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Ismaila Sarr: Is Watford's record signing primed for Premier League success?

21:42 GMT+3 09/08/2019
Ismaila Sarr Rennes 2018-19
The Senegal attacker has the attributes to take Europe’s most popular league by storm

Deadline Day is often associated with panic buys as clubs rush to get deals over the line in time. However, Watford’s signing of Ismaila Sarr on the final day of the window shouldn’t be placed in that bracket.

The Hornets had to fight off some relatively strong competition to seal the acquisition of the Rennes player, who’d turned into one the finest young wingers in Europe since moving from Metz in 2017.

Javi Gracia’s decision to trust the 21-year-old is a real show of confidence in a talent that has blossomed in the last couple of years, and earmarks the Hornets' ambition to push for a top six spot in the Premier League.

The goal won’t be a walk in the park, as many of the teams below the European slots in the league are constantly strengthening as they seek to usurp the so-called top sides.

Gracia has managed to hold on to Abdoulaye Doucoure, who was reportedly wanted by Everton, and Gerard Deulofeu, who had his best ever individual season last term when he scored 10 goals and registered five assists.

Retaining their very best players means that, by adding Sarr to the mix, they’re not just replacing talent, but are embellishing what they already have.

While Watford’s 11th-place finish last term might falsify how far they are from achieving the aforementioned objective, it should be noted that Gracia’s men (50 points) finished only seven points below Wolverhampton Wanderers (57) in seventh and were in the running for continental qualification via the league until the wheels came off in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Their collapse then culminated with their 6-0 FA Cup final thrashing against Manchester City.

Nevertheless, one month of football shouldn’t soil Gracia’s impressive work over the course of a campaign that saw him lead the Hertfordshire club to their best ever Premier League finish.

That promise may have convinced Sarr to opt for the go-getting side ahead of several other suitors in Europe; Watford are getting an exciting player who doesn’t shy from taking on his opponent in an attempt to help his side’s cause.

It’s no surprise that his skillset makes him win a plethora of free-kicks, as well as penalties, which was an attribute of his time in the French top flight.

While the young winger's constant willingness to dribble can sometimes prove costly, as reluctance to release the ball early leaves his team at the risk of turnovers, his ball-hugging style can be fine-tuned and channeled properly as he ages.

Also, as is the case for players his age, his inconsistency and tendency to drift in and out of games can be frustrating at times.

This part of his game was evident at the just-concluded Africa Cup of Nations, where Sarr started strongly, with fine displays against Tanzania and Kenya. However, his performances dipped for the rest of the tournament, especially against Tunisia and Algeria, as the Lions of Teranga ultimately settled for a runners-up spot.

Be that as it may, under Julien Stephan last season, Sarr thrived in the midst of attacking talent consisting of Hatem Ben Arfa, Benjamin Bourigeaud and countryman M’Baye Niang, while arguably outshining the trio.

He hit 13 goals in all competitions last term (bettered only by Niang who scored 14) as Rennes progressed to their first ever European knockout round in the Europa League, until elimination at the hands of Arsenal at the last 16, before claiming the Coupe de France against Paris Saint-Germain.

Sarr isn’t just a dribbler capable of leaving his marker for dead, but also proficient at contributing in the final third.

In Gracia’s preferred 4-2-2-2 system, which makes use of inverted-wingers, the Senegal international ought to thrive given the licence afforded to the widemen to cut inside and find space between the lines while full-backs push forward to provide width.

Furthermore, his pace on the counter-attack will also be useful for a side favouring quick transitions. There was more emphasis on fast breaks last season, and it was no surprise the Hornets scored three times as many goals on the counter last year as they did in 2017/18, after attempting nearly three times as many fast breaks in 2018/19.

Sarr’s introduction to the English football might be a tad challenging at first, but the Senegal international has what it takes to prove his worth in one of the challenging leagues in Europe as he seeks to take his game to the very next level.