After victory over Birmingham City in the Carabao Cup a few weeks ago, Reading now go head-to-head with Premier League side Watford for a spot in the third round of the competition. The Royals have reached that stage that every year since 2013 when a Nigel Adkins side was thrashed 6-0 by Peterborough United, but they face tough second round opposition this season with the visit of Javi Gracia’s Hornets.
Watford had been regular opposition for Reading in the Championship, but promotion under Slavisa Jokanovic means the two sides haven’t faced each other since March 2015. Below, we’ve had a closer look at what the current Hornets team has to offer.
Who’s the manager?
Appointed in January 2018 to replace current Everton boss Marco Silva, Javi Gracia is the fourth manager of Watford’s ongoing spell in the Premier League. The Spaniard spent the entirety of his 15-year playing career in his own country, turning out for the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Villareal.
Having taken charge of the latter’s youth side 13 years ago, Gracia would go on to win the Spanish third division twice (once with Pontevedra, once with Cadiz) before ending up at Reading’s pre-season friendly opposition Rubin Kazan, and then Watford at the beginning of this year.
Gracia only managed four wins and three draws in his opening 14 league games as manager last season, but it was enough to give the side a 14th-placed finish after Watford’s strong opening under Silva had fallen away.
Recommended reading on Watford
This March 2018 piece, from Sachin Nakrani of Football 365, is a good read about Watford’s modern identity, recruitment and Premier League status.
Are there any players with a Reading link in Watford’s squad?
Absolutely. Adrian Mariappa and Nathaniel Chalobah have both had brief spells at the Madejski Stadium, whilst striker Andre Gray had a spat with the Royals during his time with Burnley in 2016.
Mariappa played 33 times for the Royals, mostly in our 2012/13 Premier League season, with his last appearance coming in that previously-mentioned 6-0 drubbing at Peterborough. The Jamaican, who has a strong emotional attachment to Watford, admitted earlier this year that he only moved to Reading for top tier football. Chalobah spent a couple of months on loan at Reading from Chelsea in early 2015, and was a key part of the side that got to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
Gray on the other hand was at the centre of an infamous moment at the Madejski Stadium in 2016. Then playing for Burnley, the striker dived to win a penalty, sparking a furious reaction from Reading’s players and fans. After Hal Robson-Kanu stamped on the penalty spot to make the resulting spot-kick that bit harder (cheers Hal), Gray missed the penalty before Jake Cooper yelled in his face (cheers Jake).
The otherwise mild-mannered Ali Al-Habsi later said that the dive was the first time he had ever felt angry in his footballing career. Gray went back to the incident on Twitter a few months later...
Who is Watford’s key man?
Roberto Pereyra has been making the headlines this season after scoring three goals in his opening three games. The Argentine, who plays in a creative role, joined Watford from Juventus in the summer of 2016 and has so far played 50 games for the Hornets, scoring 10 times. He is expected to fill the role of Richarlison who joined Everton this summer after starring for Watford last season.
In terms of playing style, Pereyra is a versatile attacker who can line up either centrally or out wide, but has been deployed on the left wing in a narrow 4-2-2-2 this season, allowing him to cut inside onto his preferred right foot. He’s adept at finding room in the half spaces, as demonstrated at 1m55s in this video in the build-up to his second goal against Crystal Palace, so don’t expect him to just hog the touchline.
That could pose big problems for whoever lines up for Reading at the back on Wednesday night, with Pereyra likely to try his luck against multiple defenders. Sam Walker, the Royals’ probable keeper on the night, will have plenty of shots from Pereyra to deal with - the creative player’s 2.7 shots per game is the highest in Watford’s squad this season.
How will the current Watford side line up?
Javi Gracia has named the same starting XI for all three of Watford’s Premier League games this season:
Foster; Janmaat, Cathcart, Kabasele, Holebas; Hughes, Doucoure, Capoue, Pereyra; Gray, Deeney.
However, with the Hornets likely to rotate their team against weaker opposition, expect to see a few different players come in. Former Reading man Mariappa could be joined by Sebastian Prodl, Domingos Quina, Ken Sema and others in coming into the team.
Miguel Britos and Tom Cleverley are out of the squad through injury, but Gerard Deulofeu (who scored a League Cup winner for Everton at the Mad Stad in 2015), Chalobah and Stefano Okaka may return.
How do you think Reading will fare against Watford? Leave us a comment below.