Watford and Norwich running out of time in Premier League survival fight

·4 min read
Dean Smith’s Norwich have played more games than the teams around them  (Getty Images)
Dean Smith’s Norwich have played more games than the teams around them (Getty Images)

If you were a Premier League manager facing relegation, what would you prefer: points on the board or games in hand? In the case of Watford and Norwich City, it is a question that will be weighted heavily by the outcome of Friday night’s meeting at Vicarage Road.

In any other season, this would be billed as nothing other than a classic relegation six-pointer. This year, however, it’s a little harder to judge exactly how the picture looks.

Norwich will finish the night having played 22 matches, two more than Newcastle and opponents Watford, and five games more than bottom club Burnley. It’s a chasm, filled with uncertainty and created by a series of Covid postponements, and one Norwich need to bolster with their fourth win of the season.

The Canaries sit above Newcastle and Burnley in the table, albeit marginally, but the fortune they’ve had in having just one of their matches postponed, coupled with last weekend’s win against Everton, has slightly skewed their position. It must act as a spark for their season.

Although consecutive wins for Dean Smith’s side would lift them out of the relegation zone, and within touching distance of Everton, Norwich’s situation is still looking bleak. Time is running dangerously low on their Premier League survival hopes and they are already approaching the ‘must-win’ stage. Given the differences of matches played, a draw is far less valuable for them in terms of the points-per-game stakes.

Watford’s outlook has been altered by Joao Pedro’s crucial late equaliser at Newcastle and the postponement of Tuesday’s match against Burnley. It hasn’t been the season-defining week it looked set to be, at least not yet, amid grumblings over the future of Claudio Ranieri.

The Italian has not had the impact those at Vicarage Road wanted when the plug was pulled on *checks notes* Xisco Munoz after just seven league games. If Watford were looking to ride a wave of new manager bounces through until the end of the season, the appointment of Ranieri has so far fallen flat worryingly fast and it is only natural given their recent form and previous history to wonder if another change is fast approaching.

Watford have not won under Claudio Ranieri since a 4-1 win over Manchester United in November (AFP via Getty Images)
Watford have not won under Claudio Ranieri since a 4-1 win over Manchester United in November (AFP via Getty Images)

Watford’s point at St James’ Park ended a run of seven Premier League defeats in a row and it is not inconceivable that had their losing run had stretched to eight then Ranieri might have been out the door. If you’re the pessimistic type, the postponement of the fixture against Burnley was a reprieve, a delaying of the inevitable.

Defeat to Norwich could spell the end, and there would be few complaints if that is the case. Watford have been devoid of defensive structure or organisation since Ranieri's appointment on 4 October, conceding an average of roughly two goals a game and failing to keep a clean sheet.

It feels alarmingly similar to Ranieri's 106-day spell as Fulham manager in the 2018-19 season, which saw the club win just three matches of his 17 in charge. Worryingly for Ranieri, Friday marks 109 days since taking over at Vicarage Road, and he’s overseen just two wins so far. Stranger things have happened, certainly at Watford, but a second managerial sacking of the season by January would be reassuringly on brand.

The jeopardy for both clubs is heightened by what is happening at Newcastle, who have signed an England international right back, the top scorer of one of their relegation rivals, and are chasing the star defender from the side currently second in LaLiga. Their resources are unmatched by those around them in the table and it can’t be long until there is improvement at St James’.

Add into the mix Burnley and their games in hand - four of which are at home - and it sets up a situation where points simply need to be added to the board now. It won’t be until much later in the season and those postponed fixtures have been fulfilled that the relegation picture to appear clearer, but Watford and Norwich don’t have time to wait.

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