Watford's Javi Gracia needs to get out of his sticky situation before he gets stung

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 27 August 2019, 14:05

Watford are three matches into their seventh season in the Premier League era.

The first two campaigns ended in instant relegation down to the second-tier - 1999/00 and 2006/07 - but since the Hornets buzzed back to the top-flight in 2015 they have enjoyed four straight seasons of relative stability on the pitch. Yet in the same four-year timeframe, the club has been through its fair share of managers.

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The man who led the Hornets back into the top-flight, Slavisa Jokanovic, left before the 2015/16 season even started. His replacement, Quique Sanchez Florez, then departed after a single season, as did his successor, Walter Mazzarri, in the summer of 2017.

Marco Silva was then lured over from Hull, and went on to enjoy a bright start at Vicarage Road, only to swiftly unravel once Everton made clear. Silva’s head was turned but Watford swatted away a couple of approaches, only to then lose patience with their manager following an abrupt drop in performances.

Within hours of Silva’s exit, a relatively unknown Spaniard had been appointed head coach: Javi Gracia, the 10th manager since 2012 to work at Watford under the Pozzo family.

Watford finished the 2017/18 season in 14th, yet Gracia was installed as the pre-season 6/1 favourite to ‘win’ the 2018/19 Sack Race. He then proceeded to make a mockery of those odds.

In November (2018) Gracia became the first Watford head coach to sign a new contract under the Pozzo families watch. Watford spent the majority of the season in the top-half of the table, but while they missed out on the top-10, 11th still represented the club’s best-ever Premier League finish. There was also that memorable FA Cup run through to the final.

But now, three games into the club’s fifth successive top-flight season, Gracia is in peril.

His winless Watford are rock-bottom of the table without a point to their name. They’ve already leaked in seven goals, three apiece coming at home to both Brighton and West Ham.

If we chuck the backend of last season into the mix then it’s no wins since April - a 2-1 victory over relegated Huddersfield - and seven straight defeats on the spin. Although Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to the Hammers didn’t tell the whole story as a miss-firing Watford had 23 shots, and held 55% of the possession.

“The dynamic is not good and we need to improve. I know that. I'm preparing for the next game. If we win or lose, I focus on the next game,” Gracia said after the game.

It’s early days but the buzz generated during his full season in charge has vanished. A defeat at home to League One side Coventry on Tuesday (League Cup) would be terrible, but potentially not the end of the road for Gracia.

Instead, it’s Saturday’s crunch clash away to Newcastle - who stunned Spurs in their last outing - which could prove to be pivotal as it’s Watford’s final game before the two-week international break. A period commonly used by clubs to reflect on how they’ve started a new season, which can often have disastrous effects on the men in the dugout.

In Watford’s prior six seasons playing in the Premier League they have never been the first club to wield the metaphorical manager axe. However, it’s Gracia who is currently the 11/8 favourite to suffer that fate and reluctantly be the first of the 20 2019/20 managers out the door.

At the time of writing Gracia appears to retain the backing of both the club and the fans, and should he survive the international break he’ll then have the chance to either thrive or dive in Watford’s subsequent tricky trio of fixtures against Arsenal, Man City and Wolves.

Meanwhile, Watford’s fan channel - @WD18fans - has stated that the club have already held talks with Getafe boss José Bordalás who has held 15 posts in management dating back to 1993 but never worked outside of his native Spain.

This is likely to be pure speculation, but the fact is Gracia needs to get out of this sticky situation before he gets stung.

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