Following a win over Norwich City that could prove vital in the fight for promotion, Watford aim to end their woes away and make a statement against another Top 2 chaser. They travel to the Liberty Stadium with optimism, but must be cautious of the threat that Steve Cooper's side pose.
Watford Head Coach Xisco Munoz will have William Troost-Ekong, Christian Kabasele and Joao Pedro back from their respective injuries this weekend, but must wait for Forward Isaac Success, and new signing Philip Zinckernagel until next week.
When asked about the partnership of Andre Gray and Troy Deeney in his recent Press Conference, Munoz was positive, discussing their "connection". "I believe in them both, we will see in the next game if they continue to work like this." This implies that the two will start once again up front at the Liberty Stadium, but I think a largely unchanged XI was always the likely route for Munoz. The only swap (barring a late injury) I see the Spaniard making would be Adam Masina for Jeremy Ngakia at left-back. The former Bologna defender made a huge impact when coming on on Boxing Day, preserving the victory with his last-ditch tackle on Teemu Pukki as the Finn was winding up to smash home, and the importance of having an available natural left-back will not be lost on the players and coaches.
Adam Masina was a big loss when sidelined through injury, but his return can now allow Watford to defend with more structure.
Fortunately for the Hornets, all of those who took part in the win over the league leaders recovered and trained this week. On having a full week of training (the midweek game with Millwall was postponed) the Head Coach expressed his joy at having more time with his team. "I think it's good for us, we have more time to prepare, sometimes when you play twice in a week it is impossible to prepare and now we have time to prepare more."
Despite only scoring once, Watford did display a more attacking edge to compliment their solid defending. Ismaila Sarr was unshackled, free to chase the through ball and join up with Gray and Deeney in attack. Sarr is undoubtedly the threat for the Hornets this weekend, particularly with an in-form Kiko Femenia behind him to overload the right side. They pressed Norwich's backline with intensity; catching them out and winning possession high up the pitch. Swansea will be a tougher side to do this against, their flat back 3 will be more capable of breaking down the attacks than Norwich's centre-halves.
With that in mind, this is how Swansea are doing ahead of the clash:
The Swans made only one change from the weekend when the hosted Reading, bringing in Korey Smith, but Steve Cooper may be forced to make more following an injury to defender Ryan Bennett. With the short time period between games, Swansea will likely have to rotate further, but one player who is a shoo-in for a starting spot is Andre Ayew. The former West Ham United forward will be the main threat to Watford's backline, with many regarding him as the best in the entire division. So far the Ghanaian has 8 goals and two assists to his name this season, and alongside Jamal Lowe, will no doubt cause problems for the visitors.
Swansea have many strings to their bow, but their defensive stability is surely the most impressive. No side at this point in the Championship season has ever conceded as few as 12 in 22 and not been promoted, so there is cause for optimism amongst the Swansea faithful. It is then no surprise to anyone that they have the best defensive record in the league (Watford are 2nd). There is talent throughout the squad, like Matt Grimes for example, a player targeted by Watford in the summer. Grimes leads by example. The Captain has continued his consistent performances from last season, but due to the greater squad depth at the club, hasn't had to play every single minute. Lowe, a summer signing from Portsmouth, has been played typically next to Ayew in attack despite not being a natural centre-forward, but has transitioned into this role effectively, scoring a fantastic goal in the Welsh Derby to win it for the Swans.
Freddie Woodman in goal is another prospect. On loan from Newcastle for the second successive season, the England youth international has staked a claim as the best goalkeeper in the league, a title Watford fans will hope Foster can earn throughout the season.
Steve Cooper's side line-up in a 3-4-1-2, with wing-backs Jake Bidwell and Jay Fulton likely to occupy either flank. Yan Dhanda, who didn't start in midweek, may return to his position behind Lowe and Ayew in attack.
This is the first Championship meeting between the two sides since a 1-1 draw in 2011. Danny Graham and Stephen Dobbie scored the goals to share the spoils at the Liberty Stadium.
Watford's form in Wales is impressive in League competition (we'll forget about that trip to Newport earlier this season in the cup). Watford haven't lost there since 2016, and not in the second tier since 2011.
The last time Watford played Swansea, Marco Silva was at the Watford wheel. Richarlison scored a 90th minute winner, sealing all three points for the visitors.
These two sides met in cup competition last season, with Watford advancing to the next stage of the Carabao Cup. Danny Welbeck and Roberto Pereyra scored the goals. Interestingly, half of the Watford squad from that game are no longer at the club (Heurelho Gomes, Daryl Janmaat, Sebastian Prodl, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Roberto Pereyra, Danny Welbeck, Craig Dawson, Dimitri Foulquier and Gerard Deulofeu).
Elliot's Score Prediction
A clash between two of the best defences in the league suggests a low-scorer. But with Xisco Munoz's attacking football starting to appear, and Swansea's undeniable attacking quality, the records may be deceiving. Nevertheless, I think 1-1 will be the outcome, a Top-Flight-Quality battle to the end where neither side can quite get that crucial goal.
Swansea City 1-1 Watford
Kick-Off: Saturday, 3pm, the Liberty Stadium
Televised? No, but available on Hive Live and iFollow.
Referee: Darren Bond (who refereed the last game between these sides in the Carabao Cup)