Away From Home: Sannino Changing It Up
The 1954 Hungary team - who lost in the World Cup Final to a much less talented West Germany side - revolutionised football onto the path it follows today, whilst displaying fluid attacking football, yet have only a 1952 Olympic Gold to show for it. La Grande Inter - forever considered (wrongly, I might add) as the most defensive team ever - won two European Cups and successive scudetti playing a system designed for victory rather than entertainment. Only the Brazil side of 1970 - which went through their entire qualifying group, and then the final tournament, with victory in every game - can be seen as joining artistry and results over a period of games.
In moving away from the pragmatic success that had brought six successive home clean sheets and victories, Beppe Sannino attempted to indulge the supporters with a display of high-intensity attacking football, and - if it wasn`t for the questionable handling skills of a certain Manuel Almunia - Sannino`s change in approach may just have paid off.
The loss at Wigan on Saturday was a respectable result considering recent form; Wigan`s change in fortunes following the appointment of Uwe Rosler - a move into the playoff places and victory over Manchester City in the F.A. Cup - was always to going to outdo Sannino`s continued problematic away performances. Although the loss was not as bad as the result suggests, with injuries and defensive errors taking away from the attacking potential on show.
Ikechi Anya continued in his free role, and impressed in every aspect aside from the main trait required of an offensive player - shooting. Of four shots - joint highest in the match - taken by Anya, none of them hit the target, with his right foot severely letting him down. Considering the role he usually plays is not focused upon scoring goals one can forgive his lack of ability, although his performance does highlight the need for a striking partner for Troy Deeney - a striking partner who offers opposing traits to complete the attacking force of this Watford side.
The goals conceded at Wigan, and then at home against Blackburn, can have the blame placed on Sannino. Changing the defensive line in both games - Essaid Belkalem started against Wigan and Tommie Hoban against Blackburn - contributed to a change in shape once again, with a return to a rigidly defined 3-5-2 that Sannino has used sparingly since his appointment. Whilst seen as a strange decision in hindsight, with results still favouring a potential Watford playoff push, Sannino - as most of the fans have done - has written off this season, and is starting to prepare for a busy pre-season. Players are being tested to prove themselves to Sannino, and various systems have been implemented - Anya in a free role in lieu of a potential summer signing - so that he has a clearly defined vision of what he intends to achieve next season.
One of the problems Sannino faces - aside from sorting out his away form - is the goalkeeping situation. Manuel Almunia turns 37 in May, whilst Jonathan Bond turns 21 on the exact same day, and both have a claim for the permanent role next season. Almunia`s contract expires at the end of this season, and with no public information regarding the potential of him signing a new deal, perhaps it is time to let him move back to Spain - a move he has discussed his preference for. Despite his undoubted ability and experience at the Championship level, Almunia has committed an increasing number of errors this season, with three goals in the last two games blameable on goalkeeping mistakes: Jean Beausejour scored a weakly parried rebound for Wigan, whilst two punches against Blackburn - admittedly, one was understandable for the pressure being placed upon Almunia - led to two of their goals.
Jonathan Bond - who has an extremely high reputation amongst the Watford fans - has himself committed questionable errors, whilst also proving his shot-stopping ability at a high level. Considering his age, he still has time to remove these errors from his game, whilst - if Almunia stays - learning from a Champions League capped goalkeeper. Many people suggest that it is time that Bond becomes the first choice, although - using the example of Scott Loach - too much pressure on a young player can cause a mental collapse and potentially ruin his career. In my opinion, a loan spell - at a lower Championship, or a high level League One club - will do wonders for his confidence. Playing out of your fans judgmental eyes, at a club where not much is expected except avoiding relegation, will increase your ability to a level that no training could achieve.
It has been a strange week, with playoff hopes rekindled and then extinguished in the two 90 minute spells. Only the true optimists would retain any belief that Watford can achieve more than a respectable finish this season, and Beppe Sannino has apparently understood this. Being a staunch advocate of his, I long to see him on the touchline next season, with a full pre-season behind him, a tailored suit on his back, and a defined vision imprinted on his playing side. If he does remain, the only question to take into the summer is who will be in that side?