With the first international break of the 2023/24 season already on us, seemingly just as the season has started, it seems like a good time to assess how the Hornets are getting on. We are, at the time of writing, only five games into the current campaign, so it is rather early to be making any definitive statements about how the campaign ahead will play out.
However, that said, with the transfer window now closed we have a decent idea of what will be at the disposal of manager, Valérien Ismael (for at least as long as he lasts!). So, how are Watford looking and can the club earn promotion back to the Premier League?
Poor Start to the Season
As noted, we are only five games into the new campaign, so we shouldn’t read too much into how Watford have got on. At the same time, it is not the start that anyone connected to the club would have wanted. The Hornets are currently down in 18th position in the Championship with just one win to their name and five points, with two draws and two wins in their other results.
As you can see, it has been a mixed bag, but four points from three home games is not what fans wanted. Until the 3-3 draw last time out, Watford had been tight at the back, conceding just twice in their first four games. However, ignoring their first game they had found scoring difficult up until then too, going three games in a row without hitting the back of the net. Clearly there are issues at both ends of the pitch but there is certainly plenty of time to rectify them.
Perhaps a slight concern is that based on current standings, Watford have had easier-than-average fixtures thus far. Just as we can’t draw conclusions about how good or bad the Hornets might be after five games, the same applies to other teams too. Even so, the five opponents the club have played all currently sit between 10th (Plymouth) and 17th (QPR). Whilst all are above Ismael’s men for now, none are really well fancied – by the bookmakers at least – to go up this term.
What Are Watford’s Promotion Odds?
Talking of the bookies, for those that like a bet it should be noted Watford can be backed at odds of 33/1 to win the Championship this term. Regarding what we said above, Coventry are the same price going into the international break, Stoke are 40/1, Blackburn are 50/1, whilst Plymouth and QPR are 150/1 and 500/1 respectively. This rather backs up the idea that Watford’s games thus far have been on the easy side.
However, returning to the thoughts of the bookies – often the best guide to how likely anything is as they have real skin in the game, unlike pundits and so-called experts – the Hornets are available at a much shorter price of 8/1 to be promoted at all. Many firms go 6/1 and so based on this, but not factoring in the margin of the betting site, Watford are deemed to have between an 11% and a 14% chance of going up.
The promotion market covers a team going up either as champions, finishing second, or through the play-offs. So to answer the question in the title of this article, the bookies are effectively saying “probably not”. Mind you, they don’t know everything and, more to the point, any probabilistic prediction of the future is just that – a prediction.
Whilst an 11-14% chance of something occurring could fairly be filed under “probably not going to happen”, that absolutely does not mean that it won’t happen. If only we had a pound for every time we’ve seen plans ruined by rain when the forecast gave it only a 10% chance of occurring we’d have at least £42.
Reasons to Be Optimistic
Last season was a disappointment, with many supporters fully expecting their side to make an instant return to the Premier League. Instead, Watford finished just 11th, having an almost exactly even split between wins (16), draws (15) and defeats (15). However, whilst many supporters might feel it is normal to bounce straight back, stats show that it is actually quite rare.
Stats show that relegated teams come straight back up from the Championship to the Premier League around 27% of the time. Put another way, on average, less than one of the three sides to go down makes an instant return. Clubs often need a season (or more) of adjustment and we feel the club are potentially in a better place right now to challenge for a play-off place at least.
We know not all Watford-lovers will agree but we think Ismael is a good manager and the right man for the job. He took Barnsley to the play-offs on a far smaller budget than he has now and has maintained a win percentage of over 50% throughout his career. If he could deliver 23 or more wins in the Championship in 2023/24, we fancy that would be enough to see the Hornets finish in the top six at least.
He now has over a decade of managerial experience too but at the age of 47 remains a young (ish!) manager with fresh ideas, who can connect with his players. He is a fiery boss who won’t suffer fools or players not giving their all and his style of play, based on high energy and recovering possession quickly, should work well in the Championship.
Many will feel that Watford did not make the signings they needed in the window and in a division with several big, well-financed clubs, that is a concern. Clearly losing two of your best attacking players, Joao Pedro and Ismaila Sarr, is not ideal. Moreover, for the second season in a row, the club have made a net profit from their transfers, and fans wishing to see the Pozzo family splash the cash have once again been disappointed.
However, despite all that, we feel there is enough class in the squad still for the Hornets to at the very least improve on their finish of last season. If the club, and supporters, stick with Ismael, a play-off spot is well within reach!