OPINION - Five thoughts after Watford's 2-1 win over Burnley
Watford recorded back-to-back victories in the Premier League for just the second time this season, as goals from Troy Deeney and M'baye Niang secured a 2-1 win over Burnley.
Sean Dyche's men had Jeff Hendrick sent off inside the first ten minutes for a challenge on Jose Holebas and Watford took full advantage moments later, as Niang's pinpoint cross was headered home by captain Deeney.
Niang then added a second just before half-time, as he expertly knocked the ball past Tom Heaton from Holebas' excellent cross.
Burnley kept battling away in the second half and Heurelho Gomes had to be at his best to deny Ben Mee, but it was Watford who nearly had a third, when Heaton, somehow, thwarted Deeney from close range.
Sean Dyche's men pulled one back with fifteen minutes to play from the penalty spot, as Sebastian Prodl was penalised for handball in the area. Ashley Barnes stepped up to convert the penalty to set-up a tense final-15 minutes, but the Golden Boys managed to hold out to secure those all-important three points.
Having attended Saturday's game at Vicarage Road, here are five of my main thoughts.
1 - Things to work on, but pleasing to get the three points
Things couldn't have gone better for Watford this week could they? Back to back wins and six points has propelled Watford up to tenth place in the Premier League, meaning we are now ten points clear from the relegation places. As a result, it's fair to say I've eaten quite a bit of humble pie this week, having been fairly critical of head coach Walter Mazzarri and this Watford squad in my last fan's view piece for the Watford Observer, following a dismal performance from the Hornets against Millwall in the FA Cup last weekend. We were terrible and what made it even worse for me, was that I was meant to be on the One Show on Monday evening representing Watford in the FA Cup draw, live on BBC One. But that soon went down the pan when we were knocked out. As a result, I don't think anyone expected us to get six points from games against Arsenal and Burnley. But that's exactly what we got and we've got to be over the moon about that. I went from anger to pure elation and ecstasy in the space of a few days.
Saturday's game against Burnley was, by no means, plain sailing but in the end we got the job done and that's all that matters. You can't deny Watford were helped by the fact that Burnley had Jeff Hendrick sent off inside the first ten minutes, but the Hornets still had to get the job done, and despite a tense final 15 minutes, we managed to do just that. There's no better feeling than three points. On the basis of things, Watford were probably full value for the win, as they controlled Saturday's game for 75 minutes and our first half performance was brilliant. Burnley couldn't handle us and we played some decent stuff on the pitch.
However, we should have killed Burnley off much sooner, as Mazzarri rightly said after the match, and we made some silly errors towards the end of the game which could have come back to hurt us. It wouldn't be Watford if we didn't make life hard for ourselves, hey? So, there are still some things to work on, because Watford could have very easily thrown those three points away through silly mistakes. However, there are plenty of positives to take from Saturday's game and hopefully, with some improvements, Watford can replicate these two performances on a regular basis during the second half of the season.
2 - Cleverley outstanding
While M'baye Niang's performance might capture all the headlines, Tom Cleverley was simply outstanding for me and he was my man-of-the-match without a shadow of a doubt. The on-loan Everton man didn't stop running during the 90 minutes and he broke up play brilliantly all afternoon. He worked so hard all game and kept possession of the ball superbly. I don't think I ever saw him give the ball away all afternoon and he always looked to get things moving in the right direction. Cleverley also got forward at every opportunity and he looks at home in the Hornets' midfield. He's the midfielder that we've been missing, as he works so well with Capoue and Behrami, and it's no coincidence that we haven't lost since Cleverley has come into the side. He's been superb since returning to Vicarage Road last month and he's become a vital player in this side. Watford don't have another midfielder like Cleverley in the squad and his tenacity and quality on the ball makes him such a likeable figure. I really hope that we take up the option to sign the Everton man permanently at the end of the season, because he's an excellent player. I might have to set-up the Tom Cleverley fan club, because I like him (as a football before anyone says) so much! More of the same please, Tom!
3 - We've got a right player on our hands in Niang!
Saturday's game against Burnley was the first time that I'd seen M'baye Niang live since he joined from AC Milan last week, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. However, it was hard not to be impressed by the young Frenchman, after what was a very promising display from the forward. Niang was everything you wanted him to be; quick, skilful and powerful with the ball at his feet. But most of all, he showed his undoubtable quality when he got the ball and he was a constant thorn in Burnley's side all afternoon. His pace and power caused Burnley's full-backs problems all afternoon and the on-loan AC Milan man also scored a superb header and delivered a great cross for Deeney's goal. He was inches away from scoring a stunner from 20-yards and delivered another brilliant cross for Deeney in the second half. Niang also showed some great pieces of skill, especially in the first half when he skilfully pirouetted past two Burnley players to get Watford on the attack. All of Watford's best attacking moves went through him and he looks at home in the Premier League, following two impressive performances in the space of a week. Niang, understandably, tired as the game went on, but this was a very impressive performance from Watford's new French forward. It's now a question of whether he can reproduce this display on a regular basis. If he can, then we have got a right player on our hands and it's hard not to be excited about what Niang can produce for the Hornets.
4 - Zarate the new Forestieri?
With his jinking mazy runs and quick feet, Mauro Zarate reminded me of a certain Fernando Forestieri on his debut at Vicarage Road on Saturday. Zarate, signed from Fiorentina for a fee believed to be in the region of £2-3m during the January transfer window, made a promising start to life back in the Premier League and he came close to scoring a superb solo goal, as he went on a mazy run out on the left into the penalty area, before firing an effort which went just wide of Tom Heaton's post. Had his shot had a little more bend on it, then it would have surely nestled into the back of the net. The Argentine forged a good partnership with Jose Holebas down the left and the former Fiorentina man always looked to drive forward when he had the ball. What I liked the most about Zarate was that he had a great work ethic, as he tracked back all afternoon and he pulled off one important interception in the second half to stop a Burnley attack right in its tracks. It was certainly a promising debut from the former West Ham United man, and it looks like all the new January signings have fitted in seamlessly.
5 - Deeney back to his usual self
It was great to see Troy Deeney look much more like his normal self on Saturday against Burnley. As the guys on the fantastic From the Rookery End podcast rightly said, it looks like both Deeney and Watford have got their mojo ban recently. Both the Hornets and Deeney have looked more of an attacking threat in recent weeks and that is something which is very pleasing to see. The Watford captain notched his third goal in as many games on Saturday, as he powerfully nodded home M'baye Niang's pinpoint cross from close range. He was so unfortunate not to add a second to his name in the second half, as Heaton somehow kept out his goal-bound strike from Niang's cross and the Watford captain also had a goal chalked off for hand-ball in stoppage time. Mazzarri has clearly been working on our attacking play and it was pleasing to see Deeney link up so well with new signings Niang and Zarate as well as the likes of Cleverley and Capoue, something which caused Burnley problems all game. As always, Deeney battled superbly up top, giving Burnley centre halves Michael Keane and Ben Mee a torrid time, as he chased down a number of lost causes and won numerous headers in the air. His work ethic can never be questioned and he leads admirably from the front. Here's hoping that this is the start of a successful second half of the season, for both Deeney and Watford.