Watford aren't the prettiest team to watch in the Premier League. But who cares? The Hornets, who have impressed more and more as the season has progressed, currently sit seventh after 16 games and it's a position not many would have predicted for Quique Sanchez Flores' men back in August. While they may not boast the most free-scoring of squads, it is their unwavering dedication to remaining as a top-flight entity that has set them apart from fellow newboys Bournemouth and Norwich City.
A lack of goals - the Hornets have managed only 18 from 16 games - is not a fair criticism though for a side whose main priority is survival. A Manchester United fan can moan about a lack of goals and excitement at Old Trafford because there is a marked difference in expectations between the two clubs. Watford may be bankrolled by the Pozzo's, the powerful Italian business family who also own Udinese in Serie A, but they have not been able to spend £250m inside the last two years. For them, it has always been about surviving - and they are managing quite well at the moment.
Watford's 1-0 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday was their third successive victory in the league and they deserve every bit of credit they're receiving at the moment. Flores, the likeable 50-year-old Spaniard, took over from Slavisa Jokanovic and has been at the heart of Watfford's pragmatic philosophy, which has helped make them one of the toughest teams to break down in the division.
Flores laid bare his vision for managing in the Premier League in an interview with The Guardian in November. "In the Championship a few teams are playing football. But in the Premier League there are a lot of teams that are going to take the ball more than you because they have the best players," he said.
"It is not the right of the humble teams to have more of the ball, rather to protect themselves. If you are really open against really aggressive teams it could be a bit of a disaster." These are the words of a well-rounded, realistic and astute coach, the words of a man who has been in management long enough to acknowledge when to utilitarian and not idealistic.
Flores is a man who has responded to the request of his employers. While it would be thrilling to excite the fans with a brand of football that screams goals and flair, Flores fully recognises that he is in the results business. The time has not yet come for Watford to attempt to outplay the opposition - although they certainly do that at times - but to consolidate and build for the future. That is exactly what Flores is doing.
It's working, too. If you look at Watford's results this season, you will see a refusal to be tore open by the big guns shining through. The Hornets were extremely unlucky to lose by the odd goal to Manchester United after a last-gasp Troy Deeney own goal, while they went to Manchester City and conceded just the two, when other teams have been mercilessly put to the sword at the Etihad.
But they've bounced back well after their demoralising defeat to United. Victories over Aston Villa, Norwich and Sunderland have propelled them to within touching distance of the Europa League places and, with only two weeks until the mid-point of the season, that is a superb achievement from Flores and his coaching staff.
Indeed, he would expect no less from his squad, having instilled a furious sense of concentration and togetherness since arriving in the summer. Despite their purple patch over the past couple of weeks, they're staying grounded knowing that facing them is a run of fixtures enough to bring any Premier League club to its knees.
After welcoming Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool to Vicarage Road, Flores will take his men to Stamford Bridge before a daunting double against Manchester City and Spurs. All in the space of 12 days. Four highly demanding and difficult games in less than two weeks. It's exactly what is required for Flores to show everyone what his side are made of.
If results don't go their way in that forbidding quartet of games, Watford could conceivably plummet back down to a relegation-threatened position in the table, but you can be rest assured that they will leave no stone unturned in their preparation for a hectic few weeks.
Whatever fate befalls the Hornets for the rest of the season, Flores has earned himself a reputation as a fine operator on the touchline, overseeing a group of players driven in a pursuit for acceptance as a top-flight club. They may not have captured everyone's imaginations like Bournemouth, but they are seven places and nine points above the Cherries - and that's what always matters in the Premier League.
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