Four weeks into the 2018/19 season there are now but three teams left with an unblemished record. Two of these teams are perennial title contenders, one expected, one outperforming expectations. The third team to haul in all twelve points so far is… Watford?
Reds on a Roll
Liverpool conceded their first goal of the season to Leicester’s Rachid Ghezzal, the Algerian imports first in the Premier League, but hung on to win 2-1, having been staked to an early lead by scores from Brazil’s oldest looking 26-year-old Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
They are already in third gear and cruising. Their first big test will come after the international break when they head to Wembley to face Spurs on the 15th.
Blues are not Blue
Chelsea were expected to perhaps struggle a bit as they adjusted to new skipper Maurizio Sarri’s system. And they have struggled a little. They needed a late Marcos Alonso goal to put away Arsenal 3-2, and an own goal
from American DeAndre Yedlin to overcome Newcastle United, (Yedlin would redeem himself over the weekend with a header against City, becoming the first US player to score in the premier league since Geoff Cameron’s goal for Stoke in 2014.)
Though the attack looks healthy, it’s yet to be seen how well Sarri’s defense will hold up over the course of the season.
I glibly included Watford in my three teams to be relegated prediction. Do I owe the supporters at Vicarage Road an apology? It appears I might. 2018 marks the Hornets’ third straight year in the Premier League, never finishing higher than 13th. With four victories they are already one-quarter of the way to their high water mark of twelve wins in 2015/16. A team that has never had a goal differential better than -10 in the top flight has outscored their opponents 9-3, including an impressive comeback victory this past Sunday against a heavily favored Tottenham squad fresh off their defenestration of Man U. So what is going on in Watford?
Not Missing Richarlison
The Brazilian winger made a big splash in his English football debut in 2017, netting five goals and drawing lots of interest from teams with bigger checkbooks than Watford. 40 million pounds later Richarlison is in Everton and the Hornets have to move on.
They don’t seem to have noticed the absence. Midfielder Roberto Pereyra leads the team with three goals and tricksy veteran Troy Deeney has two, both well on their way to eclipsing last year’s output. They haven’t wasted their chances, with 19 of their 48 shots considered “on target.” And they have been playing tidy football, not making many mistakes.
The signing of former West Bromwich keeper Ben Foster has stabilized the defense and the grizzled 35 year old has high praise for the men in front of him.
This is just the beginning
The comeback against Spurs should erase any doubt that this team is relegation fodder. But really there shouldn’t have been much doubt in the first place. It isn’t like Watford was facing tomato cans in the first three weeks. Brighton Hove Albion proved they were no pushovers in their 3-2 upset of United. The Hornets manhandled Europa League first timers Burnley for their first away win in 13 fixtures. And they held serve at home against a talented Crystal Palace squad. They haven’t even faced some of the really dreadful teams, like the overmatched Cardiff City or the collapsing West Ham United Hammers.
Conventional wisdom holds that a Premier League side needs around 40 points to avoid relegation, research has pegged that number closer to 37 points. With twelve yummy points under their belts, Watford is well on their way to safety. The next goal would be to shoot for the 50-60 points that would secure them a lucrative trip to the Europa League.
So it seems I do owe an apology to Elton John’s favorite team. They are off to a fine start and I’ll be rooting for them to keep it up. Now someone please explain the moose for me?
Around the World
Old Blighty isn’t the only place with world class football. With the rise of streaming services and the importance of live sports to broadcasters revenue streams, the beautiful game is easier to follow than ever before. I’ll be using the international break to dive into some of the other major FIFA leagues around the globe.
Meanwhile the worlds national teams will be coming together for friendlies over the next week. The US Men’s National Team will begin their long trek back to World Cup contention with matches against Brazil on Friday the 7th and Mexico next Tuesday the 11th. Both matches will be on FS1.
“From our Haus to Yours”