Joel Ekstrand

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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Watford

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Yet another new man is in charge at Watford as Italian tactician Walter Mazzarri looks to take the Hornets to the next level.

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Watford survived comfortably last season after promotion and 2016-17 marks their first-ever back-to-back campaigns in the Premier League.

Former manager Quique Sanchez Flores had great success early in the season but that form petered out and led to his departure for Espanyol in the summer. With Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo up front, Watford have plenty of attacking threat as their pace and power dovetail lethally.

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The Pozzo family (they also own Udinese in Italy and Granada in Spain) have been criticized for appointing eight managers in the last five seasons at Watford but the club continues on an upwards curve and after spending over $35 million on new players this summer, the hope is to push into the top 10 of the PL. Mazzarri will have his work cut out to do that but the Hornets should be tough to break down, especially at home.

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Watford will get off to a flier and push for a top 10 finish because… They have invested heavily over the summer and are a bit of an unknown quantity with a new manager at the helm. Any teams who underestimates them will find Deeney and Ighalo breathing down their necks.

Most likely second-season syndrome will strike and it’ll be a relegation battle: Look at Watford’s first five games and it is brutal. They face Southampton, Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham and Manchester United. Ouch. If Mazzarri’s boys are struggling for points going into October, expect the Pozzo family to make a managerial move. History says that aren’t afraid to wield the axe.


Best Possible XI

—– Gomes —–

—- Kabasele —- Cathcart —- Britos —-

— Anya — Suarez — Watson — Capoue — Holebas —

—- Deeney —- Ighalo —-


Transfers in: Jerome Sinclair ($5.2 million, Liverpool), Issac Success ($16.3 million, Granada), Christian Kabasele ($7.5 million, Genk), Brice Dje Djede ($5.2 million, Marseille), Juan Camilo Zuniga (Loan, Napoli)

Transfers out: Jose Manuel Jurado (Undisclosed, Espanyol), Gabriele Angella (Undisclosed, Udinese), Daniel Pudil (Undisclosed, Sheffield Wednesday), Almen Abdi (Undisclosed, Sheffield Wednesday), George Byers (Free, Swansea City), Josh Doherty (Free, Leyton Orient), Jorell Johnson (Free, Hemel Hempstead Town), Bernand Mensah (Free, Aldershot Town), Luke Simpon (Free, York City), Alfie Young, Mahlondo Martin, Uche Ikpeazu, Joel Ekstrand (All released), Adalberto Penaranda (Loan, Udinese), Obbi Oulare (Loan, Zulte Waregem), Dennon Lewis (Loan, Woking), Steven Berghuis (Loan, Feyenoord)

Last season: The Hornets started off superbly and were in the top half of the table up until January time. Then the slide happened and former boss Flores had to battle to keep them away from the relegation zone in the closing weeks of the season after just four wins in 2016. Still, Watford were never really in danger of going down and they also reached the semifinal of the FA Cup where they narrowly lost to Crystal Palace. They were one of the real success stories of last season.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Troy Deeney of Watford during the pre season friendly match between Queens Park Rangers and Watford at Loftus Road on July 30, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Star player: Troy Deeney – He scored 13 goals in his first-ever season in the Premier League and Deeney is the heart and soul of this club. The captain has been with Watford for six seasons and alongside Ighalo they are a real handful for PL defenses. He can drop deep to hold up the ball and bring others into the game, plus he always seems to be at the right place at the right time in the box. A warrior.

Coach’s Corner: Mazzarri has been working his squad hard on the training ground and his lack of English could be hurtful but there’s no doubting his resume. The former Napoli and Inter Milan manager has experience in the UEFA Champions League and led Sampdoria to success in a two-year spell. Expect Watford to line up in a 3-5-2 formation  and like most Italian coaches, Mazzarri is known to be a stickler for defensive organization. With the players at his disposal, that philosophy will slot in nicely. Still, a tough task to push Watford into the top 10 but their fans would take another season of midtable.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Watford manager Walter Mazarri during the Pre-Season friendly match between Queens Park Rangers and Watford at Loftus Road on July 30, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

PST predicts: Watford have plenty of goals in them with Deeney and Ighalo and the rest of their squad should benefit from a years experience in the PL. The aim is to mirror the achievements of a Stoke City, Swansea or Southampton. First Watford must solidify their status as a PL club and then they can kick on. This season is hugely important but you get the sense that they could be struggling after being handed such a difficult start. Expect the Hornets to be hovering just about the relegation scrap and to potentially get dragged into it.

