Leicester City-Watford Preview
Watford's push to escape the drop continues with another pivotal match against a top-end club at what is expected to be an empty Vicarage Road on Saturday when they host Leicester City.
The closed stadium policy is expected to be enacted, with media reports stating this will be the case throughout all rungs of English football as part of a government response to combat the coronavirus. It is also believed ticket-holders will be allowed to stream coverage of matches at their house and that no pubs will broadcast games to help avoid congregations of people.
The move comes at a time when Hornets supporters were finding reasons to make their way to Vicarage Road to see Watford (6-9-14) attempt to make a great escape. Nigel Pearson's side recently clawed their way out of the bottom three and are 17th on goal difference with 27 points, bracketed by West Ham United and Bournemouth with slim margins on either side.
The Hornets followed up their season-defining 3-0 bamboozling of previously unbeaten Liverpool in their last home game with a 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace last Saturday, which was also their fourth loss in seven league contests (1-2-4). Watford's strategy of hacking Palace star Wilfried Zaha was foiled when the Ivorian helped set up Jordan Ayew's marker, and an offence that looked so lethal on the counter against the champions-elect failed to solve Vicente Guaita.
Coming back home for such a crunch encounter, Will Hughes has called on the home supporters to make their presence felt in the bid to gain three vital points and produce a sixth clean sheet in their last nine contests at Vicarage Road in all competitions.
"At home we are capable of anything, as we showed against Liverpool," Hughes told the club's official website. "Our away form has been a bit off-ish lately which is frustrating, but we are a real threat at home and we are keen to keep that going against Leicester.
"The fans play such a big part, especially against Liverpool. After we scored the first goal, they really helped push us through."
The loss also showed the importance of Gerard Deulofeu, who was lost for the season with a ruptured ACL suffered in the victory over Liverpool. Watford also had a pair of players - Argentina international Roberto Peryera and Northern Ireland's Craig Cathcart - tabbed for international duty.
Pereyra will be part of La Albiceleste's squad for World Cup qualifiers versus Ecuador and Bolivia, while Cathcart will be trying to help the NorIron get by Bosnia-Herzegovina in a semifinal playoff for this summer's Euros.
After a month-long funk, Leicester City (16-5-8) finally righted themselves to firm up their hold on a Champions League place for next season. The Foxes put Aston Villa to the sword on Monday, winning 4-0 as both Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes recorded braces at King Power Stadium.
For Vardy, the two-goal game put him back in pole position for the Premier League Golden Boot with 19 on the season and on the verge of his third 20-goal season in the English top flight. His first goal - a penalty coming four minutes after entering the contest - triggered a late three-goal outburst as Leicester moved five points clear of Chelsea for third.
"I thought the team was a lot better today," said Barnes, who has scored six of his seven league goals since the turn of the calendar year, to LCFC.TV. "It was a scrappy start to the game. We obviously got a goal just before half-time and then, in the second half, I thought we were very good.
"A lot of people are talking about the other teams picking up points, and we haven't been, but I think tonight was just more about ourselves. We know recently results haven't been good enough, so it was just about getting that first win back on the table and then, from now, we can just kick on."
While Vardy and Barnes supplied the offence, the return to full health of destroyer Wilfried Ndidi helped restore some bite in the midfield. Brendan Rodgers' side looked more like the one that has overachieved throughout the campaign as Leicester ended a 336-minute scoreless drought when Barnes opened the scoring on 40 minutes.
Leicester are seeking their first double of Watford since their title-winning 2015-16 season after recording a 2-0 victory in the Midlands in December as Vardy converted a penalty and James Maddison sealed the win in second-half stoppage time. The Foxes are 7-1-3 versus the Hornets in the Premier League era.
Updated March 12, 2020