It will undoubtedly be a raucous and highly charged atmosphere Saturday at Vicarage Road, where Marco Silva returns for his first match since his drawn out and contentious move from Watford to Everton that also resulted in Richarlison making the same moved to be reunited with his manager.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Yet for all the vitriol and animosity the saga created over the course of most of last season and into the summer, it may be Watford who have the last laugh since a win would move them four points clear of the Toffees and their former manager in this clash of top-half teams.
“We’d prefer it if you left him alone. … It’ll only motivate them more. Leave him alone, let us kick the (crap) out of them,” Watford striker Troy Deeney said at a fans’ forum according to the Liverpool Echo regarding a potential response for Silva’s return.
Club CEO Scott Duxbury also spoke at the forum and said he would not be speaking with the former Hornets and current Toffees boss.
It has been just over a year since Watford (9-7-9) sacked Silva, who endured an 11-match run with one win after the Hornets had started the season fast, were third after the eighth match day and still eighth after their 13th match. Everton (9-6-10) contributed to Watford’s woes by making repeated overtures to Silva after they fired Ronald Koeman, which led to the Portuguese boss losing the Hornets locker room after his interest was piqued.
After Everton formally hired Silva last May, Watford’s last act of revenge was driving the asking price for Richarlison substantially higher knowing Everton’s board would eventually acquiesce. In the end, they sold the young Brasil international for £35 million, with add-ons that could raise the final price to £50 million.
While both teams are clear of the relegation scrap, it can be argued Watford have overachieved with first-year manager Javi Gracia – who could be the first Hornets boss to start a second season in charge since Gianfranco Zola in 2012-13 – while Everton have struggled to raise their level under Silva to challenge the Big Six and be the best of the rest.
The pressure to produce has been piled on Silva, whose side have taken just 11 points from their last 13 league matches (3-2-8) after totaling 22 from the first 13, and that doesn’t include Everton’s embarrassing FA Cup exit to Championship side Millwall last month.
Most of Everton’s woes have been self-inflicted – they have conceded a Premier League-worst 12 goals off set pieces – including one in first-half stoppage time that proved pivotal in their 2-0 midweek loss at home to reigning champions Manchester City.
Despite the improved effort in comparison to a listless 3-1 defeat to new boys Wolverhampton – who are seventh, five points clear of the Toffees and into the fifth round of the FA Cup – the praise for better play has the feel of damning with faint praise for a side not hard-done by the scoreline considering City had a potential third thump the crossbar and Silva opted to leave Richarlison and top playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson on the bench until the final half-hour.
What the 90 minutes did do, however, was restore some of the faith supporters lost in that awful display against Wolves. Silva is hoping Wednesday’s effort can be replicated in what will be arguably the most hostile environment Everton face all season save their earlier trip to Anfield for the Merseyside derby.
“We had a good attitude and gave a strong answer, it was completely different from our last game and everything we needed to show,” the gaffer told Everton’s official website post-match. “Even if they (supporters) are not happy with the result, which is normal, and we are not either … that reaction was something the players needed and will make them more confident and stronger for the next match.”
Watford are winless in their last three league matches but also 5-5-2 in their last 12 matches in all competitions after playing Brighton and Hove Albion to a scoreless draw last weekend. It also marked a dubious milestone in club history as Gracia became the longest-serving manager of the side in the top flight with his 39th Premier League match since his arrival in January 2018.
The Hornets seemed to lack steam on offence without winger Roberto Pereyra, who suffered a calf injury in the loss to Tottenham that will also sideline him for this match. Ken Sema is likely to get a second start on the left wing in Pereyra’s absence. The Hornets have been able to grind out points without getting any scoring production from Deeney and strike partner Gerard Deulofeu in the last four league matches.
The positive news regarding the first 11 came with Gracia telling reporters Thursday that central midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure is again fit. He missed four matches after suffering a knee injury against Crystal Palace last month but has been practicing with the team and expected to restore his partnership with Etienne Capoue as destroyers in Watford’s 4-2-2-2 set-up.
