First Team 03/01/2020

Team News: Tranmere Rovers

By Kevin Affleck

Craig Shakespeare has confirmed the Watford team to face Tranmere Rovers in the third round of the FA Cup will be much changed as Nigel Pearson plans to use the competition as an opportunity to showcase the depth of his squad and rest some tired bodies after a punishing Christmas schedule.

The Hornets played four games in ten days, including more than 50 minutes with ten men, and the priority must be making sure key players are fully rested and fit ahead of a crucial Premier League game at Bournemouth a week on Sunday.

Pearson feels the cup provides an ideal opportunity for some peripheral players – ones he hasn't yet had a chance to assess in a game situation because of the hectic nature of the schedule – to show him what they are capable of and an opportunity for some of the players under the age of 23 to step up.

“With the amount of games we've had, some are running on empty,” said Shakespeare. “We need to rest some of them and make sure they are okay as some have got a few knocks and bruises. Four or five have got knocks and they are being assessed. It was a recovery day [on Thursday] and we need to see who can train fully. The starting XI [from New Year's Day] have been wrapped in cotton wool.”

The likes of Pontus Dahlberg, Dan Bachmann, Domingos Quina, Andre Gray, João Pedro, Tom Dele-Bashiru, Isaac Success, José Holebas, Joe Hungbo, Callum Whelan and Sam Dalby will all be eyeing some game-time.

“It gives others an opportunity, maybe one they haven't had so far, and we'll see if they take their chance,” said Shakespeare. “And I say that without underestimating the FA Cup or belittling it. It's a great, great competition, one we want to go as far in as we can. We aim to go through to the next round. We do hold the FA Cup in high esteem and we want to try and progress. It just gives players who have been a bit frustrated the chance to get some minutes under their belt.”

Adrian Mariappa is available again after suspension and he could be needed as the extent of the injury sustained by Kiko Femenía is not yet known. Tom Cleverley, Daryl Janmaat, Sebastian Prödl and Danny Welbeck are definitely out, although Welbeck is making good progress from a hamstring injury.

“He's [training] outside,” said Shakespeare. “He's more or less one to one [with a member of the strength and conditioning staff], not joining in with the full squad yet. We haven't got a [return] date [yet].”

First Team 02/01/2020

Doucouré: “Everyone Is Committed”

By Kevin Affleck

Abdoulaye Doucouré feels Watford have sent a message to the rest of the Premier League that they are on the charge after the heart-stopping win over Wolves.

The Hornets looked to have given themselves a mountain to climb when a draw at home to Crystal Palace left them six points adrift of the side fourth from bottom, but a run of three wins and a draw in four games has put them within striking distance of safety and changed the landscape.


“We need to forget the table when we are on the pitch and just play like a team,” said the all-action midfielder on Added Time. “We need to look after ourselves and only look at the table after the game. We need to fight and now all the other teams look at us and say, ‘Ah, they are coming back.’ We have ended our struggle and are on a good run. We need to keep going until the end. Now everyone believes anything is possible.”

Doucouré has looked transformed since Nigel Pearson walked through the door. He has thrived playing in a more advanced position and his ability to stretch the play and go from box to box has energised the team.

“I used to play in this position when I was in France,” he said. “Now Nigel is playing me in this position. I will play wherever but I’m pleased with this position as I can get forward and also get back to protect the midfield. The spirt is fantastic and, as Troy said last week, we have energy to burn. You can see it in the pitch and we must keep going.”

Doucouré slammed in his second of the season on New Year’s Day and his first at home since April. He felt it was about time he chipped in after some opportunities he would usually gobble up went begging this season.

“I need to score more goals,” said Doucouré, who got seven in 2017/18. “I need to push myself. I scored one today and I need to keep going. I missed some big chances this season, especially against Liverpool and Man United but today I think I deserved to score that goal. It was deflected but I’m so happy as it was an important goal.”

The goal represented a perfect birthday present for the midfielder, who turned 27 on New Year’s Day. It also gave the team a two-goal cushion and meant they were able to withstand a late assault from Wolves and hold on for a hugely significant win.

“The team played so well,” said Doucouré. “We deserved to win. We fight a lot, we are all together. It’s 10 points from 12 and we are so happy. We want to carry on. We managed the game well, everyone is committed with the team and we are showing it on the pitch. We dropped too many points this year and now we are on a good run. We have to carry on, we have to push forward and get out of this position as soon as possible. Nigel is here to push the team, Craig [Shakespeare] as well and we are happy to have this kind of coach.”