Nigel Pearson masterminded one of the great Premier League escapes when he led Leicester City to survival in the 2014-15 season.
If the 56-year-old Englishman achieves the same feat with Watford, who earned their first home win of the season with Sunday’s 2-0 success against Manchester United, then Hornets fans might be nicknaming him ‘Harry’ or ‘Houdini’ after the iconic American escape artist.
Since Pearson’s appointment, Watford have taken four points from three matches – only the daunting trip to Liverpool proving fruitless – after they continued in the right direction against United.
But are the odds still stacked against them staying up? BBC Sport examines what the stats say from another weekend of Premier League action.
The great escape on for Watford?
Following Watford’s dismal start to the season, Javi Gracia and his replacement Quique Sanchez Flores lost their jobs before Watford turned to Pearson as their third manager of the campaign.
Going into his first home match officially in charge, the statistics starkly showed the task he faces:
- Watford had nine points from 17 matches – no club has avoided relegation from the Premier League with so few points at this stage of the season
- The Hornets had won just one of their previous 20 league games
- Watford had gone 12 home league fixtures without a win since beating Fulham in April – a club record
- They were one of only two sides in the top four English divisions yet to win a home league game, along with League One Southend
- Watford were the only club in Europe’s elite five divisions yet to score 10 goals this season
But the mood around Vicarage Road changed for the better after a morale-boosting win over the Red Devils, which moved Watford on to 12 points, closing the gap on fourth-bottom Southampton to six points.
Clearly they are still mired in a survival battle, but the picture suddenly looks a little rosier from a statistical point of view based on Premier League history.
If the Hornets had lost to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side they would have become the seventh side to have nine points or fewer after 18 games. And the previous six all went on to be relegated…
|Lowest points tallies after 18 Premier League games|
However, the goals from Ismaila Sarr and skipper Troy Deeney helped Watford climb in the list of worst Premier League starts.
Twenty-seven sides have had 12 points or fewer after 18 games, with 21 of those teams going on to be relegated.
For Watford not to become the 22nd, Pearson knows what they need to do – start picking up points at Vicarage Road and scoring more goals.
Both were achieved against United as Pearson’s side ended a run of 12 home Premier League matches without a win and scored twice in a top-flight game for only the third time this season.
Deeney’s return to full fitness has bolstered the Hornets attack, which has produced the fewest goals in Europe’s top five leagues.
“I need to stress that we can’t get carried away with it, but I’ve seen lots to encourage myself that we’re capable,” said Pearson, who saved Leicester five seasons ago by leading them to seven victories in their final nine matches.
Another De Gea mistakes proves costly
“Take a shot and he’ll save it I swear,” sing the Manchester United fans about goalkeeper David de Gea to the tune of Bon Jovi classic ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’.
Opposition players will probably think they might as well ‘give it a shot’ seeing as no player has made more errors leading to goals in the Premier League than David de Gea.
The Spain international fumbled Sarr’s shot and allowed the ball to slip into the back of his net, giving Watford a precious lead which they doubled shortly after to condemn United to their lowest points tally in the top flight at Christmas since 1989.
Following quickly from being out-jumped and out-muscled by Everton scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin last weekend, it was the sixth mistake De Gea has made since August last year.
That has contributed to De Gea – and therefore United – only managing to keep two clean sheets this season.
Remarkably that is the same number of shut-outs as West Ham keeper David Martin, who only made his Premier League debut 22 days ago.
Vardy having a party against the best
Strikers are judged on goals, but they are also judged on the quality of the opposition they score them against.
No-one can accuse Jamie Vardy of simply being a flat-track bully.
The Leicester City striker put his side ahead at Premier League champions Manchester City, and could have had another at Etihad Stadium, before Pep Guardiola’s team fought back for a 3-1 win.
That took the former England international’s tally against the so-called ‘big six’ clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham – to 33 goals since his debut Premier League campaign in 2014-15.
Vardy is the competition’s top or joint-top scorer against both Liverpool and City, while he is also the second or joint-second highest scorer against Arsenal and Spurs.
Sterling wins another penalty
After Vardy put Leicester ahead, Manchester City swung the match back in their favour before half-time through Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan’s penalty.
The spot-kick was awarded after Raheem Sterling was sent tumbling by Foxes right-back Ricardo Pereira’s lunge.
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Since his debut in March 2012, Sterling has won 17 penalties in the Premier League – more than any other player in the competition.
Can Wilder emulate Bassett at the Lane?
Sheffield United are showing little sign of slowing down.
The Blades moved up to fifth in the Premier League with a 1-0 win at Brighton, Oliver McBurnie’s effort earning a third successive top-flight victory for the first time since 1993.
That saw striker McBurnie, skipper Oliver Norwood and manager Chris Wilder emulate the likes of club legends Brian Deane, Brian Gayle and Dave Bassett – all key to the club’s best Premier League finish in the inaugural 1992-93 season.
As a lifelong Blades fan, Wilder will remember that campaign well – not least because it was the former right-back’s first season as a professional away from Bramall Lane after moving to South Yorkshire neighbours Rotherham in the summer of 1992.
Those who Wilder left behind helped the Blades to 14th place in the 22-team Premier League, averaging 1.24 points a game in their 42 matches.
With one more match until the halfway point, Wilder’s side are well on course to better this tally having taken an average of 1.56 points from their 18 games so far.
|Sheffield United’s history in the Premier League|
|Season||Position||Points per game|
And if that form continues then it would be hard to see Wilder not emulating another of Bassett’s best achievements at the Lane – picking up the top-flight manager of the year award.
If United maintain their rate of picking up points they would finish on 59, putting them in the top-five highest tallies accrued by sides promoted to the Premier League.
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