Having climbed to 12th position in the Premier League, reaching 41 points, steering clear of relegation and having the FA Cup semi-finals to look forward to, could the Watford team return to their first-half of the season glory now the pressure is off?
The Hornets last game against West Brom saw them go from a struggle to stay above the relegation zone, to a mid-table position, marking Watford’s first time in the Premier League in which they will be back to fight the greats again next season. The only table Watford are at the bottom of, is now the injury table with the majority of the team managing to stay injury-free throughout the season. Flores confirmed that the team currently have no injuries ahead of their FA Cup semi-final.
Despite going beyond the 40 point mark, ambitions for the rest of the season have not changed, with head coach Quique Sanchez Flores telling Hollseey: “The most important game is always the next one. We must focus on the West Ham game but honestly, I think the most important thing for many players in Watford is thinking about the cup. It is always our ambition to go up in the Premier League but of course there are many teams also trying to do their best. We are at a point we can finish really well in the season. 41 points is great in the first season we are promoted but we want to still win.”
West Ham are set to host the Hornets for the mid-week fixture. This game is set to be an exciting clash, with Watford needing a win to climb above Everton, and Bilic’s team fighting to reach 5th position and secure a Europa League spot.
The Watford manager was keen to not underestimate his opponents. He said: “It is an amazing stadium to play in against an amazing team and it will be a challenge. They have done really well this season and are progressing all the time. The coach manages well and the players are really, really good. For me it is no surprise that they are in the top 6 in the league.”
Flores went on to praise The Hammers, telling reporters: “Carroll is a good scorer and a good header. When you play against this kind of striker they are very important players. We want to move their shape but West Ham is not just Carroll. They have amazing wingers, so I see them as one of the best teams in the Premier League with a very good manager.”
Wednesday’s game will see what sounds like a dramatic change to Watford’s starting eleven. Flores said: “Three games in one week is tough. I want all the squad fresh for the weekend. We are trying to be competitive in all games by carefully choosing players. There will be a lot of changes. Every game have changed maybe four or five because we have felt it is a necessity in the second half of the season. It should not be a surprise for players because they are ready.”
In terms of team selection for Wembley, Flores remained vague aside from confirming that Heurelho Gomes will be starting at Upton Park. On his performance on Saturday, he added: “He is one of the main players in the squad and an amazing player so I am really happy with his performance, and really happy for him.”
Whilst playing a less experienced team on Wednesday could cause problems for the Hornets, making the starting eleven for what could be the first time this season will bring players the opportunity to make an impression for future line-ups. Flores explained “It is not the opportunity to impress with a view to play next season, but to play well, and we are trying to be as competitive as possible by choosing these players. Every player wants to battle and play. The reaction of players in training has been amazing. It is an amazing challenge that we have to play at West Brom and now West Ham.”
When questioned about whether Costel Pantilimon will be starting in goal at Wembley, having had a rest from previous games, Flores explained: “The only thing I can say is that I have a lot of confidence in both of the goalkeepers we have.” “We cannot play two goalkeepers”, he joked, before adding: “Tomorrow Heurelho will play again but we will see what happens after that.”
There is a lot to think about for the Golden Boys, with Flores certain that his team selections are the way to compete successfully in both the Premier League and FA Cup: “I am completely confident in the first eleven I am going to choose for tomorrow. It could be possible that it will take pressure away from the strikers, and the players will feel a little freer now we have reached 41 points.”
Will Flores’ decisions pay off as the Hornets prepare to face The Hammers, and can Watford bring home three points whilst preparing for Sunday’s game at Wembley? Stay tuned.