In another in our Coaching Diaries series, respected young coach Anthony Hudson analyses matches and training methods, reporting on his experiences and observations of the professional game. Anthony became the youngest professional football manager in the United States when taking Second Division side Real Maryland FC to the 2009 Playoffs and was nominated for Coach of the Year at just 27 years old. He has written for several coaching publications, holds a UEFA ‘A’ License (English FA) and is currently spending time at Tottenham Hotspur under the watchful eye of Harry Redknapp.

Here Anthony, who was present as Watford met Leicester City in the Championship at the weekend, analyses the game and brings us a tactical breakdown of the match.

Npower Championship
Watford vs Leicester City

4th December, 2010
3pm Kick-Off
Vicarage Road
Predictable first half opposition gives Watford the lead….

It seems Watford set themselves up in a 4-3-3 to match up with Leicester’s midfield and predominantly stop them playing. It made for a very narrow first half, with Leicester playing the better, but not the most productive, football. Leicester’s play was certainly good to watch at times, but gave Watford very few problems. Watford on the other hand, played forward very quickly, with some very positive, quick forward running and put Leicester’s back four under heavy pressure. It was concerning how many corners were conceded early on and seemed only a matter of time before a mistake was made.


Watford (Yellow):

1. Loach 12. Doyley 5. Taylor
6. Mariappa 3. A Taylor 7. Cowie
4. Eustace (captain) 18. Mutch 15. McGinn
11. Buckley 10. Graham
Manager – Malky Mackay

Leicester City (Blue):

1. Weale 16. Naughton 24. Davies
25. Hobbs 32. Cunningham 10. King (captain)
22. Abe 19. Wellens 37. Vassell 39. Bednar
7. Gallagher
Manager – Sven-Goran Eriksson

The problems started for Leicester the exact moment they lost the ball, with Watford breaking very quickly and playing through No.10 Danny Graham, who held the ball up well (but far too easily) and also made some great runs in behind and between the centre back and full backs. Forwards, Don Cowie and Will Buckley (No.7 and No.11) and the midfielders all made very narrow runs, but all positive (in behind) and at pace.

Watford matched up against Leicester in the middle, and when they lost the ball forced play inside in to their numbers. Most of Leicester’s passing was in front of Watford and down the middle. With Darius Vassell (No.37) making all his runs inside, Leicester lacked width in their play and their central approach was predictable and easy to defend against. Width could have been created by the Leicester full backs.

Leicester could have used space out wide better. Playing inside was
in to Watford’s strength/numbers. All Vassell’s runs were inside, he
very rarely pulled out wide, giving his side width. Here No.16
passes inside into No.22 under pressure.

Both teams played with a midfield three – with one player holding. For Leicester it was Yuki Abe (No.22) and for Watford it was John Eustace (No.4). Both played in the same position, but with the emphasis slightly different. Abe, (good on the ball) was more concerned with getting on the ball and passing, which he did well at times early on. Eustace played more as a defensive minded player, breaking up play and winning tackles, which he did with success.

Leicester’s Roman Bednar (No.39) looked very strong up front, making some good runs, holding the ball up well and showed signs that he’s a real threat. Andy King (No.10), always looked to pull off Eustace’s shoulder in possession and tried to get in behind the midfield and defence. With the amount of bodies in there, (Vassell and Paul Gallagher always coming in), it was difficult to create anything or find space.

Watford midfield organisation from a Leicester throw-in:
15 and 18 pick up Leicester’s deeper midfield two.
Leicester’s No.10’s starting position was on No.4 Eustace’s
shoulder (making it more difficult for Eustace to see him
and the ball at same time) then he’d make his move inside.

Leicester’s two centre backs struggled to cope with Watford’s movement up front and fast counter attacks. This was Danny Graham up front, Will Buckley and Jordan Mutch making driving runs inside and in behind. After a succession of corners (which the visitors struggled with), Leicester conceded a free kick out wide. Watford isolated their big centre back Martin Taylor (and strong header of the ball) out wide, at the far post. This drew attention to him and pulled players over, before Watford quickly played into their forward on the near side into his feet. Clever free kick which resulted in another corner. Poor defending in the box, with Watford getting too much time on the ball and Eustace’s shot finding its way into the back of the net – 1-0. Shortly after, Leicester gave the ball away on the half way line and Buckley (No.11) made another strong diagonal run inside and in behind, no one picks him up and what should have been a strong clearance from the goalkeeper, becomes a nightmare as he misses the ball and gives the Watford forward an easy goal.

