After the seemingly endless international break, Bolton is back this weekend with 3 games in 7 days. First up the Trotters play host to Watford F.C. tomorrow. The Hornets have also had a shaky start to the season, although they're seven places above us in the table. It looks to be a season of change for them as well, which is one of the things we spoke to Tom Bodell of Vital Watford about. Hit the jump to see our interview with him.At the start of last season, Watford was widely favoured for relegation. In the end, they finished 11th in the Championship, seemingly not bad at all. Despite that, manager Sean Dyche was dismissed. Why would the ownership do that?
Tom Bodell: The Pozzo family have arrived at Watford having made a sizeable success of the two other clubs they own, Udinese & Granada, and therefore (rightly or wrongly), have unwavering confidence in their own methods. For my money at least, that confidence is far from misguided. They have taken Udinese to the Champions League for the first time in their history and have delivered top-flight football for Granada having bought the club when it was on it's knees in the lower echelons of the Spanish football pyramid.
Sean Dyche did an exceptional job last season & no right-minded Watford fan will tell you otherwise. However, he was not the Pozzo's man & in a way I'm quite glad he was sacked because I don't think the new head coach/technical director model would have done him justice. We would have ended up with in the ludicrous situation where everybody knows the manager will be sacked as soon as possible & he ultimately loses he job over something trival, or one poor performance. It would have been demeaning for Dyche & so with that in mind it was probably for the best.
Whilst the Pozzo's haven't worked with Gianfranco Zola he was at least somebody they knew & if they could marry him and technical director Gian Luca Nani together, all the better.
In Dyche's place, Gianfranco Zola has been named manager. He's a big name, but also largely untested in terms of managing clubs. What do you expect from Zola this season? How do you think he'll change the club?
TB: I was at his first press conference when he was appointed & one of the first things he said to us was the same as he told the players. His emphasis would be on passing the football & there would be no compromise on how he wanted the game to be played. That is in stark contrast to Dyche who never really preached a style which you could pin down; he was a lot more mix-and-match, sometimes we went long and sometimes we played really nice stuff on the deck.
What will undoubtedly helped Zola in that respect is the new pitch which has been completely been re-laid. It is an absolute carpet now, worlds away from the ploughed field Dyche had to deal with last season.
As well as changing the style, the system has been altered to a 4-3-3 with the emphasis being very much on winning the ball back & then keeping it. The problem that he has encountered is the loss of skipper John Eustace who is out with a back problem. The heartbeat of the midfield three, Eustace has left the midfield looking very light with neither Mark Yeates nor loanee Almen Abdi being what you would describe as .workhorses'. That has left Jonathan Hogg with a lot of work to get through in the middle of the park.
The personnel has changed hugely too with no fewer than 16 new arrivals, 12 of those coming from either Udinese or Granada and only two arriving on permanent (one-year) deals anyway. Dyche wanted a first-team squad of 33 - 11 first team players, 11 backup options and 11 development options. Zola appears to have a much more scattergun approach, for example we now have something in the region of 13 professional forward players, that is of course if he has any control over those coming in & whether or not it is Nani who is pulling the strings completely.
In terms of expectations, if we can improve on last season's finish I'll be happy as it will have justified the departure of Dyche. If not I'll be disappointed but really it's going to take a season for everything to settle down with all the changes that have been made both on and off the pitch.
Watford have had a mixed start to the season, 2 wins and 2 losses in the league. What would you put this down to?
TB: As mentioned in the previous question, the loss of Eustace since opening day has been keenly felt. Moreover our inability to defend set-pieces has cost us badly. Contrary to popular opinion we've looked ropey defending set plays all season, and not just since stalwart & terrace favourite Martin Taylor departed unexpectedly on Transfer Deadline Day. That we lost 5-1 at Derby the following day with at least two of those goals being from set plays has exacerbated the issue. The fact remains that earlier that very same week, with Taylor in the side, we conceded from two set pieces against Bradford City in the League Cup.
One issue which we appear to have worked on is the tempo we play at. In the early games there was no urgency in terms of forward momentum with the players more than happy to knock it back and forth between themselves. We seem to have worked on that now & with Yeates upping his game & the return of Sean Murray there are another two players who want the ball at their feet & want to make things happen. Unfortunately Yeates blows hot then cold for weeks on end & Murray has been far from his magnificent best, putting a lot of the attacking onus on Udinese loanee, Matej Vydra.
Which player will cause Bolton the most trouble on Saturday?
TB: Vydra. On a season-long loan from Udinese and a two-cap Czech Republic international. He arrived to high hopes & thus far he's delivered. A stunning winner at Crystal Palace on the opening day, plus a tidy finish at home to Birmingham and the consolation in the Derby mauling make him our top-scorer.
He'll play wide left of the front three but will drift between the lines and look to be involved as much as possible. Happy to carry the ball & quite evidently with an eye for goal, he's our main threat without a shadow of doubt.
And finally can I have a prediction?
TB: A 1-1 draw. Would love to say we'll win it but I think Kevin Davies in particular could have a field day!
Thanks again to Tom for answering all of our questions! Be sure to check out my answers to his questions on Vital Watford.