Should Watford have stuck with Xisco?

It is tempting to wonder what position Watford would be in now if Xisco Munoz was still in charge at Vicarage Road.

The Spaniard, who guided the Hornets to promotion from the Championship last term, was sacked in early October. Watford had taken seven points from their first seven Premier League matches and were 15th in the table going into the second international break of the season. The trigger-happy Watford board clearly felt that was not good enough, and Xisco was handed his P45 less than 10 months after taking over.

Fast forward to mid-April and Watford are staring relegation in the face. A 3-0 home defeat by Leeds United on Saturday has left them in 19th place and six points adrift of safety. Only Norwich City have a worse goal difference and only the Canaries and Leeds have conceded more goals. Just three sides – Norwich, Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion – have found the net less often.

There is no guarantee that Watford would be in a better position had Xisco remained at the helm for whole campaign. But at the same time, the club’s penchant for regularly chopping and changing their manager has not paid off this season.

Claudio Ranieri was the man brought in to replace Xisco. It always felt like a curious appointment. The Italian has achieved some fantastic things in management, not least in guiding Leicester City to the Premier League title in 2016. But his work since then has been mixed to say the least. In his last job in England, the Italian won only three of his 17 games in charge and was sacked by Fulham after only three months.

He did not do much better at Watford: there were thumping and memorable victories over Everton and Manchester United, but Ranieri lost 10 of his 13 matches in the Hornets’ dugout.

Roy Hodgson, who did a fine job of keeping Crystal Palace clear of the drop zone throughout his four-year tenure at Selhurst Park, seemed an astute appointment to replace Ranieri at the end of January. But he too has struggled to make much of an impact. Watford looked more solid soon after the 74-year-old’s arrival, collecting four points from his first four fixtures and keeping clean sheets against Burnley and Aston Villa, before registering another shut-out at Old Trafford.

Yet Hodgson has not been able to drag Watford clear of trouble. Seven of his 11 games have ended in defeat. The side has at times looked more defensively resolute, but the goals have dried up: Watford scored an average of 1.2 per match under Ranieri but that figure has fallen to 0.46 since Hodgson assumed control.

Watford have enjoyed six seasons of Premier League football under the ownership of the Pozzo family, so it would be wrong to dismiss their hiring and firing model out of hand.

This time around, however, it has not worked. Watford look set to be playing in the Championship again next term, and there is a good chance that Hodgson will not be the man leading their promotion push. This has been a season to forget for the Hornets.

Author: Lucas Carlson