Javi Gracia

Top PL storylines: Week 5

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The Premier League is finally returning after what somehow felt like the longest international break in ages.

Anyone else feel that way?

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Here’s what we have on the docket for a busy weekend in England.


The reigning champs begin life without Laporte

  • Norwich City v. Man City, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Aymeric Laporte may not get the headlines of Virgil Van Dijk, but the Man City man has been a close second to the Liverpool star when it comes to how important a role he plays to his defense. Fortunately, Man City has reliable Nicolas Otamendi and a healthy John Stones. How they perform together will go a long way to determining whether a 3-peat is an option once Laporte returns after the new year. The first Laporte-less test comes against Teemu Pukki and defense-starved Norwich City


Spurs aching for stability, return to form

  • Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Both Tottenham and their visitors had a key attacker in the rumor mill throughout August, and both Christian Eriksen and Wilfried Zaha stayed put at the transfer deadline. Spurs have just five points through four games, but have already played two Top Four rivals (draws with Man City and Arsenal). It’s fair to say nothing short of a home win over Palace will be acceptable to the Lilywhite faithful. Can Spurs “re-focus?”


New (old) boss bump against dangerous Gunners?

  • Watford v. Arsenal, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Watford fired Javi Gracia in favor of a return to Quique Sanchez Flores, and the Hornets’ home faithful will see whether it gives the moribund Hornets a return to 2018-19 form. Watford has just one point from the first four matches of the season, while Arsenal has only lost to Liverpool. Goal fest?


Someone’s stalling has to end here

  • Wolves v. Chelsea, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

Europa League congestion can rightfully be blamed for some of Wolves’ struggles to start the season, but no such prognosis can be made ahead of a visit from less-than-inspiring Chelsea. This is a good litmus test for two teams’ high-end hopes, and a loss for the hosts could see them finish the weekend in the drop zone.


Business as usual for Salah, Mane versus Newcastle

  • Liverpool v. Newcastle United, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Forget the argument last week: Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and their fellow Reds will be licking their lips to face a Newcastle team which hasn’t won at Anfield since a League Cup match in 1995. The goal scorer? Steve Watson.


Brendan Rodgers aims to make statement at Old Trafford

  • Manchester United v. Leicester City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

The hosts Red Devils are running out of excuses for their in-game dominance not producing three points, and the latest test at Old Trafford comes via an in-form Leicester City. Will Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers deliver his first big result of the season?

PL refs chief: Four VAR mistakes this year

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Premier League referee chief Mike Riley says that four incidents review by VAR this season did not produce the correct decision.

There have been 227 incidents reviewed by VAR so far this season. Of those reviewed and unreviewed, a call has wronged Watford, Man City, West Ham, and Bournemouth. (The Cherries have both benefited and been harmed by an error).

[ MORE: Poch has Spurs “re-focusing” ]

Why have the errors been made?

“A combination of factors,” Riley said, via Sky Sports. “That is the fascinating thing as this project evolves, we are constantly learning. We are trying not to disrupt the flow of the game but on these occasions, the judgement should have been that it was a clear and obvious error.”

“One of the really positive things about the first four match rounds has been the quality of on-field performances,” he added. “All the referees have incorporated the things we need to do with VAR into their refereeing while still focusing on making real-time decisions.”

So where has VAR failed so far? Some were seemingly minor, others game-changing, and one possibly job-altering.

  • A missed handball in the lead-up to Fabian Schar’s equalizer against Watford, which ended in a 1-1 draw and, ultimately, the firing of Javi Gracia
  • An unawarded penalty to Man City’s David Silva after Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma stepped on his foot in the box (City won 3-1)
  • An ungiven red card when Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans stomped on Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson (The Cherries lost 3-1)
  • No penalty awarded to West Ham’s Sebastian Haller after being dragged down in the box (The Irons still won 2-0)

Gracia surprised by firing, but love for Watford ‘eternal’

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Javi Gracia was surprised to be fired by Watford, the manager said in a Sunday statement.

Watford has just one point from its first four matches of the Premier League season, but finished 11th in the Premier League last season while making an FA Cup Final run under Gracia.

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The table standing was its best of the Premier League era, but the Pozzo family has been known to quickly cut ties with coaches.

Ironically, the Hornets are replacing Gracia with former Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores.

Here’s Gracia’s statement, via The Mirror:

“After the unexpected announcement about the termination of my contract after only four matches, I want to express my surprise after completing the best season in Watford’s history. I respect this decision and I’d like to reassure that the excellent relationship I have with Gino Pozzo and Filippo Giraldi, and this is not going to change despite my abrupt exit of the club.

“I am grateful to this club for allowing me to manage this great club in the Premier League, it has been an incredible experience with very special moments like the FA Cup final I had the privilege to enjoy.

“I want to thank every single person who works for this club and has made my every day very easy. My gratefulness and love for this club will be eternal. And finally, I want to thank the fans for supporting me the way they did from Day One, until my last. I will always wish the fans and these players the best.”

Let’s be real, too: Given the Flores hiring and Pozzo’s penchant for switching up bosses, Gracia may one day be back at Vicarage Road.

Watford re-hires Quique Sanchez Flores

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Quique Sanchez Flores is heading back to Vicarage Road, taking over for fired Javi Gracia at Watford.

Flores managed the Hornets from 2015-16, and has since led Espanyol and Shanghai Shenhua.

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The Hornets have just one point from four matches to start the Premier League season, having drawn Newcastle United 1-1 in Week Four. Their only win came against Coventry City in the League Cup.

The club announced that Gracia was fired earlier Saturday, and that a new hiring was imminent. Gracia led Watford to the FA Cup Final and was the first manager in nine to manage the Hornets for more than 50 matches (51).

Flores, 54, won 16 matches, drew nine, and lost 19 in a single season at Watford. The Hornets finished 13, eight points clear of the drop zone, drew Chelsea twice and beat Liverpool 3-0 amongst their more memorable results of the season.

Watford also made it to the semifinals of the FA Cup, knocking Newcastle United and Arsenal out of the competition.

Watford fires Gracia after winless start

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Watford will change managers for the first time in a year and a half, which is ages for the Premier League club, and it’s bringing back a familiar face

The club fired Javi Gracia and his entire staff on Saturday, bringing Quique Sanchez Flores back into the fold.

Flores managed the Hornets from 2015-16, and has since led Espanyol and Shanghai Shenhua.

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Watford gained just one point from its first four matches, losing to presumed top half rivals West Ham and Everton in addition to a draw at Newcastle and blow out home loss against Brighton and Hove Albion.

Chairman & CEO Scott Duxbury said: “Javi has represented Watford with great dignity and will always be deserving of our fullest respect for his achievements.”

The Pozzo family has been quick to pull the trigger on managers, and Gracia’s 51-match tenure makes him the longest-tenured boss in eight hires since Gianfranco Zola.

The timing isn’t great for a replacement, as Watford’s next two matches are home to Arsenal and away to Man City. A cup match then arrives before a tricky visit to Wolves.

Gracia finishes with an 18W-11D-22L record. He led Watford to the FA Cup Final last season, where they were blown out by Man City.