A January transfer window at Watford FC has never felt so important as it does this year.
With the fans and hierarchy at the club demanding nothing short of promotion for Xisco Muñoz and his group of players, the need to bolster the squad with new talent is paramount for the second man to manage Watford this season.
There have already been comings and goings within the dressing room, with Etienne Capoue leaving for Spanish side Villarreal at the start of the window for an undisclosed fee, and Danish winger Philip Zinckernagel arriving as a free agent, having amassed 19 goals and 24 assists in 28 games for Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt in 2019-20.
Having started in the 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup against Manchester United, Muñoz praised the new signing in his post-match interview with the club.
“I’m very happy with him,” said Muñoz.
“He’s a very good player, he gives different things to the team. He has good intensity, he does good things with the ball and it’s perfect for the group to have him here.”
New signing Philip Zinckernagel was voted Man of the Match by Watford fans on social media after his debut.
Zinckernagel has scored three goals in three Europa League games in 2020-21, having featured in the qualifying stages for Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt who were eventually knocked out in the third round 3-2 by Italian giants AC Milan.
He also won the Eliteserien Player of the Season Award for the Norwegian Premiership in 2020.
However, with the departure of Capoue, who won Watford’s Player of the Season award in 2019, Vibe 107.6 sports reporter Elliot Murray said that “he leaves a huge gap now in the squad.
“There’s speculation that Ben Pearson from Preston may be an option, and as a defensive midfielder who is used to Championship football, he’d be my pick. Other less experienced players like Amos Youga and Valentin Antov, both from CSKA Sofia, are also linked, but I think it’s too early for them to make the jump to such a competitive league.”
“I don’t think the club can survive for another six months without cover at left-back”
Murray gave his insight to the Watford Fan Channel WD18, and another area identified as a key to strengthen was left-back.
“I don’t think the club can survive for another six months without cover at left-back, which is why the links to Harry Pickering at Crewe are so important. Blackburn are the front runners for him, unfortunately, but if Gino Pozzo can get him at Vicarage Road, the 22-year-old would be arguably the signing of the window.”
Video: Elliot Murray on the Watford Fan Channel WD18 discussing possible new signings
With an injury to striker Stipe Perica, and main strikers Troy Deeney and Andre Gray failing to provide the goals that the team requires to go up, fans have been crying out on social media for the Pozzo family (who own and run the club) to sign a proven goalscorer who can be relied on so that all the pressure does not fall on the shoulders of Brazilian youngster Joao Pedro.
The stats back up this observation as well. In Watford’s last three league games, they have had an xG (expected goals) value of 6.8, yet they have only scored two. In those games, Andre Gray alone has had an xG value of 3.49, yet has not scored. This shows that the chances are being created by the midfield and wingers, but there is a big finishing issue with the current crop of fit forwards.
Despite the logic dictating that a proven Championship striker may be the best option for the Hornets, the Pozzo family have a habit of utilising their extensive scouting network to buy relatively obscure players from abroad who they can sell on for a hefty profit a few years down the line.
The cheapest option may be to look to Watford’s strong academy set-up that bred the likes of Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho and ex-Manchester United captain Ashley Young. Muñoz gave substitute appearances to central midfielder Dan Phillips and versatile attacker Joseph Hungbo in the recent FA Cup defeat, with Hungbo’s driving, pacey runs impressing both the commentators and Watford fans online.
Under 23 striker Sam Dalby was also on the bench, and highly touted attacking midfielder Sonny Blu Lo-Everton (who joined as a nine-year-old in 2011 and has signed a contract extension keeping him at Watford until 2022) has been creating a buzz in the youth team, with calls for him to step up to first-team level sooner rather than later.
If Watford do choose to look inwards rather than buying from elsewhere, it will be a testament to the club’s academy set-up if these graduates can fire the Hornets towards promotion back to the Premier League.