First Team 21/02/2020

Team News: Manchester United

By Kevin Affleck

Nigel Pearson can attack the last third of the season with a near fully-fit squad after reporting that Daryl Janmaat, the last remaining player in the treatment room, is closing in on a return to action.

The Dutch full-back has not played since the win at Norwich because of a knee injury, but he has been out on the grass this week following an individual programme and has been pencilled in for a comeback game.

“We are making real progress now [with injuries],” said the Head Coach. “Hopefully Janmaat will play in the 23s next week and that means everybody is more or less available for selection.”

There was a big boost on Saturday morning when Kiko Femenía and Ismaïla Sarr joined in full training for the first time in weeks. They took part in a lung-busting team run over 16 minutes and showed no ill effects. The pair joined in the game-related stuff at different stages this week and the Head Coach will decide, along with the medical staff and his coaching staff, if he is ready to rush back players from soft-tissue problems into the cauldron at Old Trafford. The last thing he wants is to take a short-term risk and then potentially lose them again.

“We've had a very positive week,” he said. “Sarr and Kiko are back in full training which is good, but I suppose before the final selection for the weekend the conversation will be about managing risk because I want them back to stay back. I always have to detach myself somewhat from, 'Let's get the player straight back in'. It's about making decisions that protect us over the longer term.”

Pearson opted to give the players a few days off after the Brighton game, providing them with “a bit of a break after a very hectic period over Christmas and New Year.” The squad reported back on Friday and there was a real hunger and sense of enjoyment about the work they did on their return.

“Every day we go out, the players work hard and apply themselves properly,” he said. “We make sure we work in a manner which is committed to getting ourselves in a much better position.”

The players did some intense physical work on Saturday morning and then have been working on some tactical and shape work since, always with a degree of competition thrown in. Pearson does not need telling his side have conceded the advantage at Aston Villa, at home to Everton and then at Brighton, but he's a glass half-full kind of coach and wants to focus on the fact Watford had only scored nine league goals before he arrived. They have scored 15 since.

“I tend to take a slightly different view in that when we are in good positions in games, and when we come out the other side with a positive result, I still reflect on moments when we had good fortune as well,” he said.

“I'm not somebody who overly looks at our situation when we have given away points with late goals. I'm realistic. The one that was very frustrating was the Everton one. The Villa situation was very lucky and the Brighton own goal is something that happens. I'm not going to get myself in a situation where the mindset changes about how I see in general what the players have brought to the field. I know we get honest performances.”

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Under-23's 21/02/2020

U23 PL Cup: “It's A Huge Opportunity”

Richard Thomas is relishing tonight’s crucial Under-23s match against Everton in the Premier League Cup and thinks the high-stakes nature of the tie will be a valuable experience for the young players.

With the top two from each group qualifying, Watford sit second on seven points going into this evening’s clash at Clarence Park (7pm KO), three points behind leaders Everton. However, they risk being leapfrogged by Fulham or Plymouth Argyle if they do not beat the Toffees.

“Winning games is part of development, because they’ve got to know how to win games, they’ve got to know how to keep a clean sheet,” said Academy Manager Thomas.

“You’ve got to have focus for 95, 96 minutes to keep a clean sheet, and that’s something that has been missing from our team. If we can play Everton and keep a clean sheet, I believe we have enough power going forwards with our front play that we can create chances and score goals.”

So far in this competition the young Hornets have beaten Fulham home and away and they took a point from two games against Plymouth, but the match against Everton on Merseyside ended in a 3-0 defeat.

“I think only three teams have stopped us scoring all season, Everton were one of them so it would be nice to see if we can get closer tonight,” said Thomas.

“We got beat 3-0 up at their place and I remember sitting down after and the first question I was asked was ‘that wasn’t a 3-0, was it?’. We played quite well on the night but that doesn’t mean anything because you’re away in what are competitive, must-win games and you’ve got beat 3-0.

“We’ve got to eradicate the silly errors, and this will be an interesting test, and it’s part of their development to play these games that they have to win.”

Recent weeks have seen first-team players such as João Pedro, Domingos Quina and Adalberto Peñaranda play alongside the regular Under-23 contingent, and that could be the case again tonight.

“It might be a mixed group again, which changes things slightly, but it’s just a great test regardless of who plays, who we put out,” said Thomas.

“It’s going to be a really good game because they’ll be top opposition, so we’ll need to be aggressive and intense if we’re going to compete. It’s a great test for us, them being the champions last year, so it’s a huge opportunity for our lads to show how far they’ve come.”

Admission for the match at Clarence Park is £3, however St Albans City members and Watford season ticket holders get free entry.

For exclusive content, unmissable offers and much more, download the new official Watford FC app on iOS HERE and on Android HERE.