The Blog

How Watford Are Reaping the Rewards of Going Against the Premier League's Tactical Grain

Shearer and Sutton; Yorke and Cole; Henry and Bergkamp; the strike partnerships synonymous with mid-to-late 1990s/early 2000s Premier League football. Each was the focal point of its team (Blackburn, Manchester United and Arsenal respectively) in a title-winning season.

But trying to think of contemporary equivalents will only lead to migraines. Of the current top four, each plays with a lone striker, typically. Leicester have Jamie Vardy, the league's top scorer; Arsenal experimented with Theo Walcott before re-settling on Olivier Giroud; Manchester City pray Sergio Aguero is fit and use Wilfried Bony if not. Although Manchester United regularly field both Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial, it's seldom as a pair.

Then you've got Harry Kane at Tottenham; sometimes no one at all at Crystal Palace, and the same at Liverpool if one of Daniel Sturridge or Christian Benteke can't play; West Ham have turned to Andy Carroll in Diafra Sakho's absence, and although Mauro Zarate has been a regular in recent weeks, it's never as an out-and-out striker.

Ninth-placed Everton, whose deployment of Arouna Kone and Romelu Lukaku together has proved an unexpected success (on Kone's part at least), still only really play one of them through the middle (Lukaku, mostly), with their connection relying on each one's versatility, discipline and patience to succeed.

You have to dig as far as tenth place and Watford to find a genuine centre-forward partnership, which is surprising, when you consider how successful it's been. Both Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo were on target again on Saturday, as the Hornets recorded a 2-0 win over fellow promoted side Norwich City, meaning they've now scored 14 of their team's 17 league goals this season. Ighalo has nine of them, while Deeney is gradually catching up after scoring four in his last four games - becoming the first Watford player ever to do so in the Premier League.

Not only are they prolific as individuals, their roles in each other's goals (Ighalo won the penalty from which Deeney opened the scoring, while Deeney reciprocated with a pass to set Igahlo free and end the contest) shows a level of understanding between two strikers that, in Premier League terms, has been all too uncommon in recent years. This is brilliantly refreshing.

Ever since Ighalo arrived from Udinese in the summer of 2014, they've been pretty much inseparable - scoring 41 goals between them as Watford were promoted as Championship runners-up last term. Quique Sanchez Flores, a coach who'd employed a 4-2-3-1 system (or similar) prior to his appointment at Watford in June, recognised their importance almost immediately, pairing them together from the start of every Premier League fixture bar the first.

Despite moving away from the 3-5-2 formation Watford implemented en route to the Premier League, that two was the bit that couldn't possibly be altered. So much of the Hornets' Championship play was based on swift, intricate transitions and, ultimately, scoring more goals than the opposition. That's a far harder skill to be good at in the Premier League so Flores, sensibly, came up with an alternative formula.

The Spaniard's charges are defensively sound, conceding roughly a goal a game (16 in 15) and keeping six clean sheets so far. In a recent interview, he explained: "It's very important to play with a good distance between the defensive line and the strikers and, for me, a good distance is 35 metres, maximum 40 metres." Evidently this allows them to remain fairly solid, even if they don't have a lot of the ball, all the while knowing that if they can locate the front two when they do have it, they've got an excellent chance of scoring.

You can't help but wonder if a team like Manchester United, for example, would have been better served buying more than one centre-forward last summer an implementing a similar system, as opposed to one that allows them to see more of the ball but means that goalscoring chances hard to come by.

Not that Deeney or Igahlo will be too concerned by that. For them, for now, the important thing is keeping Watford in the Premier League. But if they continue at this rate, perhaps it'll be their names that crop up when great striking partnerships are discussed.

For more fan views or to join the conversation visit