Like Watford, this season Gerard Deulofeu has not been able to have the same devastating impact on the Premier League this campaign and with his injury against Liverpool, it is unlikely that the Spaniard will be able to reach his previous season’s league tally of 10 goals and five assists. However, the La Masia graduate has played a big part in the Hornets’ hope for survival and throughout the season has come up with a big performance to try and get Watford back on track, most notable his match-winning performance against Norwich City. This was a crucial win for Watford as it was their first of the season and against a relegation rival, the Hornets needed something to try and get their season going. In this game, Deulofeu provided a goal and an assist.
The 2-0 win over Norwich was on the 8th of November and it wasn’t until Nigel Pearson was appointed that Watford won their second game of the season. This came at home in a 2-0 win over Manchester United on the 22nd of December. It was clear that Quique Sánchez Flores was not the right man for the job as his defensive mindset limited Watford’s attacking options. It could be argued that a player of Deulofeu’s quality should have stepped up when the team was struggling. This did not happen and the side continued to struggle. In fact, since the Norwich game, Watford only scored one goal which came from Ismaïla Sarr in a 2-1 defeat to Southampton. However, since Pearson’s appointment, Deulofeu has doubled his goal tally and provided three assists.
This tactical analysis provides a scout report on Deulofeu. The analysis will see how the winger has embraced his role in Pearson’s tactics and how within Watford’s system his position transitions from defence to attack.
Watford’s high press
It is evident to see that Watford has had problems all over the pitch this season as despite the talented squad the Hornets had been struggling to both score goals and keep them out. Therefore Pearson needed to bring in a system that would play to his best player’s strengths but also have a solid foundation. Therefore the 4-2-3-1 seemed to pick itself, with Troy Deeney being the focal point in the middle to utilise the pace of Ismaïla Sarr and Deulofeu either side and Abdoulaye Doucouré’s in a more advanced role and the defensive cover is provided by the two central midfielders. For Deulofeu this meant more defensive responsibilities.
The first of Deulofeu’s defensive roles is in Watford’s high press. This will happen when teams look to play out from the back. To make it difficult for teams to play out Watford will press with four players. This will be Deeney, Doucouré’, one of the defensive midfielders and the wide player, this will depend on how the team wants to play out. In the example below Brighton are looking to play down Watford’s left side. As a result, Deeney will apply pressure on the centre -back who receives the ball from the keeper. At the same time, Doucouré will move into a central position to cover a central pass. Then as soon as the ball is played out to the right-back Deulofeu will immediately start to press, with Will Hughes position covering a run inside it forces the right-back to play down the line. On average per 90 minutes, Deulofeu will make 2.82 recoveries and 1.77 in the final third, this is important as winning the ball back higher up the pitch enables him to be in a dangerous area further up the pitch.
In this particular situation, Brighton are able to get out of the press by switching the play. What this means for both Watford and Deulofeu is that they have to get back into a defensive shape. They are able to do this quickly and will then set up a flat-four across the middle to make it difficult for teams to play through the middle once they have switched the play. Deulofeu’s pace enables him to get back into this position quickly if the press is unsuccessful meaning Watford are not caught out of position. The four will then continue to retreat back into a defensive shape before they start to press the ball.
This scout report has mentioned how Deulofeu’s defensive role is initially part of Watford’s high press. However, this then changes when the opposition has the ball on the halfway line and are looking to build an attack. In this situation, Watford’s 4-2-3-1 will transition to a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 with Doucouré playing just behind Deeney. As the image below shows the wide players will then drop back alongside the defensive midfield to form a flat-four that will be tight to the backline in order to prevent the gaps in between the lines.
The image below illustrates both wide players jobs are to be in a slightly tucked in position and in a slightly deeper position than the opponent’s wide player. This image highlights Sarr being close to Andrew Robertson; Deulofeu is also doing the same with Trent Alexander-Arnold this is so they are in a position to apply immediate pressure if the ball goes out to them and enables them to track a forward run.
Out of 145 defensive duels, Deulofeu wins 50.5%. This is down to his defending technique as Deulofeu will use his pace to get close to the player and then will wait for the player to commit to a direction before diving in, this can be effective for Deulofeu as he is good at anticipating what the opponent is about to do, then as soon as they make their play Deulofeu will look to get his body in the way to collect the ball and turn away. This is what happens in the example below as he is able to get his body in front of Mohamed Salah and can turn away with the ball and drive into space. On this particular occasion, his shot is straight at Fabinho.
Part of Pearson’s tactics in remaining compact is having the full-back tuck into a more central position. As this particular example demonstrates one of the reasons is to cover and advanced opposition player. However, another reason is it means there is a player in cover if the winger gets past Deulofeu and then looks to drive into the box. This is particularly true of Solly March who heavily favours his left foot and may look to go down the line before cutting back and crossing the ball with his left.
As a result, Deulofeu is the only wide defensive player leaving him 1v1 situation. This is where he can struggle as Deulofeu may not be able to stop the player from taking it past him. This particular scenario does result in Watford winning the ball back but only because March decides to try and cut inside enabling Hughes to retrieve the ball.
First attacking phase
So far this tactical analysis has looked at Deulofeu’s defensive role for Watford; however, what the Spaniard is much better at is his attacking play. The first phase of which is when Watford looks to break out of defence. Part of Watford’s strength is that Deulofeu and Sarr have different ways of achieving this. Sarr’s approach is to be direct and carry the ball, whereas in the early stage of the attack Deulofeu will often look for a progressive pass rather than dribbling with the ball. On average Deulofeu will play 3.54 progressive passes every 90 minutes with 80.9% success rate.
