Watford's Easter Weekend begins at home to Sheffield Wednesday, with both sides rested and raring to go following an International Break.
Despite the opportunity for many of Xisco Munoz's players to spend some time away from the action eleven members of the Watford squad were called up for International Duty, likely causing a selection headache for the Spaniard ahead of Friday's clash. The likes of Ken Sema and William Troost-Ekong played in midweek for their countries and have had to fly back since, potentially ruling them out of the fixture. Ismaila Sarr is one player called up who stayed at home; the Senegal Winger sustained a minor hamstring injury in the win over Rotherham in mid-March and has spent time at the Hornets' London Colney training ground regaining fitness in a bid to make Munoz's squad against the Owls. Philip Zinckernagel suffered a hip injury in the same game and missed the 3-0 win over Birmingham like Sarr, but photos of the Dane in full training imply he is in with the possibility of starting the match.
Adam Masina was forced off for Morocco last week and was seen with an ice-pack on his ankle. Whether this was precautionary or not remains to be seen, but Achraf Lazaar is available to deputise if his compatriot isn't fully fit.
As we enter the run-in of this season's Championship Watford sit firmly in the driver's seat for automatic promotion ahead of Swansea and Brentford, enjoying 6 and 7 point leads over 3rd and 4th (both sides have the benefit of a game in-hand however). Prior to the pause in league games Munoz's side boasted an impressive 9 wins in 10, and they will be hoping the momentum can continue when they welcome Darren Moore's side to Vicarage Road on Friday Afternoon.
As for the visitors, a 6-point deduction at the start of the campaign has largely defined their woes throughout this season (the penalty was originally twelve points, but was halved following an appeal). Garry Monk and Tony Pulis have already been sacked by cutthroat owner Dejphon Chansiri this season but under Moore Wednesday appear a more stable outfit. They're now unbeaten in two games, a run which may not seem impressive until you discover that this feat was last achieved by the Owls at the beginning of February.
Their last victory should not be underestimated; they bested an in-form Barnsley side who hadn't tasted league defeat since a 1-0 loss to Watford in January. The strike force of Josh Windass and Jordan Rhodes is beginning to gel too; Moore's attacking approach seems to have got the best out of the duo and their skill sets appear to complement one another. Rhodes bagged two against Barnsley and Windass' lightning speed can cause several problems on the counter-attack, with Barry Bannan's passing capabilities creating plenty of opportunities for the strikers.
It will be interesting to note how Wednesday approach this game. They're in desperate need of three points as they sit in 23rd, six points from safety, but in playing an attacking style they may play into the hands of their Hosts. Darren Moore and Sheffield Wednesday operate with three in defence and rotate the style of their attack game-by-game, potentially utilising Bannan in a "Number Ten" role behind the front two of Windass and Rhodes.
Looking at their injury news, there are a few names potentially returning to the squad for the trip down south. Fisayo Dele-Bashiru, brother of Watford midfielder Tom, is almost fully fit, as is former first-choice goalkeeper Kieren Westwood. Sam Hutchinson, a club stalwart who rejoined the club in January, was forced off with a hamstring complaint in the draw with Huddersfield but Moore assured that the defender will be available, alongside Liam Shaw and Joost Van Aken.
It looks like only Chey Dunkley, Dominic Iorfa, Moses Odubajo, Cameron Dawson and Massimo Luongo are in the treatment room as of this week, meaning Darren Moore has plenty more options at his disposal for their visit of the Vic.
Watford and Sheffield Wednesday have shared memorable moments in recent years in prior meetings. An Adthe Nuhiu equalising free-kick in the closing stages of the 2014/15 season broke Watford hearts, stealing the Championship Title from them and directly handing it to Bournemouth on the last day.
Watford Fan Favourites Fernando Forestieri and Almen Abdi joined Wednesday after their Watford exits, as did Daniel Pudil. Forestieri earned cult hero status at Hillsborough, scoring forty goals in the blue and white shirt, but Abdi struggled with injuries during his spell at the club and never really got going.
The reverse fixture resulted in a rather dull 0-0 draw which saw very few chances from either side. Neither Vladimir Ivic nor Garry Monk occupy their respective dugouts now, so it will be interesting to see how approaches change at Vicarage Road.
Who's the Threat?
Watford: Nathaniel Chalobah
Barry Bannan (who we'll get on to soon) thrives in a midfield he can dominate and control; exploiting gaps and spaces in between the lines to fire pinpoint passes through to attacking players. It is therefore the role of Nathaniel Chalobah, particularly with the potential absences of Tom Cleverley and Philip Zinckernagel, to command the middle of the park and ensure the Scot's threat is truly nullified.
Sheffield Wednesday: Barry Bannan
Jordan Rhodes can certainly spring a surprise on Watford, especially given his improvement in form, but Barry Bannan is a cut above in terms of the threat he poses to Watford. An advanced, attacking midfielder who thrives on playing the right passes at the perfect times, the Watford midfield need to be at their best to keep Bannan quiet.
Elliot's Score Prediction
No-one would have predicted Barnsley to come up short against Wednesday, and having two weeks to work with a full squad could be vital for the away side, but the quality of Watford players at Munoz's disposal despite the International Break can be frightening for the opposition. Wednesday desperately need this win, so I'll say all-square.
Watford 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday
Kick-Off: Friday 2nd April, 3pm
Televised? No, but available on iFollow and Watford FC's Hive Live Service.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh