Time and time again, Spurs fans end the season incredibly proud of Mauricio Pochettino’s achievements but questioning what might have been if only the team had started the season as strongly as they were throughout the rest.
It’s highly promising then that Tottenham have begun the 2018/19 season with three straight wins – that third win coming at Old Trafford, no less.
Already there are hushed tones of a title race and if you brace your ear to the wind you will hear the clickity-clackity sound of think pieces on the power of not making any transfers being typed into existence.
Still, a tough test does lie ahead if Spurs want to make it four in four and start separating themselves on the table this early in the season.
Pochettino found eventual success against José Mourinho’s Manchester United after shifting to a 4-2-2-2 shape which has been a consistent for Watford in their opening three games.
Now, on paper that’s a lot more sexy and continental than how it can sometimes actualise. The attacking duo of Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes play with their strong foot inside and they are often found in narrow areas of the pitch, while the full-backs are adventurous ones and Troy Deeney will drift off into the hole.
Equally, though, with their backs against the wall Watford are not afraid to dig into Abdoulaye Doucoure and Étienne Capoue’s physical presence, push Pereyra and Hughes out wide and look direct for the forward duo playing in the same five yard square.
For this fixture, Watford might bring Ken Sema in for Deeney or Andre Gray as they switch to a 4-2-3-1 and look to muddy up midfield. They still won’t match the absurd physicality that Watford found under Walter Mazzarri but it could be enough to cause Tottenham issues if they return Mousa Dembélé to the bench and opt for Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen in a three-man midfield.
Pereyra is the danger man of the moment. He was Twelve’s overall player of game week one and remains on top of Watford’s leader board by a comfortable distance.
There can, however, be a question over the sustainability of the 27 year old’s goal scoring form – he’s currently on three goals from 0.51 xG – but while the Argentine is hot-footed Spurs may well be wary to give him any time on the ball, even from distance.
The success of Tottenham’s own 4-2-2-2 against Manchester United’s 3-5-2 came from exploiting the space behind the wing-backs, Shaw and Valencia. This will likely weigh against any intentions Pochettino has to return Davinson Sanchez to the line up and field a back three.
If Pochettino is wary of Javi Garcia turning his own trick against him then we can expect a continuation of the 4-3-3/4-1-2-1-2 duopoly.
The only remaining question is on Mousa Dembele’s fitness. Following a full 90 against United is he now up to match fitness or will he only be wheeled out for starts on the big occasions?
Three weeks ago few would’ve predicted Watford vs Tottenham Hotspur would be a meeting of two teams with maximum points. It will be fascinating to see what gives on Sunday.