Predictable Potters do not bring much to the table
Sky Sports 1, midday
Watford are showing no signs of suffering from second-season syndrome and they can get more than halfway to the oft-quoted 40-point survival target by beating Stoke at Vicarage Road.
Eyebrows were raised in the summer when Walter Mazzarri become the Hornets’ eighth manager in the last five years.
Watford were 9-4 third-favourites for relegation before a ball was kicked but Mazzarri has proved himself to be an astute tactician.
Quique Sanchez Flores did a great job by establishing Watford in the top flight but his team were limited in attack and leaned heavily on the front two of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney.
Of Watford’s 40 league goals last season, 28 were scored by Deeney or Ighalo and an over-reliance on that pair hurt them in the second half of the campaign when Ighalo’s goals dried up.
Watford’s owners took the brave decision to change direction and, on the evidence of the first 12 games, they were spot on.
Mazzarri has enhanced Watford’s attacking options by recognising Etienne Capoue’s previously untapped ability as a goalscoring midfielder and he is getting the best out of club-record £13m signing Roberto Pereyra.
Capoue, Watford’s top scorer this season with five goals, and Pereyra were on target as Watford beat Leicester 2-1 last Saturday – lifting the Hornets to eighth and erasing the bad feeling which followed a 6-1 hammering at Liverpool before the international break.
That loss to Liverpool was Watford’s third defeat out of three against teams in the current top five, but they have excelled against the rest of the league – winning five, drawing three and losing one.
Watford have collected ten points from their last four home games and may be facing Stoke at the right time.
An October surge brought the Potters ten points from four games but they slipped back into their bad early-season habits of loose defending and predictable attacking with a 1-0 loss at home to Bournemouth last Saturday.
That defeat to the Cherries could have been heavier if Eddie Howe’s side had been more clinical and Stoke must make at least two changes to their starting line-up with Joe Allen, their standout player this season, serving a one match-ban and Phil Bardsley injured.
Midfielder Glenn Whelan is also rated doubtful and his absence could result in a rare start for club-record signing Giannelli Imbula, who has not been seen in the Premier League since a 4-0 loss at home to Tottenham in September.
Stoke may be lacking in midfield but they are a threat in attack thanks to the inconsistent talents of Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Wilfried Bony.
When they are on-song that trio are capable of exposing better defences than Watford’s, but they may be starved of the ball unless somebody can replicate the creativity which Allen provides.
Stoke may possess the better individuals in attack but Watford look the more cohesive unit and are value at 7-5.
1pt 7-5 general
Younes Kaboul missed training due to a knock earlier in the week but is rated a more likely to feature than Juan Zuniga, who has a minor injury. Jose Holebas is back from a ban but Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele, Kenedy and Isaac Success are injured.
Glenn Whelan (calf) is a doubt, Geoff Cameron, Phil Bardsley, Ibrahim Afellay (all knee) and Jack Butland (ankle) miss out while Joe Allen is suspended.
Watford have lost one of their last six Premier League games