Could Watford's New Danish Winger Be The Key To Promotion Success?
Get the best email in soccer.
Watford's promotion push gained some more vigor at the advent of the new year, as the club announced the signing of winger Philip Zinckernagel on a free transfer.
The Dane recorded 19 goals and 18 assists for Bodø/Glimt, leading the Norwegian side to its first Eliteserien title in its 104-year history. Bodø/Glimt scored 103 goals on the season and won the Eliteserien by 19 points, setting league records for points, winning margin and goals scored, among others, while also getting a write-up in the New York Times.
We are delighted to confirm the signing of exciting Danish winger Philip Zinckernagel on a five-and-a-half year contract!— Watford Football Club (@WatfordFC) January 1, 2021
Zinckernagel joins a Watford team that has been solid defensively but lacks the attacking threat to separate the side from other promotion contenders. The Hornets currently sit in sixth place in the Championship, narrowly holding on to the last playoff spot as the club looks to immediately rebound from relegation.
The side has scored a single goal or less in 17 of its 22 matches this season, but boasts the league's second-best defense (17 goals allowed). This stingy backline has meant that Watford has won each of the five matches in which it has scored multiple goals. The issue, of course, is infrequent production on the attacking side of the ball.
Xisco was hired as the club's new manager just before Christmas (the fifth in just over a year), but Watford's attack has still lacked impetus, ranking in the bottom third in key passes and shots on target.
Watford will hope that the 26-year-old Zinckernagel can provide some of the attacking dynamism that terrorized Norwegian defenders in 2020.
The Dane is a talented winger that excels in all facets of wide play. He is an adroit dribbler and is frequently able to create his own shot, but unlike many forwards, he is also a proficient passer, averaging 3.5 key passes per game, and a willing defender (around two pressure regains per match).
So....Philip Zinckernagel to #WatfordFC.In the 2020 Eliteserien he ranked first for shots (122), assists (18), chances created (96) & Expected Assists (12.4).
He loves a shot from range and loves a killer ball in to the box from out wide. pic.twitter.com/LypwH3ZQT0
— Matt Furniss (@Matt_Furniss) December 29, 2020
At Bodø/Glimt, Zinckernagel played primarily on the right wing, but he has the flexibility to play any position across the front line. Glimt played a free-flowing, aggressive, attacking style, allowing Zinckernagel to roam freely in the offensive half. He used this liberty to gain frequent touches in and around the penalty area.
Another #Doppelganger from our #SimilarPlayers vault...
"Depay et Zinckernagel produisent des rendements excellents pour leurs équipes, dans des registres différents de part leurs positionnements" pic.twitter.com/M0blpyNoZZ— StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) December 8, 2020
Under Xisco, Watford has shifted from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 formation as the manager looks to play a more attacking style of football.
Troy Deeney is the Hornets' main man up front (four goals), but Deeney and the rest of the attack have been inconsistent. João Pedro, the club's leading scorer with five goals, started the season strong but quickly cooled off and has missed the last month with an injury. Andre Gray, a former $22 million transfer from Burnley, has just one goal in 10 appearances.
Ismaïla Sarr on the right wing has been the one bright spot in Watford's attack and arguably the club's best player. He is fourth in the Championship in dribbles per match and second in fouls drawn, but he's been unable to convert that quality on the ball into goals for his side. He has four goals and two assists, but just one of each in the past dozen matches. He also has disappointing totals in key passes and crosses per match.
Zinckernagel could slot in as a second striker next to Deeney, or he could start at his more familiar right wing position and push Sarr up top, where the Senegalese international had success earlier in the campaign. Perhaps more importantly he provides depth for a Watford side that offers very little offensive threat off the bench. The club has yet to get a goal from a substitute attacker this season, and Zinckernagel's flexibility at the very least makes him an attractive goal-scoring option off the bench.
With Xisco's new attacking philosophy and a talented Hornets squad, Philip Zinckernagel could be just the player to galvanize Watford's attack and lead the club back to the Premier League.