Will Hughes, a name that eludes many members of the footballing community, with only Watford and Derby supporters truly knowing him well. But this very much doesn’t deserve to be the case, the tremendous central midfielder has shone in Watford colours recently, emulating his Derby days with exciting performances week in, week out. But what was holding him back before? And should his newly found form be rewarded with an international cap? I answer these questions today for All Out Football.
Watford signed Will Hughes from Championship outfit Derby County at the beginning of the 2017/18 season, Watford’s 3rd successive season in the Premier League. Signing for a modest £8 million, Watford looked to have performed a fantastic coup for the young English midfielder. Before joining Watford, Hughes played a more advanced role in Derby’s midfield after coming through the club’s academy and cementing himself in their starting eleven.
Hughes wasn’t to have an easy start at life at Watford, however, then Head Coach Marco Silva left Hughes out of most match day squads, favouring veteran Midfielder Tom Cleverley in his preferred advanced role instead. Hughes barely featured for the Hornets until the November of that season, with his only start coming in the form of a League Cup tie against Bristol City, with Watford losing 2-3 and Hughes playing poorly.
November, however, was the start of Hughes’ integration into this Watford side. A long term injury to Cleverley meant Hughes found himself in the starting eleven of a Premier League game for the first time in his career, a home game against struggling West Ham United.
Hughes took his chance to prove himself in some style, scoring the first and assisting the second in a 2-0 win for the Hornets. Hughes scored again in the following gameweek in a comfortable 3-0 win at Newcastle, slotting into the bottom corner with a tidy finish from just inside the 18 yard box.
With Hughes relishing his newly found place in Watford’s key eleven, he would continue to be a first team face for the remainder of the season, even after the sacking of flirtatious with Everton Marco Silva, with now beloved head coach Javi Gracia taking up the helm at the time.
Javi’s reign at Watford was an unusual and mixed affair for Hughes. Gracia saw Hughes as a hard working right midfielder, rather than an advanced central midfielder. Watford operated without wingers, instead favouring playmakers on either wing (including Pereyra on the left) who cut inside and tracked back effectively.
Whilst this system proved to work, propelling the Hornets to their best ever Premier League finish and an FA Cup final, it’s affects on Hughes were somewhat negative. The Englishman struggled to find any creative form throughout the majority of the season, scoring and assisting only a few goals each. His talents were somewhat wasted on the right, and Hughes had a relatively quiet 2018/19 season.
This season, however, has been Hughes’ standout for the hornets, despite a rough early start. Javi Gracia was sacked after only just four games into the new season, following poor form and performances which followed on from the end of the previous campaign.
An injury shortly after saw Hughes miss out on the majority of Quique Sanchez Flores’ second stint in charge of the Hertfordshire outfit, however the Spaniard was also dismissed after only 10 games in charge, after failing to turn around the hornet’s form. Watford at this point sat bottom of the table, with only 9 points to their name.
The man that followed into the Watford head coach role, Nigel Pearson, has had wonderful affects on the midfielder. Hughes’ injury kept him out for a brief spell of Pearson’s current reign, with the head coach opting to deploy deep playmaker Nathaniel Chalobah in a midfield three.
Upon his return however, Hughes saw himself deployed as a deep midfielder himself, partnering with Watford’s underrated and current player of the season Ettiene Capoue, and behind the well known Abdoulaye Doucoure, who was deployed in Hughes’ most notable advanced position until that point.
Since this slight position change however, Hughes has absolutely excelled at his role, outperforming both of his midfield counterparts in the process. Hughes under Pearson has become a ball winning deep midfielder, and the stats back up his claim in this role. Hughes, on average this season, has made 2.6 tackles per game, leading the way in the Watford side (Stats from SofaScore).
Naturally, with Hughes seeming to be fantastic at this new-ish role, his performances have also significantly improved. He is finding to be much more consistent in this role too, as apposed to when he was used as a right midfielder during Gracia’s stint in charge. Hughes’ tackling ability, mixed in with a work rate and grit that would make any head coach proud, has saw him become a key player for his team, and one that Watford definitely will be thankful they have.
So what about the future for the 25 year old? For me, his performances and future lie with the man in charge at Watford. Nigel Pearson has got the absolute best out of him, and following a vital 2-1 win against Newcastle United a day before writing this, Pearson looks set to keep Watford in the Premier League and be offered an improved deal.
This will come as good news to Hughes, who we can expect to continue excelling in his current role in the Watford team. As is any footballers ambition, Hughes will also be looking to break into the national team as well, especially if his recent performance levels continue. Hughes has played under current England manager Gareth Southgate before, back when he was manager of England’s under 21 side. To summarise, the future is seemingly very bright for the Englishman, and if he can keep up his current showings for the hornets, there is no doubt he will shine from here on out.
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