Team News: Brighton & Hove Albion
By Kevin Affleck
Watch Javi Gracia's pre-Brighton press conference above.
Abdoulaye Doucouré has given the club a huge boost on the eve of the new season by being passed fit to face Brighton & Hove Albion.
Last season's Player of the Season and Players' Player of the Season has not played a minute of the unbeaten pre-season campaign because of appendicitis, but he is back in full training and in contention to be selected against the visiting Seagulls.
Gracia must now decide whether the Frenchman, who signed a new five-year contract this summer, is fit enough to play from the start.
“Doucouré is fit and in a good condition to play,” said the Head Coach. “He's player with great commitment, making a big effort every game.”
Gracia also believes others are close to joining Doucouré in being available for selection.
“Okaka is not ready, but I trust he will be ready in one or two weeks, I'm sure,” said Gracia. “Gerard [Deulofeu] started to train with the team last week, but had a little problem. I think he will be ready in two, three, four or five days. For Saturday I don't think he will be ready. Chalobah is training with the team but he needs more time. Ben Wilmot had a little problem in his knee. He will be ready for next week.”
Tom Cleverley is a bit further behind in his progress from an operation on his Achilles. He is expected to return in the autumn. Gracia is looking forward to working with a player he was able to only select once last season in the draw the team dug out at Stoke City. “Everybody knows he is an important player for us,” said Gracia.
Injuries to Cleverley, Chalobah and Doucouré have left Gracia short of options in the middle of midfield and there has been talk in the media of the Hornets looking to strengthen in that area.
Gracia is in daily dialogue with the club's executives and discusses the transfer strategy, but he is happy to be doing his best work out on the manicured training fields at London Colney.
“I spend my time preparing for the next game more than thinking there will be movements or not in the window,” he said. “I prefer to spend my time with the players we have. I have to be able to convince them they are the best, that they feel proud to belong to this club and to put 100 per cent in every day. It's my job and I do my best. My players are the best.”