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Can Walter Mazzarri guide Watford to safety in the Premier League?

Walter Mazzarri is the new man in charge at Vicarage Road and will be expected to consolidate his side's top flight status.

Here's a look at Watford's 2016-17 season...

At a glance

It could be that difficult second season, but Watford have kept their best players and should have just about enough to stay out of trouble again.

Quick predictions

Premier League: ​15th
FA Cup: Fifth round
League Cup: Second round (eliminated at the earliest opportunity following a horrific performance, as is tradition).

Transfer business

The first and most important bit of close-season business for Watford was keeping hold of their captain, Troy Deeney, as well as last season's top scorer Odion Ighalo.

Those two should guarantee a fair return up front, but this time they will be supported by record signing Isaac Success (Granada) and teenager Jerome Sinclair (Liverpool). The squad has also been strengthened in other areas where new players were needed -- most notably in defence and central midfield. Abdoulaye Doucoure has looked full of running in preseason which should mean Etienne Capoue can take the occasional breather.

What the Hornets lack is a little bit of magic. The sale of Almen Abdi took one of the only genuinely creative midfielders out of the squad, and the lack of replacements in this area has been the only source of frustration so far. Watford have been linked with several exotic signings such as Roberto Pereyra from Juventus and Sofiane Boufal from Lille, neither of whom seem very realistic targets at the moment.

Whether such a player is crucial remains to be seen, but there would be no harm in having a midfielder with a slightly different skill set to call upon when they need it.

Walter Mazzarri
Walter Mazzarri's first season in the Premier League looks set to be a difficult one.

Key questions

There are an infinite number of questions with answers that could have an impact on whether Watford have a successful season. Will an Ikechi Anya cross find another Watford player? Does new manager Mazzarri understand that Adlene Guedioura has to start every game just because of the positive vibes he brings to the team? Will Capoue take fewer games than Lloyd Doyley required to score his first Watford goal?

These are all important, but perhaps more fundamental will be the form of Watford's strikers. Ighalo enjoyed a sensational start to life in the Premier League but his confident swagger faded in the final few months. Deeney, on the other hand, rose to the task when his team needed him most, dragging them through the final few victories needed to secure safety. There is now no doubt that he can perform at this level, and Mazzarri seems very willing to play him as a proper striker, which should be a further boost to his confidence.

But, the bigger question is simply how quickly the team can establish some positive form under the new manager. This could be a much harder season than the previous one as Watford try to adapt to yet another new manager while enduring a particularly brutal start to the season. If they are slow to get going, the crowd will become massively important, and if the atmosphere turns to panic then we could be in for a long season.

Potential pitfalls

The defence was the bedrock of Watford's success last year, but the move to a back three puts their solidity at risk. Mazzarri favours a back three -- a formation last seen at Vicarage Road during Gianfranco Zola's brief but eventful reign, and his team was definitely not known for its defensive qualities.

The previous Premier League season and the European Championships that followed suggests that clean sheets are the new black, and while this trend prevails, it would be unwise to risk changing the fundamental DNA of last season's side. But, this season was always going to be a massive test regardless of who is in charge.

It's true that Watford defied expectations last year, but it's also true that many sides had started to figure them out during the final months. They needed to change to regain some momentum, and Mazzarri has enough experience to understand how much can realistically be achieved in a short space of time.

Abdoulaye Doucoure
Abdoulaye Doucoure could provide Watford the dynamism in midfield that they'll need to stay up.

One to watch

Doucoure, 23, is a central midfielder with a decent amount of experience in Ligue 1 and most recently in La Liga. He was loaned to Granada (at the time owned also owned by the Pozzos) immediately after Watford signed him last January, but joined up with the Hornets for preseason.

At first glance he looks to be a dynamic box-to-box type, who wants to be on the ball and is willing to make plenty of forward runs. For long periods last season the only player Watford had that could do this was Etienne Capoue, and when he eventually faded the team really suffered.

Doucoure has performed in preseason fixtures as though he's not here to sit on the bench, and it will be interesting to see how Capoue responds to a bit of healthy competition from his fellow Frenchman, or if both players can be incorporated into the starting XI.

Michael blogs about Watford for ESPN FC. Follow on Twitter: @Regista_Michael.


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