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Doucouré Departs: What Next for Watford's Midfield?

With the departure of Abdoulaye Doucouré to Everton for £22 million to be confirmed on Monday, Watford find themselves lighter in midfield.

Those who have kept up with Watford and Abdoulaye Doucouré will be unsurprised at the news of the midfielder's departure. It was evident from the moment of The Hornets' relegation that the former Rennes prospect wouldn't hang around for 'Luton Away', and Everton have been interested for what feels like an eternity. Carlo Ancelotti ensured that the Toffees will finally get their man, but what does this mean now for Watford's pursuit of promotion?

In the past few days a strong link has been made to Swansea Captain Matt Grimes; a defensive minded set piece taker, something Watford fans have cried out for since Dániel Tőzsér and Almen Abdi left the club. Despite not being considered by Swansea fans to be the best at corners and free kicks, he is absolutely an upgrade on last season's options, with Watford appearing bereft of any threat at dead ball situations. The 25 year-old is likely to contribute less in attack than Doucouré, but did accumulate a respectable 7 assists in the 2019/20 campaign. He also boasted the most passes completed and most successful tackles out of any player in the Championship, playing every minute in the process. The former England Under-21 International would appear to be a more immediate replacement to Étienne Capoue however, who may also be outgoing, if Javi Gracia's Valencia can agree terms with Watford for the 32 year-old.

Another name floating around on Social Media is La Masia graduate, Barcelona youngster Oriol Busquets. The Spaniard can play both in defence and midfield, and judging from his time in the Netherlands at FC Twente, looks to also be more defensive than Doucouré. It is certainly plausible that the Watford hierarchy have elected to pursue Busquets as cover, particularly given the news that former target Alfie Mawson is on his way to Bristol City. Like with Watford's incoming Luis Suárez, too many comparisons to Barcelona namesakes will no doubt wear thin by the time fans are welcomed back into Vicarage Road.

Former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Sam Hutchinson is also supposedly in talks. The 31 year-old may be seen as an alternative to the aforementioned Grimes, and is available on a free transfer having left Hillsborough at the end of last season. Hutchinson has also played in both Centre-Back and Right-Back in the past, but would likely fit in as another option for Ivić's midfield.

With neither player a comfortable fit for Doucouré's shoes, a direct replacement may be closer to home. Domingos Quina and Tom Dele-Bashiru, despite their inexperience, could flourish under Vladimir Ivić's tutelage. Quina may provide less in a defensive sense to Doucouré, and Dele-Bashiru's lack of first team football may not be entirely encouraging, but in a 46 game season (plus midweek cup ties a possibility) both players have the opportunity to impress. Their talent is noticeable already, even from the handful of games given to them, and under the Serb, can thrive in a system that encourages youth involvement. Both players' performances against Tottenham have indicated that they are up for the fight this season, especially after Quina's rocket-like strike past Joe Hart. 

Academy graduate Dan Phillips is also an emerging talent, with his brave tackles in pre-season endearing himself to the new Head Coach. His talent is more raw, and his passing not yet consistent, so it is perhaps too early to suggest he can start in the Championship, having never made a senior appearance.

Fans' favourite Will Hughes is surely locked in as a starter for Watford in the Championship, but perhaps in a different capacity to last year. Under Nigel Pearson he found himself deeper, winning the ball and distributing to Deeney, Deulofeu and Sarr in attack. If Nathaniel Chalobah is chosen, we could see the tenacious Hughes play in a more attacking role, similarly to his time at Derby, and on occasion under Javi Gracia. Chalobah will hope to seize the opportunity, having failed to cement a starting position following a knee injury in 2017. A repeat of moments like his goal against Leicester as a teenager would certainly be welcomed by the Watford fans. Tom Cleverley is also available and could be called upon in Hughes' injury absence. His experience and work rate will be most useful in the more scrappy games in the Championship Campaign. Needless to say, Ivić, Duxbury, Pozzo et al have a wealth of options to choose from. 

It's easy to talk for hours on end about if and how Doucouré can be replaced, but the simple fact is, the Transfer Window remains open for another month. That is a very long time in football, and even more so at Watford. Coupled with the strange swapping between Watford and Udinese players (Ignacio Pussetto is reportedly back in Udine, and striker Stipe Perica and Francisco Sierralta appeared for Watford aduring pre-season) it is difficult to predict how Watford will line up when the Window slams shut. What is in the forefront of fans' minds however, is that Watford face Middlesbrough in the Championship curtain-raiser on the 11th of September. Let's hope by the time we take our seats (or, sofas) on Friday night, Watford will have a comfortable, talented midfield lining up. 

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