Date: 21st March 2014 at 12:36pm
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Watford are in town on Saturday and I took the chance to catch up with Vital Watford editor Kieran Callanan, aka KDCallanan, to find out as much as possible about our rivals, their new boss, and looking ahead to our semi-final at Wembley, where is the best place for a pint and a butty for those staying overnight in Watford either before or after the game, an entertaining and insightful chat:

worbo – I always thought that Zola was doing a good job at Watford, what went wrong and what’s Giuseppe Sannimo like, I must admit I know nothing about him?

Kieran – Zola’s departure came about as a result of a number of things. We were always better away from home under Zola, probably owing to our fantastic capability to counter attack with speed and ruthlessness. We used to invite pressure and then strike all of a sudden. This worked very well, especially last season.

This season, a few players that were integral to that system departed, and their replacements were not necessarily of the same build. Gone was Chalobah, for example, who could do in one or two touches what most other central midfielders would take several touches to make happen. So we needed to rely less on hitting teams in the break in order to be successful this year, and Zola didn’t quite manage to get is playing in a different way.

A few key factors that I really don’t think can be overstated are as follows:

– The loss of Almen Abdi to a tricky foot injury at the end of August. Abdi made out team click. He is our best player in my opinion, and you’d struggle to find many Watford fans who’d disagree with me on that I’m sure. Losing him weakened Zola’s squad.

– Zola’s reported lack of tactical coaching. When Sannino came in, a lot was made of the relaxed approach Zola had to training – an extra day off every week was mentioned as well as a focus on expressing oneself rather than the team working together. It worked to an extent, but when the going got tough and the form dipped we had no knack of grinding out results.

– The arrival of some players that never really gelled. The squad we had at the start of the season on paper looked very strong, and it had a lot of depth. However, players like Diego Fabbrini (now on loan at Siena) and Javier Acuna (now on loan at Osasuna) just didn’t do it for us for whatever reason despite coming into the squad with a fair few rave reviews. We often looked like a team of individuals, and presumably Zola’s reliance on something of a laissez-faire attitude to coaching probably meant that this type of thing didn’t get nipped in the bud in the same way as it would be under other managers.

– Zola’s apparent crisis of confidence. Despite Sannino having been approached by the owners of the club prior to Zola’s departure, there is nothing to suggest that Zola’s resignation was actually forced. After our fifth successive home defeat in what was supposed to be a season of pushing for a top two spot, Zola spoke of how he wasn’t sure if he was the ‘right man for the job’. This lack of confidence in his own ability to turn things around may have been an important element that contributed to our dip in form being so lasting prior to his resignation.

As for Beppe Sannino, he is a tactically astute coach who believes ‘you have to be angry to win’. Something of a departure from Zola’s ‘express yourself’ philosophy.

I think the opposing styles have worked in our favour to an extent, as the players still play quality football in the attacking third when they want to, but this is backed up by a hunger and desire seen in the squad’s keenness to press high up the pitch and defend as a unit.

You’ll see Sannino’s spirit on Saturday – he is known to play the game with the players on the pitch in some sense, charging up and down the touch line and yelling almost continuously throughout matches.

worbo – Watford have superb home form, but what`s the problem when travelling, is it down to playing style, unlucky or being a bit too cautious?

Kieran – Our away form isn’t quite as bad as the results suggest, in that our performances haven’t actually been consistently poor, and we have been the victim of some disappointing refereeing decisions (no excuses here though!).

Sannino has recently suggested that he knows what our problem is, and it revolves around confidence and a willingness to play higher up the pitch. We sit deeper away from home.

A poor 2-0 loss to Bolton and a drab 0-0 at Yeovil aside, our away performances of late have at least had some positives. Our 2-0 lead at half time at Man City was fantastic (of course, bettered by yourselves not long after), we played with ten men for over 70 minutes at Doncaster only to lose to a last minute goal (and a terrible refereeing decision that would have seen us level and ten versus ten in the first half, but we’ll leave that be), and a last minute wonder strike from Danny Drinkwater denied us three points away at league leaders Leicester.

Perhaps our away form is due a turnaround quite soon…

worbo – Which Watford player should we look out for on Saturday, who is your danger man?

Kieran – We have just one recognised striker that is available to play on Saturday, so we’ll be hoping nothing goes wrong with Troy Deeney between now and 5pm on Saturday.

Despite this though, I’d say our danger man is the man deputising up top Ikechi Anya. His blistering pace, willingness to take a player on, and his complete and utter unselfishness makes him a very important part of the team right now.

He was prone to drifting offside last weekend, which is probably due to his unfamiliarity in the role, but if he sorts that out on Saturday he will find himself in dangerous areas on a number of occasions.

worbo – I think most people feel that Leicester and Burnley have got the automatic slots sewn up, but what about the third one via the playoffs, who do you fancy, no need to be courteous and say us by the way?

Kieran – Well, to be honest if your form carries on the way it’s going I can’t see why it wouldn’t be you.

The playoffs are a lottery though, and I wouldn’t want to say one team in particular will do it, but I will say that you have everything in your favour if you do get to the final, given that Wembley must feel like a home from home for your squad by now.

worbo – April the 12th we are at Wembley to face Arsenal in the FA cup semi final, I know quite a few fans have booked into hotels and travel lodges in and around Watford, have you any tips for a good night out, eating and drinking wise?

Kieran – I’m not that big on going out to clubs or anything like that so you’ll have to ask someone else about the myriad nightclubs on the high street.

L’artista on the high street is an excellent Italian restaurant though, I’d recommend that.

As for pubs, there’s the Nascot Arms just off the Langley Road – that’s a small local that does really good Thai food and always has a great atmosphere (I actually watched your FA Cup win in there and the place went mad when you scored your goal).

There are a cluster of good pubs a short walk from Watford Junction as well. The Estcourt and the Wellington are just down the road from the station of you turn left on exit.

worbo – Finally, what’s your prediction for the big game, Latics v Watford?

For whatever reason, I’m feeling optimistic. It all depends on whether your fatigue or our inability to hold onto a result in the final minutes of away games play their part.

2-1 to Watford if it’s the former, 2-2 if it’s the latter and you don’t end up tiring towards the end a la Yeovil on Tuesday.

Big thanks to Kieran from Vital Watford for the excellent info, the other side of the conversation with me answering the questions can be found here at Vital Watford, thanks again Kieran good luck for the rest of the season, and thanks for the cheer in the cup final!