Sitting level on 40 points and four clear of the chasing pack, Wolves and Watford are well and truly ‘the best of the rest’ in the Premier League right now.
Both sides recently dispatched Everton, the pre-season favourites for that title, and have pulled seven points clear of the now 11th-placed Toffees to move just 10 points behind Chelsea in sixth.
But as these two chase seventh spot in the Premier League, highly likely to be the final Europa League place, which one comes out in a battle between Wolves and Hornets?
At Squawka, we’ve taken a look at the stats and facts behind the two sides.
Watford and Wolves may be evenly matched when it comes to points, but they couldn’t contrast more when it comes to their respective set-ups.
Javi Gracia likes his side to dominate the middle of the pitch in a narrow 4-2-2-2 formation, with Abdoulaye Doucoure and Etienne Capoue forming a solid midfield base to allow the likes of Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes to be creative in the half-space ahead of them, while Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu form a very effective ‘little and large’ partnership up front.
This central domination naturally means that Watford (78) haven’t delivered as many successful crosses into the box as Wolves (111) in the Premier League this season, but the Hornets are creating more high-quality opportunities, as a result, outperform Nuno Espirito Santo’s men 50-41 in big chances created.
And even though Wolves (120) have still managed more shots on target than Watford (103), that quality of chance once again prevails for Gracia’s side, who outscore their seventh-placed rivals 39-35 in the Premier League this season.
Wolves, though, are an incredibly potent counter-attacking side, with Diogo Jota brilliant at dropping in and creating a quick link between the midfield behind him and Raul Jimenez up-front.
Full-backs Matt Doherty and Jonny are incredibly aggressive when pushing forward and, as previously mentioned, can quickly find themselves in great crossing positions in which to find the physical Jimenez.
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While Gracia’s midfield is predicated on solidarity and central domination, the Wolves midfield is built up with supreme ball-playing and creativity.
Nuno sets his side up with three central midfielders, supported on the outside with wing-backs, all of which are incredible passers of the ball.
The star of last season, Ruben Neves, usually lines up alongside his experienced and supremely classy compatriot, Joao Moutinho, with both having the ability to recycle possession from deep and play defence-splitting passes.
Meanwhile, combative Belgian, Leander Dendoncker, adds height and physicality to keep Wolves competitive in the middle without the ball.
As we all saw in the Championship last term, Neves loves a strike from distance and while he hasn’t quite been as accurate with them this season, Wolves take the chance to pull the trigger from range far more often than Watford, delivering 143 shots from outside the box compared to 114 from the latter.
Wolves have made an average of 146.78 lateral passes per-game in the Premier League this season and aim to shift opponents around to create space and have made 9069 successful passes to Watford’s 8145 so far.
However, the all-action, lung-busting efforts of Doucoure and Capoue, who has made more interceptions (67) than any midfielder at the two clubs, means that Watford don’t lose the ball for long and have actually averaged 46.92% possession compared to Wolves’ 45.63% in the league this season.
If you’re trying to pick between the two midfields, though, you just cannot look beyond the pedigree Wolves have there.
Gracia and Nuno deploy very different defensive shapes, with the former preferring a back four, while the latter opts for three centre-halves and wing-backs.
Despite this, there isn’t a great deal to separate Wolves and Watford when it comes to defending, with the former being tied with Newcastle for the fifth-best defensive record in the Premier League and Watford sitting just one place behind.
Wolves (34) have conceded one goal less than Watford (35) but have kept one clean sheet fewer (6) than the Hornets (7), while the two sides are separated by just five shots faced in the Premier League this season – 333 for Wolves, 328 for Watford.
In the likes of Willy Boly, Adrian Mariappa, Conor Coady and Craig Cathcart, both sides have centre-backs that are just as capable in winning aerial battles as they are with the ball at their feet and it’s no coincidence that two of the best defences outside the Premier League’s elite are the ones tied for seventh place at this point of the season.
If you thought these two were evenly matched in defence, wait until you see their goalkeepers.
Wolves boast Portugal No.1 stopper Rui Patricio between the sticks, with the 31-year-old making a total of 79 saves in the Premier League this season at a success rate of 69.64%.
Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster, meanwhile, is experiencing something of a resurgence at Vicarage Road making 86 saves at a success rate of 70.34%, all at the age of 35.
The veteran is the only one of the two to save a penalty this season, while he has far out-performed Patricio when coming to claim the ball, making 22 catches to the Portuguese’s seven.
An unfair misconception surrounding Foster is that he is a mere shot-stopper, an old-fashioned goalkeeper there to simply stop goals going in the net.
That, however, is largely incorrect. The former Man Utd stopper has made 356 successful passes so far this season and surprisingly outperforms his Wolves counterpart in this metric, with Patricio registering just 290 successful passes.
Obvious ball-playing goalkeepers, such as Kepa (650) and Alisson (601), play far more passes than both Foster and Patricio, but Watford and Wolves have very contrasting tactical plans to any other side in the Premier League.
Gracia, just like Marcos Silva before him, places possessional demands on his goalkeeper that were previously unheard of at Watford and – to his credit – Foster has adapted to this brilliantly.
Wolves may be taking all the plaudits as ‘the best of the rest’ this season, but don’t bet against Watford sneaking in ahead of the Midlands club.
The Hornets are compact, hard to beat and have plenty of attacking talent to hurt any side in the Premier League on their day.
Both are managed by two of the most exciting coaches outside the ‘big six’, but Watford and Gracia’s understated nature makes them a real danger side and a dark horse.