In Focus: Dennis the Menace is giving Hornets their sting
The final nail in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United coffin came from an unlikely source — Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis.
The summer signing scored the fourth goal in the Hornets' shock 4-1 victory at Vicarage Road last Saturday, which saw Solskjaer relieved of his duties the following morning.
After setting up two goals earlier in the game, the 24-year-old’s impressive record of four goals and five assists in 11 Premier League outings means Dennis is no longer flying under the radar.
Ahead of the Hertfordshire club's trip to Leicester on Sunday, we turn the spotlight on their Nigerian No25 and ponder whether he could be destined for bigger things.
Loaning it in
Dennis is now making waves in the world’s most-watched league but getting to this point was not always guaranteed.
He made his name during three seasons with Club Brugge, most notably scoring an impressive double at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in October 2019.
The forward finally got his chance in one of Europe’s top leagues in January when he made a loan switch to Bundesliga side FC Koln but things did not go as planned.
Making just nine league appearances, Dennis failed to score a single goal.
There were reports of him having an attitude problem while in Germany as the Billy Goats narrowly avoided relegation.
Speaking of his time at the RheinEnergieStadion, Dennis put his struggles down to not being in the right frame of mind prior to the move.
He said: "I feel guilty because I couldn’t help the club.
"I was tired of Belgium and had no more fun. I was dead in the head, completely dead. The worst thing was that I took this bad feeling with me to Germany in January.
"I had mental problems when I was loaned."
Dennis the Menace
But his unconvincing form did not stop newly-promoted Watford taking a punt and bringing him to Vicarage Road for a bargain £3million.
The Hornets are reaping the rewards of that act of faith with Dennis on course to enjoy the most prolific season of his career.
He scored his first goal for the club just 10 minutes into his debut on the opening game of the season against Aston Villa and went on to set up another in that 3-2 victory.
While it has been a difficult season for Dennis' employers, there have been some high points and the three-cap international has been at the heart of them all.
When Dennis has scored, Watford have won — the Nigerian’s four goals have come in his side’s only league victories this season against Villa, Norwich, Everton and United.
What is also notable is the fact all five of his assists have come in those games, showing the devastating impact he can have when fully firing.
His record of 0.82 goal involvements per 90 minutes this term is comfortably his best, impressive considering much of his time has been spent in some of Europe’s less-renowned leagues.
Despite being on the pitch for just 26 minutes against Everton in October, Dennis scored one and assisted two in a stunning 5-2 win at Goodison Park.
And manager Claudio Ranieri has been full of praise for the impact he has made during the Italian’s short time at the club so far.
The former Chelsea and Leicester boss said: "[Dennis] is a very talented player. He’s fast, has good skill, always runs straight to the goal — I love these kinds of players."
If he can produce those performances on a more regular basis, Dennis may just be Watford’s ticket to avoiding relegation and climbing up the table.
Across the front three
As most modern forwards so often do, Dennis has had an impact across all three positions in Watford’s attack.
Predominantly operating on the left wing, the 5ft 9in striker is also comfortable leading the line or cutting in from the right.
After his superb display spearheading the attack last Saturday, Dennis backed his ability to threaten from numerous areas of the field.
He said: "I can play anywhere in the front three, it’s OK to me and I did the job.
"I’m very happy, we deserved to win. Winning was the only thing in our heads, we kept going and got a very important three points."
A Super Eagle to be?
Recent performances have seen Dennis become known to a wider audience and there has been clamour for him to get international recognition.
Dennis has not played for the Super Eagles since November 2020 and featured in just six minutes of Nigeria's Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign.
But his chances of returning to the fold for the upcoming continental showpiece have been handed a boost after Napoli striker Victor Osimhen was ruled out for three months with a facial injury.
Competing with the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Paul Onuachu and Ahmed Musa for a place as one of Nigeria’s forwards will be a challenge but Dennis is in as good form as any of those names.
Reports indicate his previous off-field issues may be preventing an international return but it is becoming more and more difficult for manager Gernot Rohr to leave out the Hornets ace.
Despite some impressive recent results, Watford still face a difficult task to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.
But it seems likely Dennis will not be short of suitors whether Watford remain in the top flight or not.