Claudio Ranieri's Watford entertain relegation rivals Norwich in a huge clash on FNF; follow Watford vs Norwich live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 7pm on Friday night; kick-off 8pm; watch free highlights shortly after full time on Sky Sports website and app
Friday 21 January 2022 23:23, UK
Watford host fellow strugglers Norwich City on Friday Night Football and Claudio Ranieri wants Vicarage Road to be a fortress between now and the end of the season to aid the club's Premier League survival hopes.
It is three months now since Ranieri, who recently turned 70, became the latest in a long line of managers to be hired by the Pozzo family.
Ranieri replaced Xisco Munoz, who played under him at Valencia, despite the Spaniard having guided Watford back to the Premier League at the first time of asking and with the club sitting 15th in the table at the time, four points above the drop zone.
Heading into Friday evening's crucial visit of 18th-placed Norwich, though, Watford are in 17th position, just one point from safety after finding wins hard to come by under the experienced Roman.
In fact, there have been just two so far, albeit standout victories at Everton (5-2) in only Ranieri's second game in charge and at home to Man Utd (4-1) in November, although both now look less impressive given the subsequent departures of Rafael Benitez and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer respectively.
Ranieri has previous, however, when it comes to taking over sides in peril after successfully guiding Sampdoria to safety in 2019-20, despite the Genoese club lying bottom of Serie A having lost six of their opening seven games when he arrived.
I want Vicarage Road to be like a fortress. I want this, together with our fans. Our fans must arrive at Vicarage Road and together, we push behind us and we have to give them all the satisfaction they deserve.
Sampdoria actually went on to finish ninth that season - not that any Watford fan is expecting such a dramatic turnaround this campaign - but rather than draw on those past experiences for inspiration, Ranieri prefers to look forward, not back.
"It is exactly what I thought as the board showed me everything they could do and it is right everything they told me at the beginning," said Ranieri, denying this was a harder challenge than the one he faced at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris.
"I'm not so much pressure, it is my pressure on myself, not only because we are near the bottom and in a relegation fight, but also because I want the maximum for myself and my players.
"It's more or less similar (to the challenge he faced at Sampdoria). I managed Sampdoria with very few matches with the crowd because everything soon closed (because of Covid). And it was very strange to play without a crowd, who are the blood of our sport.
"I've already forgotten (about keeping Sampdoria up)! I always look forward, I want to do a very good job here at Watford, stay here a long time, work hard with all the players, and my assistants and team."
In which case, Joao Pedro's late leveller at Newcastle United last weekend - which ended the club's seven-match losing streak - could prove absolutely vital come the end of the season, especially as it was against a relegation rival.
"Yes of course, as we had some very good chances to score early on and so it was a very good liberation when we did score to draw the match," said Ranieri.
"We were not happy to concede, but then we scored at the end and I'm very, very convinced that had we scored early on, we would have won the match.
"But a point is OK. I told my players it is important to win, but it is also important not to lose."
And is that the same case against Norwich then on Friday?
"No, we have to win, but also do not lose!" he joked.
Ranieri gave January signings Hassane Kamara, Samir and Edo Kayembe their debuts at St James' Park, with all three catching the manager's eye on Tyneside.
"I'm very happy (with the trio) and we were solid (at Newcastle), with a strength and personality, they were calm with the ball at their feet, every situation was clear for them and also for the rest of their team-mates," said Ranieri.
However, as well as those new recruits, the Italian will also need to ensure his dangerous forward players - especially the likes of Ismaila Sarr, Emmanuel Dennis and Josh King - all stay fit and firing until the end of the season if Watford are to beat the drop.
"For this reason, I believe in this team so much because everything in the first part of the season was bad, Covid, we played well, but lost some matches," he said.
"But I believe, in my career I've always told my players that you must continue to fight in the right way till the end and I want to continue to fight because my players can improve more."
And if the Hornets can answer their manager's call to turn Vicarage Road into a cauldron for opposing teams - they have won just once at home so far under the Italian - then that may just see them finish the right side of the relegation line come May.
"Yes of course (we need to be hard to beat at home), I want Vicarage Road to be like a fortress," said Ranieri. "I want this, together with our fans. Our fans must arrive at Vicarage Road and together we push behind us and we have to give them all the satisfaction they deserve."