“He is training with the team and I think he is ready for the next game,” Gracia said of Doucoure, who is second on the team with five assists in all competitions. “I think he will be ready, but we’ll decide the line-up tomorrow. He will be in a good condition to compete.”
Right back Kiko Femenia is also expected to be available for selection after missing the last three matches with a hamstring injury.
After gaining the maximum nine points in their first three matches at Vicarage Road, the Hornets have claimed just eight in the last nine (2-2-5). Everton have taken 12 points from their 12 road matches in league play, going 2-1-5 in the last eight.
The teams played to an entertaining 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture at Goodison Park, with traveling Watford supporters waving rubber snakes to show their displeasure with Silva. Lucas Digne salvaged a point for the Toffees with a free kick from 20 yards in the 96th minute, prompting a muted Silva to watch his team celebrate wildly.
Richarlison opened the scoring against his former team on the quarter-hour, only to have Watford take a second-half lead on an own goal by Toffees defender Seamus Coleman and a tally from Doucoure two minutes apart. Sigurdsson missed a penalty on 68 minutes before a hand ball by Christian Kabasele set up Digne’s last-gasp strike.
Per Bet365, Watford are clear but narrow favourites at 5/4, with Everton 11/5 underdogs to leave Vicarage Road with a victory. The odds of the teams splitting the points for a second time this term are 23/10.
Oddsmakers are uncertain if there will be another offensive outburst, offering 10/11 odds on either side of the 2.5-goal threshold. They are expecting both teams to strike at least once, though, giving 7/10 odds on a goal for each side compared to 21/20 odds on one clean sheet being recorded.
It is an interesting mix of joint-leaders for first goal-scorers, as Deeney and Andre Gray as well as Richarlison are all 6/1 options. Cenk Tosun and Watford counterpart Isaac Success are another step back at 13/2. Watford reserve Adalberto Penaranda offers intrigue at 7/1, ahead of Calvert-Lewin and Deulofeu at 15/2. Sigurdsson, Everton’s usual penalty taker, is 8/1 to make it 0-1 Toffees.
Gray, Richarlison, and Deeney are the only players under 2/1 odds at 15/8, with Tosun and Success just off that mark at 21/10. Penaranda offers a 9/4 return, while Calvert-Lewin and Deulofeu are 12/5 options.
So who’s ready for a little invective, vitriol, and hostility?
This could arguably be the most intriguing non-derby matchup in the Premier League besides Watford’s run-ins with Tottenham Hotspur, which have risen in animosity with each meeting this term.
But this one has justifiable hatred for Watford supporters, who will be practically frothing at the mouth rooting on their Hornets and jeering the Toffees. But the other thing is in a vacuum outside the Silva backdrop, Watford are in good enough form that they should blow the doors off Everton and send them back to Merseyside stuck on 33 points.
I do not get the whole “it was a better response” from Everton mid-week, and that may be a stateside point of view. Yes, the Toffees clearly played better than they did against Wolverhampton. Then again, that was such a low bar to clear that the goals coming when they did — in stoppage time of both halves — further bolsters this sentimentality it was the right response.
Silva did a creative shake-up to the starting XI, dropping Sigurdsson and Richarlison knowing full well their form heading into the City match would be a lost cause and anything that resembled a halfway decent shot at a draw would be viewed favourably. And that is essentially what happened with a gentlemen’s 2-0 defeat at home.
Watford are a team with bite. Deeney is the guy you love on your team and hate playing against him. The Hornets get back Doucoure for this match, a huge boost in a bid to negate Sigurdsson in the middle of the park. Being without Pereyra again is a problem, but it also means Watford should work through Everton’s spine and see just how much Gueye is up for the challenge.
The lack of form for both Deeney and Deulofeu is the biggest point of hesitation in picking Watford to win, especially since Richarlison is capable of making something out of nothing, though whether he’s leading the line with Theo Walcott on the wing or on the wing with either Tosun or Calvert-Lewin leading the line is still anyone’s guess.
But given the atmosphere this game will be played in, the hedge is steel over silk. And with Doucoure back for Watford, the Hornets have the steel to unravel Everton’s silk.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Watford 2, Everton 1.