Nigel Pearson

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What we love about Watford

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be detailing what we love about each Premier League club competing in the 2019-20 season and next up is Watford.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release details on why who adore each team in particular as we remind ourselves just how awesome the PL is as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Time to take a closer look at the Hornets.


Troy Deeney: Troy Deeney is – and has been – the face of Watford since his move from Walsall in 2010. A move that came about after Deeney, a Birmingham native and Birmingham City supporter growing up, submitted a written transfer request to exit a then-League One side to make his way to the Championship. His first year at Vicarage, however, was rough. The striker managed to score only two goals in 36 league appearances, raising questions about whether or not Deeney was built survive outside England’s third division.

Since that trying first year with the Hornets, Deeney hasn’t looked back, making his way into the “Watford’s best players ever” conversation with a remarkable 129 goals in 388 appearances. Only club legends Luther Blissett – considered by many as the best Hornet ever – and John Barnes have more top-flight gals than Deeney himself. 

Historical, last-gasp win against Leicester City: May 2013, Vicarage Road. Leicester City’s Anthony Knockaert goes down in the box after minimal contact with a Watford defender. A penalty is called in the visitor’s favor. The aggregate stands at 2-2 as the clocks ticks the final seconds of a two-legged Championship play-off semifinal between the Hornets and the Foxes. Knockaert’s shot from the spot – directed right down the middle, with pace – is blocked. His second chance as well. Watford recover and immediately go back the other way.

 

Only seconds remain before the head official sends the match to penalty kicks, but Watford is looking for the final blow. Fernando Forestieri desperately sends a textbook cross inside the box. Jonathan Hogg meets the ball midair and heads it into an incoming Deeney, who seals a goal – and celebration – for the ages.

The Watford-Elton John connection: While Manchester City may have Oasis brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher rooting them on, Watford count on the support of multi-generational musician Elton John. A lifelong Hornet supporter, the English rock legend has done more than just “support” the club from the stands, though. 

In 1976, Elton John became Watford’s chairman and director. He eventually sold the club in 1987 before re-purchasing it a decade later from Jack Petchey. John no longer owns his childhood team, but he remains a part of the club as the honorary life-president.

Watford’s Pearson slams PM’s ‘lack of leadership’ on coronavirus

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Watford manager Nigel Pearson has slammed UK prime minister Boris Johnson over what he deems a “lack of leadership” regarding his handling of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which nearly led to Premier League fixtures — along with those of various levels of British soccer — to be played this weekend.

[ MORE: Klopp on PL suspension: “We must protect one another” ]

“I heard one of the statements from the prime minister last night talking about listening, and that the decisions would be based on science and that there’s not necessarily a greater risk with people being together at sporting venues. If that’s based on science, fine, but that doesn’t necessarily make sense to me.

“I wouldn’t want our fans to be going into a situation where they are fearful of contracting something that could possibly affect either themselves or a member of their family.”

“We’ve had players, as most clubs will have done, who have had symptoms of not being well. We’ve had players experiencing illness this week, who have stayed at home.

“We had somebody with a chest infection, somebody with an upset stomach and players who have shown flu-like symptoms. We’ve got one player awaiting tests results on his symptoms.”

A large number of the UK’s soccer leagues intended to go ahead with fixtures as scheduled this weekend — some with empty stadiums, but many with thousands of fans in attendance — on the basis that “the guidance from the relevant authorities remains that there is no medical rationale to close or cancel sporting events at this time,” per a(n early) Thursday statement from the English Football League (EFL).

[ MORE: UEFA postpones Champions League, Europa League fixtures ]

The PL released its own statement, much to the same effect, on Thursday: “Following the latest update from Government issued this afternoon, all Premier League matches will go ahead as scheduled this weekend.”

That statement was quickly backtracked when it was revealed that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had tested positive for the virus, less than 60 minutes after the PL’s statement. News regarding Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi quickly followed in the same vein, just three hours later.

The sensible decision — to postpone the highest levels of British soccer — was, to Pearson’s overall point, made on Friday. The fact that sporting officials have been forced to take the lead, ahead of government officials from numerous countries around the world, and institute a period of social isolation also speaks to Pearson’s frustration.

Watford’s Sarr’s ‘unbelievable talent’ dooms Liverpool’s historic run

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Who would have guessed that Liverpool’s emphatic unbeaten run of 423 days – the second longest ever top-division unbeaten run – would end on a cold, soggy night at Vicarage Road to the dominance of 22-year-old Ismaila Sarr?

