JAVI GRACIA paid the price for not adapting to teams now showing Watford more respect.
After a flying start to last season, the owners bucked the trend at the club by giving Gracia a 4½-year contract.
And while they did incredibly well to get to the FA Cup final, warning signs were there.
They lost six of their last ten league games and are without a clean sheet since February.
Sacking Gracia after four games seems harsh — but if you dig a little deeper it becomes clear the powers-that-be were concerned things were only going to get worse.
And when you look at it tactically, it’s obvious where the problems are.
They had a lot of joy last year when things were going well playing a 4-2-2-2.
Etienne Capoue sat deep with Abdoulaye Doucoure just a little further forward, while Will Hughes and Roberto Pereyra played really narrow.
Their width came from their full-backs and they had a lot of success in sitting back, keeping their shape, and hitting teams on the counter.
It’s fine to play that way when you have less of the ball.
But teams have started to show Watford far more respect because of their success and have changed tack.
They give them more of the ball and put the onus on them. Because they rely on getting their width from their full-backs, they’ve really struggled this season when they get caught in possession.
You can see against Everton, that when they lose the ball Kiko Femenia and Jose Holebas are both in the opposition half.
The narrow midfielders struggle to cover those wide spaces, so after just a simple ball over Femenia, Bernard scored.
Last season, Watford averaged 46.3 per cent possession — compared to 52.4 per cent this time.
It may seem a small difference but it’s clear they have struggled when that respect, and the ball, is given to them.
They had 56 per cent away at Everton, 55 per cent at home to West Ham — and lost both.
Teams have broken on them quickly in the wide areas, so it’s no surprise a lot of goals they have conceded are from crosses and counters.
Quique Sanchez Flores, back for his second spell, now desperately needs to find another way if Watford are going to stop the slump.
He has a good record of organising a defence — and in his season at Vicarage Road in 2015-16 only Tony Pulis’ West Brom conceded fewer outside the top six.
And because they won’t have the majority of the ball tomorrow against Arsenal, it could be an ideal first game for him back in the dugout.