There were a few differences in the two teams in the first half:

1.  Watford right back Lloyd Doyley was the most productive full back on the pitch going forward. In such a narrow game, he made some great runs forward putting real pressure on Leicester. Doyley had pace and knew when to go, going inside and outside Will Buckley. Other factors go in to the other full backs not getting forward, for both teams. Watford left back Andrew Taylor looked too reserved and more concerned with marking Vassell, with his pace. Both of Leicester’s full backs had plenty of opportunities to go but looked cautious. The first time both went forward with purpose they caused problems, with Greg Cunningham making a fantastic run late in the first half inside his wide man, winning a free kick outside Watford’s box, and Kyle Naughton putting a decent cross in to the box from down the right hand side. But that was the extent of it.

2.  Watford’s two centre backs were solid at the back. Both Martin Taylor and Adrian Mariappa were excellent in the air, looked dangerous from attacking set plays and especially Mariappa showed real commitment to go closing down shots on the edge of the box and winning headers at the near post. These qualities are expected of centre backs, but they both exhibted them very well and looked strong. Leicester’s partnership at the back, looked disorganised, got pulled about too much and even slipped over at times (something you’d think would change after the break, but still defenders were going over in the second half, causing the defence to be unsettled).

3.  Watford broke play up play better than Leicester, especially when the ball was turned over. The midfield didn’t go flying around; they invited Leicester to play in to their numbers and were in good positions to win the ball. When the ball was played into Bednar (No.39), he had few options and was under pressure. Leicester were far too ‘open’ when they lost the ball in the middle against some real quick attacking play as soon Watford won the ball.

4.  Watford were very organised, bright and dangerous from set pieces. Always looked a threat.

Positive Play/Using Width: Right back No.3 made
some very strong and positive runs forward to support play and
get in behind. Space created by No.11 coming inside pulling
Leicester left back No.32 out of position. The right
back’s movement also forced No.7 back.

Leicester – Half Time Focus

1.  Either a change of shape (to a 4-4-2 with wide men, or asking Vassell and Gallagher to start to stay wider to receive the ball) or encouraging both full backs to get forward quicker/more often and the central attacking midfielders to start pulling wide and making runs outside Vassell and Gallagher. This is where the space is and they have a chance of exposing Watford. If Leicester choose the latter they may want Abe (No.22) to become slightly more defensively minded/disciplined to allow them the freedom to do so.

2.  Also, more pressure could and should be put on John Eustace. who made three or four sloppy passes which turned in to dangerous balls in to Leicester’s box. The midfielder had far too much time on the ball. He’s a strong player, but with good pressure looks likes either giving it away or playing sideways/backwards.

3.  Stopping the Watford counter attack, either at source or, slowing it down, drop quicker and get numbers behind the ball.

Second Half

Leicester started well, but what was pleasing was how the two centre backs dealt with Danny Graham (No.10) early on. When the play was in Watford’s defending third, the pair were alert and ready for when play would break down. Either Graham was going to look to get it into feet or in behind and the two centre backs would adjust appropriately. They did this really well and the first time they did it, their play led to Leicester being awarded a penalty, after right back Naughton made a great run down the right hand side and Watford handballed in the box – 2-1, Gallagher penalty.

Leicester centre backs dealing with lone striker and stopping the counter
attack: With Leicester attacking and Watford pinned back,
on the turnover No.25 steps in front of No.10 to stop pass into feet which
was causing problems in the first half. No.24 gets goal side.
First time they did this, it led to the move for their first goal.

With the score at 2-1, Watford made some positive changes, going to a 4-4-2 and bringing on Troy Deeney. Leicester, however pulled one back through an excellent free kick from Gallagher – 2-2.

Leicester also switched things around, to personnel, but not to formation. Steve Howard came on for Bednar up front. He looked strong in the air and could have been a threat if Vassell had played off and in behind him better. Matt Oakley joined the midfield and Leicester, although looking better than they did in the first half still persisted with their style of play, although this time not having as much mobility with Howard up front. When they were defending deep in their own half, they found it difficult to get out, as their only real ‘out’ with any pace came from Vassell, who didn’t go quickly enough. Vassell dropped deeper, giving away a free kick deep in his half and Leicester were not able to get the ball in behind for him to run onto. Watford looked strong and resilient, and grabbed a winner through centre forward Graham, who had a very good day and put in a strong performance for his team.

Score – 3-2 Watford win

Final Thought – Positive Changes

From the start of the match you could see Leicester had some real quality by the way they knocked the ball around. However, credit has to go to manager Malky Mackay, whose team reflected (for the majority of the game) a real confidence to go at Leicester and really wanted to win the game. This was shown in the manager’s changes, not just by bringing on more attacking players, but also changing his shape slightly (4-4-2 with wide men), letting Leicester see that they weren’t as concerned anymore about nullifying them, as much as they were at the beginning of the game. Those changes really showed signs of the shift in attitude and approach from Watford. Sitting on their lead may just have meant waking up the next day without three massive points and a great result.

An entertaining game for the neutral.