[ MORE: Klopp reacts | Social media, too ]

Liverpool remain indisputable favorites to lift the league title, but they will fall short to Arsenal’s Invincibles. Jurgen Klopp‘s men were vulnerable on Saturday. The potent performance put together by Watford will be talked about for years to come. And perhaps no other player on the field came as close to the protagonist role as Sarr.

The winger stood out from the rest, scoring twice before setting up captain Troy Deeney for the third and final goal of the bout. To the BBC:

“Ismaila Sarr is an unbelievable player, unbelievable talent,” Deeney said about his teammate. “He still has a lot to learn, and will continue to learn. But I think it’s a full team performance and a special mention has to go to Gerard Deulofeu as well, it looks like it’s going to be a bad one.”

Sarr, who turned down Barcelona during his career’s infant years, exhibited exactly why that was an option to begin with. The Senegalese was the cog of a well-oiled engined that took care of its chances. There’s no way around it.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“First of all credit to Watford,” Liverpool’s captain Virgil Van Dijk said following the Reds’ first loss in 45 Premier League matches. “They deserved it. The chances they created they stuck to their plan and I don’t think we created too many big opportunities. We shouldn’t take the credit away from Watford.
“If you concede three goals, that’s something we didn’t have for quite a while. That’s something we have to improve as a team in total and we will. It’s very tough to take this one. The only positive thing is we have an FA Cup game in a couple of days.
“The last game, one set piece, one good goal. Today obviously it should be better. If you look at the whole season we’ve been pretty good defensively. We have the most clean sheets in the league.”
For Nigel Pearson, the win comes at a precious time. The Hornets were on the outside looking in, with a seven-match winless streak behind them heading into Saturday.
In theory, three points in such fashion at home against this Liverpool should taste like silverware to a club flirting with mediocrity like Watford has all season long. In practice, it’s just another vital win for Watford.
“It’s such an important win for us,” he said. “But it is one win. Our season has been tough so far, with losing last week and not playing well, we were keen to get a response.

“They are such an outstanding side, we had to get our performance right – as close to max as possible – and I thought we thoroughly deserved the win. We threatened with the ball and defended with discipline, energy and commitment. That’s been the message from day one.

“It’s in our own hands, and we have to deliver that performance week in, week out.”

And a stellar 90-minute performance from Sarr that will go down in the books for obvious reasons.

PL Sunday preview: Wolves, Man United, Everton, Arsenal in action

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures promise to have a wide-range of action, as Wolves, Manchester United and Arsenal all take the field.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Norwich City  — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Gold and NBCSports.com

Wolverhampton Wanderers are heading into Sunday’s match against bottom dwellers Norwich City with fresh, positive inertia.

On Thursday, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men thumped Espanyol 4-0 in the knockout stages of the Europa League, giving Wolves a much-needed boost of confidence. The club, who has yet to win in Premier League play since January 18, ended a two-game streak without generating a goal against the Spanish side.

Wolves are the clear favorites heading into Molineux Stadium on Sunday. But on the other side stands a well-rested and hungry Norwich, who before going to winter break, showcased class and discipline against Liverpool in their last league showing.

Daniel Farke‘s side are eight points out of the safe zone but time is running out. The sense of urgency is at an all-season high for the Canaries, believers of their under-appreciated strengths.

“They (Wolves) are playing in Europe, they have kept three clean sheets, they have individual quality and it is a huge task,” Farke said. “But I don’t see any easy fixtures at this stage. It is about us. We always have a chance if we are good at our topics.

“People can write us off and say we have no chance to close the gap. But I don’t agree. It is possible.”

INJURIES: Wolves — OUT: Ruben Vinagre (hamstring) | Norwich — OUT: Timm Klose (knee), Sam Byram (hamstring)

Manchester United vs. Watford — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

History and data say Watford, who have never won a league game at Old Trafford, stand no chance against Manchester United on Sunday.

But if one victory inspired a mostly-lethargic Hornets this season under Nigel Pearson it was the 2-0 win over United at Vicarage Road. The second-to-last side went on a six-match unbeaten streak following the said victory. It brought the club back to life, lifting them out of the bottom three.

Watford have since faltered and dropped back below the red line, but Pearson promises to stick to his philosophical guns.

“We approach every game in a very similar way and that is to try and be as positive as we can,” he said. “We’ll go out there and we’ll do what we can to win the game, we’ve not changed our approach, it’s just that results sometimes change how people perceive things.”

