Watford FC 3-2 Coventry City
No Godden, but the performance at Forest in the last 20 minutes suggested we could play without him.. No McFadzean, who has come in for some criticism as of late.
Ostigard has looked much more comfortable centrally and the line-up reflects that.
Matching formations, and the quality of Watford might suggest they will let us try and play our way through them.
Early on Coventry, clearly with the back three shape, often cycled the ball to Rose to play diagonal. This was never successful, due in part to the lack of support underneath the front three as they attack the ball. Note Sheaf on the halfway line and Hamer square in-field from Rose. Turnovers resulted in a Watford counter, and will explain the desire for Watford to drop off and let City have it in these areas. More on Rose in a moment.
Success came when City started finding the space in the middle, often as a result of quicker switches which prevent the Watford front line from pressing effectively. The second image shows the same breaking of the press from Watford:
Although Watford had more of the ball, they often lacked the direct attack without getting it to into the feet of Sarr. Here you see a counter-attack through the middle with Capoue. Just 8 seconds later you see Coventry defending in a 1-5-3 and Watford now having one additional player joininng the original four.
This gave the feeling that Watford were in control, and the half-time Twitter talk rumbled of a fear that Watford were toying with Coventry and could turn it on if they wanted. However, moments in the game like this show the commitment to the game plan. Another example of Coventry defending deeper and frustrating Watford, and in this moment, Capoue giving the ball away:
Forward play in this formation has been hit and miss, with a few good chances created, but more turnovers again, as you see the same trending ball into an attack (Walker in this instance) who is beaten to it. Frustratingly, the turnover also comes when City are out of position, with Sheaf and Hamer deep.
However, the same situation from a more advanced Rose allows for a third man for Walker from a Biamou flick-on. The ball went deeper from Rose and with Biamou anticipating, he was able to connect. Aiming at the first man, as previously shown, makes the phase of play predictable, but going deeper not only allows for third-man runs, but it allows for the connection of supporting midfielders, and potential switches to the winger on the opposite side.
And we know Walker loves to make that run, see here from a similar moment from against Forest last time out:
With Rose constantly being the ballplayer, a likely Watford choice, there needs to be a development on cues and behaviors. Moving forwards with the ball is a positive and often a necessity as an only way of pushing forward, especially when matching up man to man, the only outlet is one of the back three. However, the right center-back cannot push forward and try to play a square pass. This one was picked up by Capoue and with two touches had set Andre Gray on his way at the City goal.
The goal came on 52 after another excellent switch of play, that is reminiscent of the same switches from Knockaert on Wednesday. This was the start of a very questionable stretch of action in which there errors from the Ostigard at the back, Hamer the bulldog charging around, Capoue splitting the defense, and a free header that went just wide. The warning signs were there, but City held on and straightened themselves out:
Coventry's positive attacks in the second half came with Ryan Giles attacking Femenia. Giles has proved to be a constant outlet over the previous weeks and his positive attacking was a large part of the success in the opening phases of the second half. Within the space of 2 minutes, Giles had beaten Femenia twice who was then booked for losing the ball to Biamou and was ultimately replaced on 67.
Goals came from an unlikely header from Hamer. The freekick was nothing special, but whipped in after the Femenia yellow card, notable that the direct and purposeful attacking from Giles paid off indeirectly.
Walkers goal, was an excellent strike with composure and balance, leaving Foster frustrated, but see the two images below:
Sheaf receiving the ball with his back to goal. My analysis has criticized City for providing no outlet in these moments, but Sheaf made it happen. Risk-Reward is high here, but the cut-back pass to Rose encouraged City forward.
McCallum was taken down, but Hamer stepped up and took over, playing the advantage and played a long ball that was controllable. Again, and early on, too many balls up to strikers are uncontrollable, but in counter-attacking quickly and directly, the Watford defense were unorganized and allowed Biamou to win the ball after Troost-Ekong got himself tangled up:
82nd minute and Watford slowly rotate the ball to the left, and into Sema's feet. City were organized with McCallum playing 1v1 and plenty deep to cover. The tentative feeling of not messing up at this point shows. Having taken the lead then let Watford back in at 2-2 is clear, as you see 8 outfielders defending seep and focused on the ball. KEEP THE BALL OUT seems to be the moto, but look at Sarr alone at the back. The clearance, and then the handball, all come from the fear of conceding again.
So, the international break. Robins talks of being happy, but frustrated and we all feel the same. There are definitely feelings of frustration when reviewing games and being able to put a finger on our own mistakes that lead to the results we're seeing. 11 games gone and City are in and around the places expected, but the performances say otherwise. It isn't a panic station moment yet, and 'more of the same' with composure should see that panic button being left alone.