watford have 28 clear days between their move to Bristol City and their next home game against Hull on December 11. That’s not quite the 71 days Rob Edwards had at his disposal this summer between the final premier league game at chelsea and the first of the Championship against United Kingdom of Sheffieldbut this is considered a valuable period for Slaven Bilic to continue to imprint his style.
Athleticism outlines what will happen during this time on and off the training ground, in England and abroad.
The majority of the team, Bilic and his team have the first week of the international break after a turbulent period. The City of Bristol game ended a span of 11 games in 42 days, an average of about one every four days. Only representative of Watford in Qatar, Ismaila Sarr – who emerged unscathed from Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Ashton Gate after coming on as a substitute — flies to Qatar via France but SenegalAs Englanddo not have a pre-tournament friendly match, unlike some others.
There are a handful of Watford players who will play against teams going to Qatar. Ken Sema is in the Sweden team to play Mexico, Francois Sierraltathe face of chile Poland (these two matches take place on Wednesday), while William Troost-Ekong will be captain Nigeria — which also include Maduka Okoye – versus Portugal Thursday. Sweden (against Algeria) and Chile (v Slovakia) also have a second device, while Daniel Bachmanit is Austria face to two sides not to the world Cup: Andorra and Italy. Edo Kayembe is likely to feature for DR Congo against Gambia in Turkey.
All of these games are taking place ahead of Watford’s trip to Spain for a six-day training camp. Athleticism revealed trip details earlier this month, which will include a stay at a five-star resort on the Costa Blanca and training at the Pinatar Arena in Murcia, which has hosted numerous international and club teams.
The Croatian’s goal during the mini-pre-season is to improve his physical condition and strengthen the team’s understanding of his methods. He will also get to know his team and instill his beliefs on an individual level, as he did with Joe Pedro ahead of the 2-0 win over While reading. The head coach told the 21-year-old Brazilian in a private meeting in his office how he wanted him to develop his work off the ball, including finding more aggressive positions inside the box.
“They know what we are doing and are confident and you don’t want it to stop,” Bilic explained. “But, on the other hand, for me these are the early days, (the break) is going to give us time to do more and better.”
Before returning from Spain on the final day (November 26), Watford are scheduled to face La Liga strugglers Elche in a friendly, but they are awaiting final confirmation from the Spanish side – with Domingos Quina on loan – who are bottom of La Liga with just four points having lost 10 of 14 matches this season.
When Watford return to England they have agreed to play a match behind closed doors with neighbors at the training ground Arsenal during the week beginning November 28. Matches like these have been run on a semi-regular basis with Mikel Arteta’s side due to the ease of logistics. It will be a good opportunity to test the work done in Spain on a higher caliber opposition: the leaders of the Premier League no less.
The academy program continues during the World Cup, which means there will also be Under-21 matches that Watford can use for first-team minutes: Middlesborough (19 November), West Bromwich Albion (22 November), Crewe Alexandra (29 November) and Huddersfield (December 9) all take place before first-team action resumes.
Bilic took advantage of the recent game against QPR (a 4-2 win) – the day after the 4-0 win over rivals Luton — to play Vakoun Bayo, Mattie Pollock, Joseph Hungbo, Tom Dele Bashiru, Yaser Asprila and Samuel Kalou.
“We still have these players who are out (to come back) and they are extremely important for us, so the break will be good,” Bilic explained.
Although Tom Cleverley and Imran Louza (absent until around February/March) are long-term absentees, Rey Manaj and Jeremy Ngakia have resumed training and will be available for Bilic for the first time. This international break is a key month for right-back Ngakia in particular, who has only played once this season due to injury and with a chance to prove he can be a long-term option in his favorite position.
“If you played three years ago as David Moyes’ right-back, he should be good defensively,” Bilic said, referring to the 22-year-old’s time at West Ham United. “Offensively he’s 100 per cent good, he’s got pace, ideas, courage, he’s young, electric, enthusiastic but let’s see defensively. You can’t play for Moyes if you’re not a good defender, this which gives me a lot of optimism about him and he will have to fight for his place.
Bilic has used and been impressed with Dan Gosling as a makeshift right-back for the majority of his time in charge, but that will no longer be an option after Gosling ruptured his Achilles at Ashton Gate and joined the long-time absentees. It means Ngakia and Mario Gaspar – who Bilic says is a “different player now” – is expected to fill the role once domestic football resumes.
The search for a the right-back in the last transfer window didn’t go as well as expected and Bilic knows that whatever position it is deemed necessary to strengthen in, the process must be executed well when the winter market opens. “We can’t miss January no matter what we look like, it’s a long season and we don’t want to be in that situation,” he said.
Plans for the transfer window will begin to be refined during the World Cup break. This should involve discussions with the incoming Ben Manga from Eintracht Frankfurtwho will play a leading role in recruitment. Athleticism learned that Manga should also be accompanied by a new assistant.
Bilic could also have a new assistant at his side during the break, with the club aiming to finalize the appointment of Julian Dicks, who Bilic previously had in his squad at West Ham and West Brom. Outside the training ground, new investments at Watford and Udinese are being discussed by the Pozzo family and that process is also expected to accelerate.
Although the World Cup takes center stage, there will still be a lot going on behind the scenes at Watford.
(Top photo: Athena Pictures/Getty Images)