Since Watford’s last match, a 2-0 defeat at Huddersfield, Vladimir Ivic has been replaced by Xisco Munoz as Head Coach.
To learn more about why the change was made ahead of Boxing Day’s game between Watford and Norwich City, we spoke to commentator Geoff Doyle, who covers the club for BBC Three Counties.
canaries.co.uk: It’s been a busy period of time at Watford with the recent managerial change. What’s your view on what has happened lately?
GD: It’s just been a roller coaster really. At the beginning of the season, Ivic came in and it was really difficult for him because there were teething problems, as Norwich will know, when you get relegated from the Premier League.
You have a whole load of issues as far as players are concerned - players that want to leave, players that think they’re leaving, players that don’t know whether they’re leaving or not, and probably some other players who the club are trying to release from the club for financial reasons.
When Ivic came in, it was a really difficult situation and he had to deal with all of these issues. The reason why they brought him in was because of a no-nonsense approach.
Ivic’s mantra was, ‘I’m only going to play players who want to play for the club.’ Player-wise, having been relegated, there were a few player issues and I think he’d been brought in to try and iron some of those out.
There were also injuries and COVID to add into everything, which Norwich will understand with all your problems.
To begin with, he was doing okay and the home form has been excellent. The away form has been patchy, and there were concerns about style of play. It felt as though it was quite defensive, and for a team who had just come down from the Premier League, you’d expect them to be on the front foot.
There were concerns with that, but he was kind of getting away with it because they were picking up these results, particularly at home.
It felt like it was going to come to a head though because it seemed like the players weren’t happy with this style of play and so, as the season’s gone on, there’ve been a bit more murmurings of players unhappy with how the coach is setting them up.
Eventually, it came to a head on Saturday with resting Troy Deeney after he’d scored three goals in three games. Again, tactically it was defensive and they lost to Huddersfield and he was sacked.
It didn’t really come as a surprise because it hasn’t felt right and yet you still have this feeling of a bit of sympathy for him. He didn’t seem to help himself at times, he was quite inflexible as far as tactics and formations were concerned.
There have been problems for a while there and, if there are problems and the players aren’t responding, unfortunately in football we all know what happens because there are 30-odd players and one coach, so the coach goes and that’s why they’ve brought in the new man.
It’s interesting, because the new manager is supposedly an attacking coach, which is what the fans, players and board want - a more attacking approach to football.
He’s also much more amiable than Ivic, who was very dour. That was just his personality - he was stoney faced and rarely smiled. He was like that on the training ground.
I think this guy has come in to give everybody a bit of a lift and freshen everything up.
That, probably, in a nutshell, is where we are with Watford. It’s all a bit complicated, but the board had to do something and they’ve done it. It’s just that this happens regularly so you do wonder whether there’s something that needs to be looked at within the club.
canaries.co.uk: There has been talk that some of the players disagreed with the recovery time under Ivic. This season, we all know how important squad rotation is, but Ivic was perhaps accused of changing the team too much.
GD: It’s such a difficult one because you know what the Championship is like, and when you’re playing Saturdays and midweek and you throw in injuries and COVID and isolation, for every club in the league it’s so difficult to deal with.
The players have griped about Ivic on a number of issues and that was just one of them. It wasn’t a happy camp at the club, I think it’s fair to say that. Morale was low and team unity is quite low as well.
There had to be a change just to try and get that group of players playing in a way that most people think would be good enough to get them out of the division. Whether that can happen is another matter because a lot needs to be done.
You’ve got to take that chance because where they were heading was not out of the Championship. The coach comes in and tries to restore order with the players and go from there.
With the players they have, you’d expect them to be in the top three or five, really pushing for automatic promotion.
canaries.co.uk: Do you think they’ll be looking to add to that in January?
GD: I think they’ll have to because again, to be fair to Ivic, he wanted players in at the beginning of the season and didn’t get them.
Watford’s biggest problem this season is that they’ve got one left-footed senior player at the club who is fit, which is just ridiculous. One is coming back again in Adam Masina but he’s probably about 50 percent match fit.
Ivic always wanted another left-sided player, it didn’t happen. He thought he’d get a free transfer of a left-sided player, it didn’t happen. They will have to get one in in January I’d have thought because they’ve got one left-back at the moment and one left midfielder. With any injuries, that’s a big problem area.
They probably need an attacking central midfielder as well so I think they’ll have to dip into the market in January but again, they probably need to offload a few players too.
That’s difficult in itself because some of these players are on big contracts as you’d expect, having been ex-Premier League players, and their form isn’t very good, so they’re not an attractive proposition at the moment.
When you get relegated from the Premier League, problems mount up.
canaries.co.uk: In terms of goals conceded, Watford have one of the best defensive records in the league, so how do you see Saturday’s game going?
GD: It will be interesting because defensively Watford are really strong and that’s probably their strongest area, although others will say in attack they’ve got Sarr, Deeney and Pedro.
Foster should be one of the best goalkeepers in the division. Kabasele is a really good centre-half. Cathcart is an international and a good player. Ekong was brought in as a Nigerian international. Femenia is an excellent full-back and they’ve signed Ngakia in the summer, so that defence is really strong.
With what’s been coming out this week from Watford, and the coach has done his first interview, with what the board and fans want, I think it could be attack vs attack because everybody’s fed up with how Watford have played this season - being conservative, possession based and not doing enough in the final third.
The reason why they brought in Munoz is because they want to see attacking football and for people to cheer up a bit and have a smile on their face after what has been a really disappointing last twelve months or so.
If Ivic was still there, I think it would have been a defensive approach from Watford. As it is now, I think the coach has been told, ‘you’re here to make us more attacking.’ In which case, it could be a really open game, which could be really interesting.
canaries.co.uk: We recently played Reading away and it was attack vs attack, making for one of the more enjoyable matches we’ve seen this season.
GD: Let’s hope that’s the case because I think at the moment, because of COVID and no supporters, teams are getting away with being quite defensive, particularly at home because they haven’t got the supporters on their backs.
Some games I’ve been at, you’re watching the game and thinking, ‘if there were home supporters here, they wouldn’t be allowing this. They’d be going mad because this is too defensive.’
Teams should be going at it a bit more and that’s one of the real issues with having no fans in stadiums. It allows teams to be defensive where they wouldn’t have been able to with supporters there.
I think it will be a much better game as a result of Ivic having left and Munoz coming in. Perhaps, because it’s his first game he might be a bit more pragmatic, but I doubt it because I think he’d have been told he’s here to make them more attacking.