Watford may continue the good form they showed prior to the Premier League stoppage when their battle against relegation resumes with the visit of third-placed Leicester City to Vicarage Road (7.30am ET Saturday).
The contest to stay in the league is highly likely to go right down to the wire. Norwich are four points adrift at the bottom, but after that there are five teams separated by just four points trying to avoid filling the two remaining relegation spots.
Only goal difference separates Watford from the bottom three. They are certainly in a much better position now than the one they were in when Nigel Pearson became their third head coach of the campaign in early December. He inherited a side that were rock bottom of the table, seven points removed from safety.
With far less than a goal a game scored and an average of two conceded, Watford looked in dire straits. The turnaround since has been nothing short of remarkable. Across Pearson’s 14 matches in charge they have allied top-half results to top-half underlying numbers. In terms of top-line output, they have been twice as good or better at both ends of the pitch. Their average goal difference has been transformed from a sad -1.40 per match to a very healthy +0.29.
A couple of weeks prior to the pause in action, Watford had become the first side to defeat runaway league leaders Liverpool. They did so in convincing fashion in a 3-0 win on home soil. The momentum seemed very much to be on their side and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their pre-stoppage performances and results through the restarted run-in.
Watford’s remaining schedule is pretty varied, taking in matches against three members of the current top four, two direct relegation rivals and four encounters with teams positioned between ninth and 14th in the table. The top American-friendly online bookmakers and statistical modelling sites converge in believing others to be more likely candidates for the drop, but Watford still need to get it done on the pitch.
Saturday’s opponents Leicester are in a much more comfortable position. A superb campaign has them up in third, just four points shy of Manchester City in second, five ahead of Chelsea in fourth and with an eight-point advantage over Manchester United in fifth. It is now just a case of safely seeing themselves over the line to Champions League qualification.
That is a task they should be able to complete fairly comfortably, particularly as even fifth place will yield a Champions League spot if Man City’s ban from European competition is upheld. The sportsbooks have Leicester as heavily odds-on to finish in the top four, and while their remaining fixtures are certainly not free of potential banana skins, they have got enough of a cushion to afford two or three bad results.
That is good, because their form prior to the league stoppage wasn’t great. After taking a bumper 32 points from their first 14 matches of the campaign, from the start of December onwards, Leicester have taken 21 from 15. That is only the ninth-best record in the division. Their underlying numbers have also been trending in the wrong direction.
Brendan Rodgers and his team have now had some time to regroup and reassess. They certainly have enough quality in their ranks to find their way back to some kind of form for the final stretch of the campaign, although that process may not begin on Saturday.
Over the last three seasons, encounters between Watford and Leicester have always gone the way of the home team, and that pattern will probably continue through this one. Evidence from the other leagues that have resumed seems pretty mixed in terms of whether or not the lack of supporters makes a significant difference in terms of home win rates. So Watford can be expected to edge further away from the bottom three with a win at Vicarage Road. So looking to the Watford vs Leicester predictions for this preview, this is our betting pick: