Leicester may be setting the Premier League alight this season, turning the old order on it’s head as they defy logic and challenge for the title, but had it not been for such an extreme change in form and fortune from the Foxes, it’s probable that another ‘unfashionable’ side would have won the hearts and captured the imaginations of many, and that side is Watford.
Having just booked their place at Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final, Quique Sanchez Flores’ side have had quite a season in the top-flight, their first since 2006/07. Safely in lower midtable may be a little underwhelming now given their amazing form before Christmas, but the way they’ve gone about their business this season, mixing defensive stability with good passing football and clinical attacking play, is testament to the players and the manager.
Their performance at the Emirates epitomised what the Hornets have been about all season, and however far they go in that competition, they have had an outstanding campaign and should only get stronger next term, should they keep the nucleus of their squad and, perhaps most importantly, their manager. The bond between players, manager and staff at the Hertfordshire side is a strong one, their performances this season all the more impressive considering they were promoted just last summer.
Thus, they give hope to a number of Championship sides, who can take inspiration from their 2015/16 campaign. The changing make-up of the Premier League and the extra investment from the TV deal available from next season will give further cause for optimism to sides looking to consolidate in the nations top-flight, too. And looking like they might be ‘next season’s Watford’ are Burnley. Former Hornets boss Sean Dyche has the little Lancashire side purring at the moment, the Clarets seven points clear, unbeaten since Boxing Day and looking like a sure-fire bet to bounce straight back up to the Premier League.
With more recent experience of top tier football than Watford had prior to their promotion, the Turf Moor outfit are in an even better position to emulate the success of their former Championship rivals. The squad has a good blend of youth and experience, including some that have prior Premier League know-how, as has the manager. Dyche might not have the suave continental charm of Sanchez Flores, but he instils a similar amount of organisation, discipline and work-ethic amongst his players, delivered with equally gravel-toned inflection, all be it in a markedly different accent.
That’s not to detract from the football though. Burnley far and away the top-scorers in the Championship and play some attractive, fast, free-flowing football alongside the team-work and close knit ethos at the club. Replace the names of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo with Sam Vokes and Andre Gray, and you have a similarly lethal pair of strikers, equally prolific in their output.
It’s not just this season that the Watford pair have shone together, combining for over 40 goals in the Championship last time out. And Gray and Vokes seem on course to reach a similar goal return – the Welsh duo already have 31 between them. The Championship can be a tough and unforgiving league, but Burnley show that decent football can be played in combination with solidity and organisation and of course. Having two prolific strikers only helps the cause, too.
With the TV money injected into top-flight clubs from next season, should the Turf Moor side achieve promotion to the Premier League then I see no reason why they can’t light up the top-flight much like Watford have this campaign. Who wouldn’t want to see another so-called unfashionable side with an exciting strike-partnership come up and muscle-in on the more established names atop the country’s footballing pyramid?