Bilic keen to get Watford’s talisman in and around the box

In fact, with several of his teammates now returnig to fitness as well, Pedro will be encouraged to operate further forward during the rest of the season.

The Brazilian captained the team against Blackburn on Saturday in what was only his second game back from injury, and he appeared to limp off when substituted in the 79th minute.

“It was just a cramp,” said Bilic. “I was in constant communication with him during the game. He is one of those players that you want on the pitch for every second, but at the same time we don’t want to jeopardise his availability for the next game.

“I spoke to him yesterday and he is ok. He’s very happy and feeling confident – he’s always confident to be fair, but now he knows that he can play 75 minutes or whatever without problems.

“You could see in the second half on Saturday that he’s still not fit enough, and he’s not always present where you need him in every move. But for that you need games and unfortunately we don’t have friendlies to build him up.

“He’s already played two games, he’s getting better all the time. And his quality on the pitch is top, top class.

“We had players back on Saturday, and it’ll be more or less the same squad again for tomorrow at Burnley.

“It’s never easy to play another game after three days. Yesterday we were in and had a recovery day, today we’re going to see if there are any issues but yesterday everyone was fine.

“Joao started the game, we had Tom Cleverley come on, we had Ken Sema come on, we had Imran Louza come on. They all got a few minutes. They need games under their belts, physically and psychologically.

“All of them will be involved in the game against Burnley, and we are building them up to be in top shape as we will need them for the rest of the season.

“The squad is getting thicker and we are over the period where we had that incredible amount of injuries. We still have a couple injured but you have to expect that with any football team.

“We’ve only lost one in the last six but also draws are not enough. We know we have been close to winning but we have to find a way to convert draws into wins.

“Draws are enough if you want to maintain a good atmosphere and are happy to be in mid-table, but for what we want to do we have to start winning games. Not just one win and then a draw – we have to win games – plural.”

With more and more players returning, Watford can now start to play key individuals where they can be most effective – and for Pedro, that means being nearer the opposition goal than his own.

“You want your best players in their best positions,” said Bilic.

“Who is scoring goals for us? For the whole season it’s been Sarr and Pedro. You want both of them to be starting attacks a bit further up the pitch.

“But at the same time you can’t just kick the ball to them. We are lacking creativity in midfield and that’s why Joao is coming deeper than we would normally like. He starts high up the pitch but then when he sees we are struggling a little bit to get to him, then he drops.

“He creates when he is deep, that’s his job of course. But we want him to create and also to be in a position in and around the box to finish the move. And that’s not a fitness thing: it doesn’t matter how fit you are, you can’t move faster than the ball and if you are deep it will get there before you.

“Joao loves having the ball, but he’s not a maverick. He plays the way you tell him. He has a pretty free role, but it’s a free role in terms of him being able to drop 10 metres deep or move left or right. He knows where we want him and he likes that.

“But if the ball doesn’t get to him, he knows we need him and he’s very intelligent. He’s 21 but he doesn’t have the brain of a 21-year-old. He’s very mature.

“If we are struggling to get the ball to him, then he will drop to get it. He will then get the ball and beat a player and move the ball forward into an area where we want him to be. He can’t be in two places.

“With the players that are coming back, then we should need him to do less of that. You don’t mind your number 10 dropping deep, but not all the time. If that happens, then you lack the numbers and quality in the box that you need.

“I think all the time about how you need your best players in the box. It’s very clear: we want to win games. To do that, you need goals – and to get goals you need your best players and your goalscorers in and around the box.

“And that is what we want to do now, as we get players back to fitness.

“When I joined Watford that was our plan, but along the journey we lost important players in certain positions. Now they are returning.

“You can’t just kick the ball to Joao and expect him to do something.”

Watford Observer | St. Albans News