The Premier League‘s best of the rest go head to head in an FA Cup semi-final this weekend, with both sides desperate to add to their impressive seasons with a cup final. Wolves will be favourites after impressing midweek against Manchester United but Watford will fancy their chances equally, after winning the reverse fixture 2-0 back in October. In this tactical preview, I will show you how Wolves’ change in shape since the reverse fixture could give them an advantage over Watford, and how Watford could cause Wolves problems.
Central play against wide play
Watford are likely to stick with their familiar 4-4-2, while Wolves look like sticking with their 5-3-2. For Wolves, Watford will be broken down in the central areas, with Wolves’ formation built for creating overloads centrally against deep blocks. This is less effective against teams such as Liverpool, who play with a three-man central midfield which is difficult to overload but against Watford, Wolves should be able to overload central areas not just using their midfield players but by also using their central defenders and forwards. If they cannot overload the central areas, Watford will be playing in a narrow shape, which should give more space for the Wolves wing backs to work in. To maximise the success of central overloads, Wolves’ wing backs will have to remain high and wide to create space for the central players, as if they do not Watford will be able to sit deep comfortably. Below we can see a situation in the first game where Doherty sits high and wide, creating space for the central players. This position gives him the option to drive forward which may create more space centrally or allows for him to play a pass centrally and make a run in behind. Wolves strikers are also likely to drop in and create overloads on full backs, as this has been an area of weakness for Watford, with Liverpool completely destroying them using wing play.
However, if Watford can defend well and lure Wolves players forward, they should be able to break wide in moments of transition by using the pace of players like Deulofeu. This could create situations such as the ones that arose in the other game between the two sides this season, where Watford’s wide players looked to pull wide to receive the ball in areas of space. The picture below follows on from the first picture, with Doherty being dispossessed. Isaac Success, who played as a striker for Watford in the game then pulls wide to receive the ball, while Watford’s midfielders look to push into the box.
Removing a centre back
Other than in areas of transition, Watford are unlikely to break down Wolves if they get set in their shape. To break them down, Watford will need to create small moments of chaos within the Wolves block in order to move players out of position and create some space. Troy Deeney could play a key part in this, as his hold up and link up play could disrupt the organised Wolves central defenders and pull them out of position. Below shows us an example where if Watford can penetrate the lines quickly and move and play around Wolves’ centre backs, then problems may be caused.
A subtle but key decision for Javi Gracia
For me, the game comes down to Watford’s shape in attack and how Wolves can hurt them in transition, just as Watford can to Wolves as explained. If Watford attack in their usual 4-2-2-2 formation and lose the ball, the game will depend on who’s transitions are faster. Liverpool overran Watford through wide overloads and so if Watford when attacking look to play wider than usual as explained earlier, then they should be able to transition quicker to cover Wolves’ players, as they will have players in wide areas who can track back and cancel these wide transitions.
Both teams have interesting areas that could be exploited by the other but I believe it comes down to the discipline and defensive work of Watford’s two wingers, who in my opinion have to play as wingers out of possession in order to cancel Wolves’ wing backs threat. Watford’s wingers will look to start wide and come more narrow, but the positioning of Watford’s wingers in relation to Wolves’ wing backs during turnovers will be key to both teams successes.