We are already one month into the Premier League season and Watford are looking like the surprise package, who seem to go everything just right. The Hornets have won all of their four PL matches this season so far. And the recent announcement of Javi Gracia as the August's Premier League Manager of the Month, is a testament to the Watford's brilliant back to back performances.
For Gracia to be awarded Manager of the month award against the likes of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and new Chelsea boss, Maurizio Sarri, tells us something. It is the recognition of the skill of the manager appointed in January, who helped the Hornets to a modest 14th place finish last season.
Let us now take a detailed view of who Javi Gracia is? How did he come to be at Watford and what can we expect from him in his first full season at Watford.
Javi Gracia, from a player to a manager
Gracia, played as a defensive midfielder in his 15-year professional career, in clubs in the Spanish First division as well as the second division. Arguably his best season came with the now dissolved UE Lleida when he scored 12 goals to help the club secure a return to the La Liga in 1993.
After a one-year stint with his last club Cordoba FC, he announced his retirement in 2004. After this he immediately started his managerial career, managing the youth teams of Villarreal for the season.
The team he managed after his short stint at the youth team was Pontevedra, whom he managed in the 2007-08 season, but failed to achieve promotion from the Segundo Division. He first achieved promotion into the second league with Cadiz FC, in 2009 but was fired soon after.
After trying out his luck in the Greek league he came back to Spain in 2012, with UD Almeria whom he took into the first division, in his very first season. And it is this stint that impressed people across Spain and they started taking notice of him.
Finally, he was appointed the manager of Malaga, where he spent two seasons from 2014 to 2016. Well, he managed the club to ninth and tenth finish in the two seasons, but one interesting fact is that he managed to stand up to the Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Drawing with Los Blancos on two occasions and even claiming a victory over Barcelona and Atletico Madrid with his Malaga team.
Moving out of Spain
After two modest seasons with Malaga, he moved on to a different challenge, Russian Premier League, with Rubin Kazan. But after only one season, he decided to leave and look out for a more challenging job.
It is then that he was signed as the head coach of Watford on 21 January 2018, after the departure of Marco Silva. After taking over, he had to take over a team which was adapted to Silva's organizational play. Taking over a team mid-season is never easy, but still, he managed to take them up to 14th position and help them retain their Premier League status.
New season, new challenges
In his first full season as a manager, he had much to do. And with the deal that saw Richarlison leave for Everton in a £50 million deal, his problems only increased. Now he had to replace the star player and luckily for him, Roberto Pereyra stepped up just in time.
His preferred formation is 4-2-2-2, in which the wide players are expected to cut inside every so often and exploit spaces on the flanks whenever the opposition is caught covering up ground in the middle of the pitch. The in-form Holebas, Will Hughes and Pereyra excellently cut inside and create chances whenever necessary and are perfectly suited for this kind of play.
The only challenge remaining is out of form striker Andre Gray. But if given enough starts, it is no doubt the misfiring forward will come back to his best, because his pace is something that will make the Watford team even more dangerous on the counter attacks.
Javi Gracia is an excellent manager, leading a team like Watford to back to back wins, including one against the defensive Spurs is an achievement. And with a limited budget to work with getting the best out of the players is an art that Gracia seems to have mastered. But can he and his Watford team be a 'Giantkiller' this season? We'll have to wait and see.