Watford vs Crystal Palace: Match Preview | Premier League 2021/22

Vineet Kumar
By Vineet Kumar
10 Min Read
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Gameweek 26 is upon us and things are getting tight at the bottom of the table. With Newcastle United picking up 3 wins on the trot and Everton rediscovering their cutting edge, the current bottom 3 have their work cut out in their bid for Premier League survival. Burnley faces a tough away trip to Brighton while Norwich City faces the daunting Liverpool side at Anfield. Fellow strugglers Watford travel to Birmingham to face Aston Villa side that’s on the rise (to say the least) before facing Crystal Palace at home. On the other hand, Crystal Palace faces Chelsea before visiting Vicarage Road. Patrick Viera’s men are on a patchy run of form having failed to win a game in their previous 5 outings in the league. With a crucial run of games coming up, Viera is in desperate need of a lift & Watford might be the perfect game to turn their season around.

Watford sacked Claudio Ranieri, a decision that received massive criticism. Although Ranieri was on an abysmal run of form, he deserved the chance of strengthening the squad in the January transfer window & build a team that would eventually suit his playing style. But the sudden sacking of the Italian led the Watford ownership towards appointing a seasoned veteran, who goes by the name of Roy Hodgson. It will be a trip down memory lane for Hodgson who will manage Watford against his boyhood club Palace in a rescheduled fixture on Wednesday.

When & Where?

Venue: Vicarage Road.
Date: 24th February 2022.
Time : 7:30 GMT.

Match Officials

Referee: Andre Marriner.
Assistant Referees:  Scott Ledger & Derek Eaton.
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper.
VAR: Mike Dean.
Assistant VAR: Mark Scholes.

Team News

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Although there has been little positivity in the Hornets camp for the majority of the season, there has been some good news on the injury front. With most of the first-team squad available for selection, Roy Hodgson is looking to welcome a couple of players back into the first-team picture. Cameroonian defender Nicolas Nkoulou who suffered a hamstring issue is expected to be out for a couple of weeks & will definitely not be available for selection against the Eagles. Peter Etebo who suffered an injury against Newcastle in September has returned to full training & is expected to be a part of the matchday squad on Wednesday. Apart from these 2 players, Hodgson will have the full first-team squad at his disposal.

Viera has had to deal with injuries to key players at crucial points in the season. Although there have been moments where the team has struggled to cope with injuries, there is finally some good news on that front. Centrebacks Marc Guehi & Michael Olise have recovered from knocks and will be in contention to feature against the Hornets. Conor Gallagher is ineligible to face his parent club and will be gaping to make an impact for the Eagles against Watford. James Mcarthur & Will Hughes trained with the squad this week and are expected to be a part of the matchday squad. Kouyate will also be available for selection after returning from the AFCON as a Champion. He is expected to be thrown right into the starting XI to bring balance into the team and provide defensive cover.

Match Analysis

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Roy Hodgson has a seemingly impossible task on his hands as he desperately tries to salvage a season where the Hornets seemed to be doomed for relegation. Watford are on a 3 match losing streak and there seems to be no end to their misery. With a well drilled Palace side coming to town, Hodgson will probably stick to his tried & tested system i.e., 4-4-2 with Josh King & Bonaventure playing min the forward positions, accompanied by the likes of Moussa Sissoko & Tom Cleverley in midfield to provide a solid defensive cover for the Back 4. Palace press the ball with great intensity which helps them in regaining possession of the ball but it leaves them vulnerable at the back due to a high defensive line. Watford will be expecting Palace to come at them with heavy intensity & will mostly rely on their forwards to make runs in behind the Palace backline. Although the Watford faithful won’t necessarily approve of sitting back & defending for the majority of the game, especially at home, this is possibly the only way Hodgson’s men can salvage something from this game.

Viera’s expansive 4-3-3 system with it’s high pressing has troubled almost every single outfit in the league this season. The likes of Gallagher & Zaha have massively benefitted from this system. Palace focuses on creating patterns of play with the Number 8s in midfield, the wingers & the fullbacks while creating overloads in the forward areas. The problem with this style of play is that a team who presses and plays with a high line is always prone to long balls over the top and centrebacks being stretched into the wide areas. This has been one of the major reasons behind their recent struggles and this is what Watford will be looking to do. Jordan Ayew & Wilfred Zaha will be tasked with running at the Watford fullbacks & creating 1v1 situations against the central defenders as Watford’s central defenders have had problems of their own during this season. Watford needs a result in front of their home crowd to arrest their slump and give them a glimmer of hope in their bid for survival while Palace will be looking for a result to get back into contention for a top-half finish.

Key Players

Josh King

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The Norwegian forward who was heavily linked to a move to Manchester United in the past has been an integral part of Watford’s squad this season. Having made 20 appearances this season, his partnership with the likes of Dennis & Bonaventure has been one of the few shining lights in their abysmal campaign so far. His ability to run past the opposition defence will be brought to good use against the high backline of  Crystal Palace. He will be expected to act as an outlet for the Watford midfielders who will be tasked with pinging long balls over the top for King to run onto. His poaching ability in front of goal, especially from set-piece opportunities while running onto second balls will also add to Watford’s effectiveness in front of goal in a crucial fixture.

Wilfred Zaha

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Zaha will be tasked with carrying the Palace attack & punishing a leaky Watford defence. For a long time, Zaha has been the main protagonist at Selhurst Park and he will once again be ready to take on the Hornets at their home ground. Winning the ball in high regions of the pitch plays into Zaha’s hands as his quick turn of pace & magical footwork has been terrorizing opposition defenders for a long time now. Watford have one of the worst defences in the league and Zaha is definitely one of the last players they would want to face. His performance will be essential for Palace & Viera as they look to arrest their slump & emerge victorious in this game.

Predicted Lineups:

Watford predicted XI: Foster, Femenia, Cathcart, Samir, Kamara, Sissoko, Kayembe, Cleverley, Sarr, King, Dennis.

Crystal Palace predicted XI: Butland, Ward, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell, Kouyate, Hughes, Gallagher, Ayew, Edouard, Zaha.

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