Étienne Capoue — Licence To Roam.
Summer ’13 were heady days for Spurs fans. Daniel Levy had just cemented his status as a tough negotiator forcing Real Madrid to pay more for Gareth Bale’s services than they did for sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United. Spurs wasted no time spending that sweet Gareth Bale money and a certain midfielder from Toulouse (French Ligue 1) was among the new recruits at White Hart Lane. Then Spurs coach, André Villas-Boas was looking to build his own squad and had identified the 25-year old as key to his midfield reshuffle which saw Scott Parker and Tom Huddlestone sold.
At 6ft 2, Étienne Capoue is an imposing figure on the pitch and had also shown during his time at Toulouse his ability to read the game, create chances and chip in with scoring, all whilst playing in a defensive-midfield position. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, he had a difficult time at Spurs. In his debut season he was hampered by injuries and a casualty of his manager’s rotation more often than not and as a result, ended the season with only 18 total appearances across all competitions. Transfer speculations during his sophomore season that his new manager, Mauricio Pochettino was looking to bring in his former player, Morgan Schneiderlin, did not auger well for his future at the club and a year later, he signed for Watford F.C. bringing an end to rather disappointing spell at White Hart Lane.
For the first time since his move to England, Capoue begun the season as a starter and went on to end the 2015/16 season with 33 appearances. In Quique Flores’ system, he shared defensive responsibilities with Ben Watson and was limited going forward — possibly under instructions not to venture forward. The main objective for Flores last season was to avoid the drop, and even though Leicester City were the league’s fairy tale story, Watford were not far behind. Not only did they avoid relegation comfortably, but played exciting, attacking football as well. For Capoue, he had completed a full season as the starter and with 50 goals conceded, Watford ended the season with the 9th best defence in the league. Not bad for a newly-promoted side.
This season saw Watford, a club with a high manager turnover rate, appoint Walter Mazzarri as the new man in charge. One of the key changes from last season is the role of the fullbacks. They are tasked with playing higher up the pitch and given more attacking responsibilities. Another key change has been the emergence of Capoue as a goal-scoring option for Watford. At the moment, he is the club’s record goal-scorer with 3 goals and second only on the midfielders top-scorers chat to West Ham’s Michail Antonio who leads by 4 goals.
The Frenchman’s goal scoring form is perhaps just a phase. After all, he has tripled the amount of goals he scored in the last 3 seasons, in just 4 matches. There’s also the matter of his unsustainable shots on target conversion rate which stands at 75%. All but one of the four shots he had on target has beaten the opposition goalkeeper. So unless Capoue has dramatically improved upon his finishing, it is unlikely sustain his current form. That said, the 28-year old midfielder earlier in his career was adept at reading the game and making late runs from midfield, him making the right runs and choosing the right shot might not be as much of a fluke as it is made out to be. As mentioned earlier, Mazzarri allows the fullbacks to push higher up the pitch making Watford lineup in 3–5–2 formation when on the pitch. During an attacking play, the midfield trio (of which Capoue and Behrami have featured in all 4 games) are tasked with joining and Capoue has so far done an excellent job of exploiting the space left by opposition players who have their hands full guarding Ighalo and Deeney as well as marking the Watford fullbacks.
“I can explain it because I have played more offensively than last year. I had some chances to score and I try my best every weekend. “I can say now I’ve scored two goals but I hope for more.”
Capoue’s licence to attack is very much a part of Watford’s new tactical setup going forward. His goals during the pre-season served as an indication of the type of midfielder Mazzarri was instructing him to be. After three full seasons, it is possible we finally get to see Capoue achieve the potential that saw AVB and Levy sign him. He is well settled, playing regularly and for a coach committed to playing to his strengths. Next up for Watford, they are home to Manchester before facing the promoted teams in their next 3 games. Capoue will be hoping to extend his goal scoring form, and has the perfect set of fixtures to do so.