After a season that saw them go through three permanent managers and hire Hayden Mullins as a caretaker coach twice, it’s little surprise that Watford’s five-year run in the Premier League came to an end.
Defeat on the final day to Arsenal meant Watford finished 19th after Bournemouth beat Everton and Aston Villa secured a point against West Ham. They now face a spell in the Championship, where they will surely see their squad stripped of their best assets and need to rebuild.
So which players in the Watford squad are the most likely to make the move back into England’s top division?
In goal, Ben Foster could go either way. The former Man United stopper has been a Premier League goalkeeper since signing for Watford on loan back in 2006. He’s played for four clubs since then but always in the Premier League. Now that he’s been relegated for a third time, it may be time for his to stay in the second tier. He’s good enough for some of the sides in the league but they won’t be seeing him as a priority signing and I think he’ll end up staying at Watford.
Defensively, I don’t think anyone makes it back into the Premier League. Kiko Femenia, Christian Kabasele, Craig Dawson and Craig Cathcart were the regular back-four for Watford and I can’t see any of them really improving any defences in the top division. If Watford keep the entire back line together, it’s likely to be too good for the Championship and a great base to build from.
In midfield, they’re bound to lose a few players. Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Roberto Pereyra will almost certainly not still be at Vicarage Road next season, although it’s possible they could go abroad rather than back into the Premier League. Will Hughes, like Ben Foster, could go either way. While at Derby he was considered too good for this level although he didn’t exactly light up the Premier League. Someone could come in for him as they look to add quality depth to their squad for a not-so expensive fee but I equally wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay and make a spot in the starting line-up his own. Nathaniel Chalobah could probably do with a full season of football uninterrupted and he is more likely to get that in the Championship at this stage while Tom Cleverley’s best days are way behind him.
In attack is where Watford will get hurt the most. They have five attacking players who will all be wanted and courted by top sides this summer and they’d be lucky to keep hold of any of them. Captain Troy Deeney hinted that he could leave the club this summer following a knee surgery and his leadership would be a huge miss off the pitch as much as his qualities on it. Andre Gray is another who hasn’t lit the league up in the yellow and black of the Hornets but he has got Premier League quality and was excellent for Burnley prior to his move. On the wings, Gerard Deulofeu and Ismaila Sarr will likely be the most sought after of Watford’s players. With electric pace, great skill and an eye for goal both players are the perfect profile for a modern winger and would do well at any Premier League side.
Sarr was instrumental in a lot of Watford’s good moments this season, including scoring a brace in the win over Liverpool and was only behind Deeney in the club’s scoring charts this season in the league. At just 22 years old there is plenty of room for growth and development too, so don’t be surprised to see one of the bigger clubs take a punt on him. As for Deulofeu, he’s proven himself at Watford and Everton that he can do well in the Premier League so anyone looking for a winger will have an eye on him. A club such as Leicester or Wolves could do a lot worse than bringing him in for depth out wide and adding an extra goal threat to their squad. Danny Welbeck is also a player that will catch the eye of Premier League clubs, but he’s probably the most likely to stay out of all those options.
Watford have a huge summer ahead of them now, where they’ll need to find a way to replace all the talent that will almost inevitably leave the club.