Deulofeu always likes to cut inside on his favoured right foot to see what his options are before releasing the ball. This is what happens in the example below as Deulofeu initially picks up the ball in a wide position before a quick burst inside. He then has two options as he could drive with the ball in the space between the two Bournemouth players or his preferred option of switching the ball out wide to Sarr.
Deulofeu will always do this in a similar way as his preferred technique is curled pass. Instead of a direct switch, Deulofeu will use the inside of his right foot to curl the ball. This technique means the pass looks more like a cross than a long pass but it does mean the shape of the pass is in the same direction that Sarr is running, meaning he does not have to break stride. It also gives a bit more room for error as if he over hits the pass the ball will still stay on the pitch and will give Sarr something to chase, whereas a direct pass into the same area has to be pinpoint otherwise it will go out of play. This, therefore, enables Watford to build their attacks quickly.
Another reason Deulofeu prefers to go for a progressive pass in this area is it enables him to get up the pitch faster. The image below is from the same move illustrating Deulofeu switching the ball to Sarr. Since the pass, Deulofeu has kept up with Sarr’s run and because of Deeney’s movement dragging the defender out of position, it opens up the space for Deulofeu to run into. The winger should double Watford’s lead but instead, his left-footed shot flashed past the post.
Dribbling with the ball
One of the wingers biggest strength if not his best attribute is his dribbling. He may only keep the ball 67% of the time but this is partly because out of his 180 dribbles this year 152 have been in the final third and keeping the ball does not include the times he had a shot or crossed the ball. The times he does lose the ball may be because the opposition are aware he is heavily right-footed. However, this does not mean he is predictable.
Looking in particular at his solo goal against Norwich, Deulofeu wins the ball on the halfway line and carries the ball forward. He does this with lots of small touches with the outside of his right foot constantly pushing the ball forward. This is impressive as he is able to do this at speed. When Deulofeu gets to the edge of the box it is where he becomes unpredictable as the defender is clearly trying to stop him from cutting inside, however, because he is aware Deulofeu is better with his right foot he is having to back off in order to be ready to block a shot if Deulofeu does continue running forward and shoots with his right foot. Deulofeu is aware of this and uses a step over with his left foot to fake going this way and instead cuts in on his left foot where he is able to curl the ball into the far corner.
Throughout the season Deulofeu has had to switch between playing as a left and right-winger. However, he has been most effective when playing on the left. This is because the winger strongly favours his right foot and wants to cut inside to either play a combination pass to get in behind a defence or to have a shot on his right foot. Pearson is aware of this and has therefore incorporated it into his tactics as part of Watford’s style of play is to switch the ball regularly and the do this by having the two wingers staying wide especially Sarr. As a result, when a defender moves across to put pressure on the winger it leaves space for the winger to come inside.
The example below highlights what this looks like. As Alexander-Arnold has to come outside in order to put pressure on Deulofeu otherwise he could easily get down the line. Notice how because Alexander-Arnold has left space inside this is exactly what Deulofeu wants to target. He is particularly effective at it as he uses the Liverpool player’s momentum in moving towards him to then push the ball past him, not giving him a chance to get near him. On this particular occasion, Deulofeu flashes his shot just wide.
Deulofeu uses this technique when attacking one vs one as Alexander-Arnold again moves out towards Deulofeu. This time Deulofeu takes a small touch towards the byline and drops his shoulder to faint going this way. This causes Alexander-Arnold to commit, enabling Deulofeu to push the ball past him and again get a shot off. On this occasion, the winger looks to place the ball in the top right corner but just puts a little too much on it, but it again shows how dangerous he can be and the slight movement from out to in is effective in committing the defender.
With only four goals and five assists in the league, it has not been a good season in front of goal for the winger. This partly down to the way Watford were set up under Flores as often Deeney and Deulofeu were left isolated. The image below demonstrates how Deulofeu willingness to score as he wants to get his body around the ball in order to curl the ball with his right foot.
In this particular example, he does score as he has time to adjust, but it is the time element that causes a problem in his finishing. His technique is to generate a lot of spin on the ball and he does this with a little backlift but a big follow through on the shot cutting across the ball as much as possible to create the desired effect this can be effective as this example shows, however, it does require more accuracy to beat the keeper. In fairness to Deulofeu, this technique does enable him to pull off the spectacular as his goal in the FA Cup Semi-Final proved.
Shooting with his left foot is also a problem as out of his 65 shots this year 51 have been with his right foot and only 33.8% are on target. Even though the Norwich goal was with his left all 10 of his goals last season were with his right foot and so were his other three goals this season. Part of the reason why is he is not comfortable replicating the same shot using his left foot. As this example demonstrates he has been able to carry the ball to the edge of the box but as Bournemouth have defenders covering the right he is forced to go down the left where his shot is pushed past the post. This is a situation where at the very least he should be testing the keeper.
This tactical analysis has provided a scout report on Deulofeu. The analysis has looked at how the winger has embraced his role in Pearson’s tactics and how within Watford’s system his position transitions from defence to attack. The winger is undoubtedly one of Watford star players and is definitely capable of individually winning a game. Like too many of the Watford squad, it has taken him a while to start performing.
Deulofeu is an extremely talented player and could easily be playing for a top club his biggest problem (and has been throughout his career) is consistency. Partly down to the pressure put on him at a young age to follow in Lionel Messi footsteps when he was at Barcelona, he has not so far met his high expectation. His injury is, of course, is a set back but with the way his performances were starting to improve again with Watford, I fully expect that when he is fit again he will be more determined to play in the devastating fashion he has shown in the past and hopefully will again in the future and for Watford they will be hoping the best is yet to come.