Watford’s Promotion Rivals in 2024/25

Vicarage Road

Ahead of the 2023/24 campaign, Watford appeared to have realistic hopes of promotion. It’s fair to say that things didn’t go as well as anticipated for the Hornets in the season just gone. A failure/inability to reinvest the £40m gained through the sales of João Pedro and Ismaïla Sarr came back to haunt Watford, with Valérien Ismaël unable to inspire the squad to greater heights; the Israeli ultimately joining the ever-lengthening list of Vicarage Road managerial casualties when receiving his marching orders on 9th March 2024 – almost a year after a P45 was sent in the direction of Slaven Bilic.

Cleverley the Man to Turn It Around?

Tom Cleverley scores a goal
Tom Cleverley (Ed Schipul | Flickr)

Tom Cleverley stepped into the Chris Wilder role this time – steadying the ship with just two defeats in the club’s final nine games. When all was said and done, Watford finished in 15th place – four positions below and seven points worse off than in 2022/23. So, what should we expect from Watford in 2024/25?

Unlike Wilder, Cleverley will stick around in the hot seat, having signed a permanent deal on 24th April, 2024. In his first senior management role, it is asking a lot of Cleverely to transform the club into a genuine promotion challenger. However, stranger things have happened in the traditionally tight Championship.

In all likelihood, the 41-year-old will need at least some support in the summer transfer window. With only the departures of Ben Hamer, Ashley Fletcher and Jake Livermore and the low-key capture of 18-year-old Mamadou Doumbia, fans will hope for more before the season begins with a trip to Millwall.

Nevertheless, hope springs eternal for a club who have spent six of the past nine years in the top tier. If Watford can muster up a promotion push, the bookmakers rate the following sides as their most likely rivals

Leeds United

Leeds United logoDaniel Farke’s Leeds United are the clear favourites to finish in top spot. Involved in the battle for automatic promotion until the closing stages, Leeds ultimately lost out to Leicester City and Ipswich Town despite finishing with 90 points. That total would have secured promotion in three of the previous five seasons, but in 2023/24 it amounted to no more than a defeat in the playoff final.

Given their 2023/24 form, The Whites should be confident of mounting a strong challenge in 2024/25. Like most clubs, Leeds will seek a quality addition or two, but the key to their chances is hanging on to their most influential players. The permanent signing of Joe Rodon is a priority, as is keeping hold of player of the year Crysensio Summerville. The former may be easier to achieve, with several Premier League clubs reportedly weighing up a bid for the 21-goal 22-year-old.


Burnley FCBurnley’s second-bottom finish in the 2023/24 Premier League table did little to hurt the reputation of Vincent Kompany, with the ex-Man City man surprisingly handed the reigns at Bayern Munich. Therein lies the main question regarding Burnley’s bid to bounce back at the first time of asking, as the Clarets are still to replace the Belgian.

Interim manager Craig Bellamy remains the favourite, followed by Scott Parker (who achieved promotion with Fulham and Bournemouth) and current West Brom boss Carlos Corberan. Bellamy is best placed to continue the style which served Burnley so well during the 2022/23 season, but Parker and Corberan bring more experience to the table. Throw in potential departures in the transfer window – keeper James Trafford amongst those expected to leave – and Burnley appear one of the least stable of the fancied sides.

Luton Town

Luton Town FCWinning promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs in 2022/23, The Hatters won many admirers during their short stay in the top flight. In the end, Rob Edwards’ all-action brand of football wasn’t quite enough to survive, with Luton ending the campaign in 18th on 26 points.

Finishing dead level on points with Burnley last term, Luton have one advantage over their Lancashire rivals – they still have a widely respected manager in the hot seat. Rob Edwards (sacked by Watford following four months in charge in 2022 in another Pozzo masterstroke) was expected to move on to bigger things but delighted the Kenilworth Road faithful when committing to the club until 2028. With the bulk of the squad expected to remain and an established philosophy and style, Luton look well-placed to go close to an immediate return.


Middlesbrough FCFourth in 2022/23 and eighth in 2023/24, Michael Carrick’s Middlesbrough outfit should be in the mix again. Could this be the season the Teesside outfit converts their attractive style into promotion to the top flight?

A slow start proved fatal in 2023/24, with Boro leaving it much too late to find their stride. Compared to 2022/23, the main drop-off came in the attacking third as, despite the impressive 18-goal season of Emmanuel Latte Lath, Middlesbrough scored 13 fewer goals than in the previous campaign. Improving that output with shrewd acquisitions to add diversity to the forward line, allayed to a faster start, could prove key to achieving a top-six finish.

Sheffield United

Sheffield UnitedThe less said about Sheffield United’s 2023/24 Premier League campaign, the better, with the Blades’ tally of 16 points the third lowest in the history of the division – even Bramall Lane legend Chris Wilder didn’t have enough tricks up his sleeve to rectify the situation when brought in to replace Paul Heckingbottom in December.

The lack of significant improvement following Wilder’s return will concern Sheffield United fans. However, the manager’s most recent spell in charge of the club in the Championship should spark encouragement. That 2018/19 campaign saw the Blades comfortably secure promotion before finishing an excellent ninth during the 2019/20 Premier League season. Sheffield United to the core and an innovative tactician who knows the division well, Wilder could help the South Yorkshire club erase the memory of last season’s disaster.

Realistic Expectations for Watford

Most bookmakers rate as many as 10 clubs more likely to secure promotion than Watford. Unless a late flurry of activity unfolds in the transfer market, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment. In the hands of an untested manager and with the bulk of the playing squad underperforming to varying degrees last season, it’s difficult to see where the required improvement will come from – and Watford need to improve significantly.

At the end of 2023/24, the Hornets sat only six points clear of the drop zone – 17 points off the playoff positions and a yawning 41 points behind table toppers Leicester City. That’s a large chasm to navigate, with the five sides mentioned above, plus Coventry City, West Brom, and Norwich boasting more obvious claims.

Despite all that, the volatile nature of the Championship will always provide hope. History suggests small improvements in key areas may transform Watford from a mid-table outfit to a playoff contender. Norwich made the playoffs last year, having finished 13th in 2022/23; Coventry jumped from 12th in 2021/22 to a playoff spot in 2022/23, whilst in 2021/22, Luton Town, Nottingham Forest, and Huddersfield Town all made the playoffs having finished 12th, 17th, and 20th in 2020/21.