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Opposition Lowdown: Slaven Bilic’s Watford

In their penultimate game before the World Cup break, Reading travel to Hertfordshire to take on Watford. Join us as we take a look at the opposition.

Watford v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images


Watford were relegated from the Premier League last season, finishing in 19th place, one point above bottom club Norwich City. They have had a relatively solid start to their first season back in the Championship, sitting in seventh place, having recorded eight wins, five draws and six losses so far. Five of their eight wins have come at home, with half of their six losses also coming at Vicarage Road.

The Hornets’ recent form has been mixed, having seen three wins and two losses in their last five games. The two sides last met in the Championship during the 2020/21 season when Reading secured a 1-0 win at the Madejski Stadium before Watford beat The Royals 2-0 at Vicarage Road.

The boss

Slaven Bilic: Watford started the season with former Forest Green Rovers manager Rob Edwards in charge following his appointment in May, however he was sacked in September after only 12 games in charge. Edwards was replaced by former Croatia manager Slaven Bilic, the former defender signing an 18-month deal with The Hornets.

Bilic is no stranger to English football, having played for West Ham United and Everton and managed West Ham and West Bromwich Albion. He started his managerial career at his first club Hadjuk Split in 2001 before taking over as Croatia under-21s manager. He became the Croatia national team manager in 2006, a role he held for six years, leading the team in Euro 2008 and Euro 2012.

He went on to manage a number of clubs following his international experience, taking charge of Lokomotiv Moscow, Besiktas, West Ham, Al-Ittihad, West Brom and Beijing Guoan. Bilic likes his sides to play possession-based football whilst remaining organised at the back.

Reading v West Bromwich Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images


Following their relegation from the Premier League, the Watford squad underwent a bit of an overhaul this summer. Key outgoings included strikers Emmanuel Dennis (Nottingham Forest) and Cucho Hernandez (Columbus Crew), midfielders Moussa Sissoko (FC Nantes) and Philip Zinckernagel (Olympiakos) and defenders Samir (Tigres) and Kiko Femenia (Villarreal). Josh King, Andre Gray and Nicolas N’Koulou also left the club this summer.

Watford’s biggest signing of the summer saw Ivorian striker Vakoun Bayo join the club from Belgian side Charleroi. The Hornets also signed goalkeeper Ben Hamer, defender Mario Gaspar and forward Rey Manaj on free transfers, whilst defender Kourtney Hause, midfielder Hamza Choudhury and striker Keinan Davis all arrived on season-long loans.

Francisco Sierralta and Hassane Kamara will both miss out through suspension having both picked up five yellow cards this season. Craig Cathcart and Samuel Kalu should both be back in contention following injuries. Tom Cleverley, Rey Manaj, Imran Louza and Jermey Ngakia will all miss out through injury. Former Royals loanee Tom Dele-Bashiru is not expected to feature as he continues his recovery from a knee injury.

Expected line-up

Bachmann, Gosling, Troost-Ekong, Hause, Morris, Choudhury, Kayembe, Sema, Joao Pedro, Sarr, Davis

Key player

Joao Pedro: Watford agreed a deal to sign Brazilian forward Joao Pedro from Fluminense in October 2018, however it wasn’t until January 2020 that he officially teamed up with The Hornets. He made his debut in an FA Cup tie against Tranmere Rovers that month and made his league debut in June 2020.

Pedro scored nine goals in the Championship in Watford’s promotion season in 20/21 and three goals in the Premier League the following season. He had been linked with a move away from Vicarage Road this summer, however The Hornets managed to keep hold of one of their most prized assets.

Pedro has scored four goals and has two assists to his name so far this season. He can play anywhere across the front three and is known to drive forward with the ball.

One to watch

Vakoun Bayo: Ivorian striker Bayo joined Watford from Belgian side Charleroi this summer, having scored seven league goals in Belgium last season. Having started his career in Tunisia, Bayo has also played in Slovakia, France, Belgium and Scotland where he played for Celtic for a year and a half.

The 25-year-old forward made his full Watford debut in the 1-1 draw with Birmingham and has three goals to his name so far this season. Bayo generally plays as a central striker and likes to shoot from distance.