Season Preview: Watford
So. The pressure is on. Promotion is the aim and promotion to some extent, is the expectation. Gianfranco Zola`s Watford are no longer going to be the Championship`s surprise package and they certainly won`t be the choice of the neutrals, either - for what that`s worth.
The Pozzo family have very kindly laid on some top-class talent the supplement and already extremely competent squad, with full Italian international Diego Fabbrini showing precisely why he could be an absolute steal during pre-season.
Italian Under-21 internationals Marco Davide Faraoni and Gabriele Angella don`t look too shabby either, whilst Iriney has won any number of plaudits already following an excellent showing against former employers Granada. Javier Acuna looks like a real gem of a forward and yet we`re only talking about new faces at this stage.
The best of last season`s loanees are back on permanent deals and we`ve even helped ourselves to a couple of handy free transfers from outside the Pozzo trinity in Lewis McGugan and Uche Ikpeazu.
Chuck in the impending returns of the superb young Tommie Hoban and the brick outhouse that is Nyron Nosworthy, plus the leaner and meaner Sean Murray, this is one heck of a unit that Gian Luca Nani has helped facilitate.
On paper, the squad is as strong, if not stronger than ever before in Hornet`s history. In reality, we all know that there are a million and one things that can go wrong in the next nine months - let`s face it, we`ve seen most of them before as Watford supporters - and this will not be a cakewalk.
The pressure of expectation weighs heavily on the players and we will be there to be shot at by everyone. There`s also the possibility that the side does not gel as quickly as Zola and co. will be hoping, in spite of the fact that there has been far less upheaval this summer than last.
Had it not been for the slow start to last term - potentially exacerbated by the sheer volume of deadline day arrivals - we could quite possibly have been celebrating automatic promotion last May.
That said, it takes only a rudimentary understanding of the topsy-turvy nature of the Championship to realise that a good squad + time to prepare doesn`t necessarily equal a romp to promotion. How many times have Cardiff City squandered a seemingly infallible position at the summit?
Mental strength will be as important as any technical ability and for that reason, getting the experience of Manuel Almunia and Lloyd Doyley back on board is as important as any new addition this summer.
In: Uche Ikpeazu (Reading, compensation), Lewis McGugan (Nottingham Forest, free), Reece Brown (Manchester United, free), Marco Davide Faraoni, Gabriele Angella, Almen Abdi, Joel Ekstrand, Marco Cassetti, Javier Acuna, Cristian Battocchio, Diego Fabbrini (Udinese, unknown), Iriney, Ikechi Anya & Daniel Pudil (Granada, unknown).
Out: Chris Iwelumo (Scunthorpe United, free), Mark Yeates (Bradford City, free), Stephen McGinn (Sheffield United, free), Carl Dickinson (Port Vale, free), Lee Hodson (MK Dons, free), Jack Bonham (Brentford, free), John Eustace (Derby County, free), Craig Foryth (Derby County, £150,000), Jonathan Hogg (Huddersfield Town, £300,000), Britt Assombalonga (Peterborough United, undisc.), Piero Mingoia, Prince Buaben, Aaron Tumwa & Stephan Hamilton-Forbes (all released).
Key Player - Almen Abdi: The Professor. Who else? The Swiss international is back at the Vic` as the reigning Watford Observer Player of the Season, the first player to manage that feat in yonks. If that isn`t indicative of the changing times down in WD18, then nothing is.
Abdi keeps the Hornets midfield ticking over and is undoubtedly the most talented midfielder I`ve seen in my 10-odd years of watching the 'Orns religiously. Everything that can be said about the unassuming Swiss has already been said and yet one still feels the need to eulogise about Abdi`s talents.
Ten goals last season from midfield - some of them frankly stunning - the Yugoslav-born playmaker will be the jewel in Watford`s increasingly-glamorous crown.
One has to wonder: had Abdi not been owned by another Pozzo club, would Watford have enjoyed such an obstacle-free route to the talented midfield creator?