PL Sunday preview: Man City vs. Arsenal — one last top-four battle

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Leicester City are 2015-16 Premier League champions … now what? Even though the Foxes lifted the trophy on Saturday, much is left to be decided: second, third and fourth are all still up for grabs.

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Tottenham Hotspur vs. Southampton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

Tottenham will be without Dele Alli (suspension) and Mousa Dembele (suspension) for the remainder of the season, but Mauricio Pochettino‘s side still has a second-place finish to secure with two games left to play. Spurs’ quest to finish second and top Arsenal, their north London rivals, for the first time in 21 years continues on Sunday when Pochettino’s former club, Southampton, make their annual visit to White Hart Lane. A win over Saints would put Spurs six points clear of Arsenal (who play later on Sunday), essentially assuring north London’s top spot in the league table given their insurmountable goal-differential advantage (+39 to +25).

INJURIES: Tottenham — OUT: Nabil Bentaleb (knee)| Southampton — None

[ MORE: PL roundup — Leicester’s crowning day; Villa sink Newcastle ]

Manchester City vs. Arsenal — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra

The last of the season’s meetings of top-four and/or top-four-aspiring sides is set for Sunday when the Gunners visit Man City at the Etihad Stadium. With City eliminated from the UEFA Champions League this week, securing a top-four finish is the Citizen’s last avenue to Champions League qualification ahead of Pep Guardiola’s arrival in Manchester this summer. City’s lead on fifth-place Manchester United currently sits at one points (Man United play their 37th game of the season on Tuesday, vs. sixth-place West Ham United), making the math extremely simple in Manuel Pellegrini‘s final days at the Etihad: win their final two games (at Swansea City next weekend), and they’ll finish third with Arsenal fourth (again).

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Vincent Kompany (thigh), David Silva (hamstring), Pablo Zabaleta (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Per Mertesacker (hamstring), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), Carl Jenkinson (knee)

Liverpool vs. Watford — 11 a.m. ET, on Live Extra

Whereas Tottenham, Man City and Arsenal are only concerned with where they finish in the league table this season, the focus of Jurgen Klopp is solely on Liverpool’s UEFA Europa League final (Wednesday, May 18). The German genius was more than happy to select a side half-full of youngsters last weekend, and the baby Reds were thumped by Swansea. Following an emotional night at Anfield on Thursday, expect something similar on Sunday as Liverpool are fully locked into an eighth-place finish at minimum, with a chance to climb into the top-six. As for Watford, 44 points and a 10-point gap to the relegation zone with two games remaining will do just fine for the Hornets.

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Jordan Henderson (knee), Divock Origi (ankle), Mamadou Sakho (suspension), Danny Ings (knee), Brad Smith (suspension) | Watford — OUT: Etienne Capoue (knee), Joel Ekstrand (hamstring)

Watch Live: Watford vs. Crystal Palace (Lineups and Live Stream)

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New contract in hand, Yannick Bolasie leads Crystal Palace on a visit to Vicarage Road as the Eagles take on Watford at 11 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

Bolasie signed a contract extension through 2019 on Saturday, and starts today as Palace looks to jump into the top six in the table, which they would do with a win today. The club began the campaign with a roaring start, but have slumped to two straight league defeats to Manchester City and Tottenham.

Alongside Bolasie in the Palace attack are Jason Puncheon and Dwight Gayle, while the central midfield pairing of Yohan Cabaye and Joe Ledley sees the latter prove fit enough to start after a hamstring strain. Also ready to go is Scott Dann at the back, although Damien Delaney doesn’t make the squad.

WATCH LIVE: Watford vs. Crystal Palace live online at NBC Sports Live Extra

For Watford, injury problems keep Joel Ekstrand on the sidelines while Valon Behrami is suspended following his stamp of Andre Ayew against Newcastle last weekend.

Like Crystal Palace, Watford sit on nine points thus far into the Premier League season, but their road has been vastly different. The Hornets started the season with just three points – all on draws – in four Premier League matches, but have since won their last two. They could also jump to sixth in the table with a win.

LINEUPS

Watford: Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, Prödl, Anya; Capoue, Watson; Abdi, Deeney, Jurado; Ighalo.
Subs: Arlauskis, Paredes, Ake, Guedioura, Ibarbo, Berghuis, Diamanti.

Crystal Palace: Hennessey; Kelly, Dann, Hangeland, Souare, Ledley, Cabaye, Puncheon, Sako, Bolasie, Gayle.
Subs: 
McCarthy, Croll, Mariappa, McArthur, Zaha, Gray, Campbell.