United will certainly look different, as Odion Ighalo is expected to make his home debut against his former club following his arrival in earlier this month.

United, who stand in the seventh spot with 38 points, have a clear window of opportunity to surpass fifth-place Tottenham with a victory. Prior to Sunday’s match, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer addressed questions regarding consistency.

“It is team selection – you’ve got to maybe rotate in Europe like we’ve done, then maybe go back to what we were at Chelsea this week,” Gunnar Solskjaer said. “I feel that Bruno [Fernandes] and Odion [Ighalo] coming in will get more goals in the team. That’s been lacking. The games we’ve lost – West Ham, Burnley, Palace, Bournemouth – we’ve had chances but we haven’t scored goals.”

Perhaps Ighalo could finally contribute towards a win at Old Trafford with Watford jerseys on the field.

INJURIES: Manchester United — Paul Pogba (ankle), Axel Tuanzebe (thigh), Marcus Rashford (back) | Watford — OUT: Daryl Janmaat (knee), Tom Cleverley (match fitness)

Arsenal vs. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Subplots reign supreme ahead of Everton’s visit to the Emirates.

Mesut Ozil, who missed the Gunners’ 1-0 Europa League victory, and Andres Gomes, 16 weeks after an ankle dislocation and fracture, are both expected to return to action. Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti will meet for the first time after being linked to each other’s position before the start of the new year.

Perhaps the most significant one, however – at least to Everton – is that it’s been 24 years since the Toffees won at Arsenal. If they can pull it off this time around, the Liverpool-based side will be one step closer to the European dream.

“We have to be focused on Arsenal,” Ancelotti said. “Then there are very important games after. There’s [Manchester] United, Chelsea, Liverpool. After these four games, we can see what is going on for Europe.”

“This is a really important game against a strong team, away, but we have to have confidence to do our best and try to win. We’ve got 13 games to go and have got ourselves in a decent position,” he said. “It gives us the platform to have a decent season. I think we’ve done okay. We’ve had huge problems over six weeks and fair play to the squad for showing that resilience.”

Everton have picked up 17 points out the 24 possible under the Italian, while Arsenal have only experienced two wins under the Spaniard.

INJURIES: Arsenal — Cedric Soares (knee), Kieren Tierney (shoulder), Callum Chambers (knee), Sokratis Papastathopoulos (knee) | Everton — OUT: Jean-Phillipe Gbamin (thigh)

Graham Potter praises Brighton’s spirit: ‘Every point is what it is and we have to take it’

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Following Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion Premier League winless streak hits an uncomfortable 10 bouts.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | Match Recap ]

For any side in the bottom third of the table, red flags and emergency sirens would be at a season-high. Brighton’s situation, however, is peculiar. The Seagulls are in a unique position: Doing what a few expected, they punched above their weight in the first half of the season, giving themselves a buffer if thing were to go south as the season progressed.

At Falmer Stadium, in typical Graham Potter fashion, Brighton controlled possession and the tempo of the match. Watford, a sturdy opponent despite their relegation-zone troubles, surprised the home side as Abdoulaye Doucoure pulled off an impecable solo goal. All signs pointed for a low-effort win by the Hornets.

Then, after a plethora of missed chances, Watford’s Adrian Mariappa sublimely put the ball behind his own net. The Seagulls tied in the 78th minute after Aaron Mooy‘s offensive push. Potter, following the match, recognized his team caught a break. To the BBC:

“We gave a lot in the game,” he said following Brighton’s second consecutive draw. “It was difficult to go behind when we had started quite well and were in the ascendancy.”

“The crowd got a little nervous and the atmosphere is difficult. I’m proud of the players because we took responsibility of the game. The character they showed, they accepted the challenge because you could go under at that point – it’s not easy to be the one that has to find the answers.”

Certainly, without the cushion, Potter and company would have channeled Nigel Pearson‘s forlorn sentiments. The 56-year-old manager described Watford’s draw as a “unfortunate” after working “exceptionally hard” for 90 minutes.

Instead, Potter expressed great admiration towards his players, mostly for the maturity they displayed during trying times.

“We were down on the scoreline, the lads desperately want to get points, get the win, we showed maturity. It’s not easy in the Premier League when you are down,” he added. “I am really proud of the players.”

“Every point is what it is and we have to take it. We will look to move forward, take a break now and move forward for Sheffield United.”