugan, Dyer; Deeney, Vydra.
What do you think? Where do Watford need to strengthen and which players will make the starting line-up come August 11? Let me know in the comments below!