High-flying Watford welcomed a Manchester United side that had been struggling of late, in what was set to be an intriguing midweek Premier League fixture. For Jose Mourinho’s side every game has become a must win affair, and this clash was no different as they continued their pursuit of eternal rivals Manchester City. Watford meanwhile looked to continue their good run of form under Marco Silva that saw them climb to eight position in the table heading into this game.
Young gives United an undeserved lead
Both teams lined up with a back three and this was destined to be an interesting tactical battle between two managers who are firm friends away from football. Watford came away with the win in this fixture last season, and they started brightly this time around, looking to catch United on the break with the pace of Richarlison and Andre Gray. The home side probed the visitors’ defence early on and Kiko Femenia put in a few teasing crosses from the right flank, testing the awareness of Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling. Mourinho’s men dealt with the early pressure well, but they struggled to get forward as Watford pegged them back with sustained possession.
Marco Silva’s side continued to find gaps in between United’s midfield and defence, and both Will Hughes and Abdoulaye Doucoure were regularly seen driving forwards, cutting through Manchester United’s rigid structure. Unfortunately for the home team it was the visitors who struck first, catching Watford with a sucker punch blow that came very much against the run of play. Jesse Lingard picked up the ball just past the half way line and looked up to see Ashley Young making an overlapping run. The two England internationals combined through a neat pass, and Young struck a quick, low shot on the half volley, which beat Heurelho Gomes at the near post.
United run riot against a shocked Watford team
The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Watford’s players, and it didn’t take long for United to double their lead. Incredibly it was Young who got on the score sheet once again, grabbing his second of the game following some good work from Paul Pogba to win a dangerous free kick. The wingback converted it in some style, curling the ball exquisitely into the top left corner and leaving Gomes with no chance. The home side thus faced a gargantuan challenge to get back into the game, and the players were no doubt wondering how they had fallen two goals behind after being so utterly dominant in the opening twenty minutes.
The task did not get any easier on the half hour mark however as the Manchester club struck again, this time through Anthony Martial. A poor header from Kabasele gifted the ball to Pogba, who played a simple pass on to his fellow French international who was in acres of space in between the Watford centre halves. The winger took one touch before burying a firm finish into the right hand corner, adding to the home side’s misery and silencing the Vicarage Road faithful. To their credit Watford responded well to the setbacks and began to press for a goal of their own, but their midfield passing was far more wayward and sloppy that it had been early on. In the end it was all that Marco Silva’s men could do to keep United at bay until half time, and Gomes came to the rescue with some sensational saves to keep the score line at 0-3 going into the break.
Silva’s men search for a way back into the game
Watford came out for the second period needing somewhat of a miracle to get back into the game, and their desire to push for an early goal allowed Manchester United to set up with counter attacks very much on their mind. In the early exchanges of the second half United began to show why they are the best defensive side in the Premier League, dealing well with the pressure from the likes of Richarlison.
Whenever the visitors were in possession they endeavoured to slow the tempo of the game right down, controlling the midfield areas with clever passes and movement. Watford meanwhile increased the urgency of their attacks, which came at the detriment of much of their build up play. Passes went astray and touches became heavy as the home side searched desperately for a goal, but Kiko Femenia was a constant threat down the right flank. The fullback almost created an opener for his side when he floated in an exceptional cross towards Richarlison, but the Brazilian couldn’t quite steer his header on target.
A fantastic end to a remarkable game
As the clock ticked down it seemed as if United were eager to grab a fourth, and they began to press brilliantly. Romelu Lukaku had two golden opportunities in quick succession to end his goal drought, but the Belgian exhibited his severe lack of confidence as he fluffed his lines when it looked easier to score. Up the other end Watford’s persistence finally paid off as Roberto Pereyra drew a clumsy tackle from Marcus Rojo in the United box. Troy Deeney, who had only just entered the fray from the substitute’s bench, stepped up to convert coolly from the spot. The goal gave the home side hope and they began to play as such, pressing zealously with the crowd fully behind them after their earlier silence.
Their continued pressure was once again rewarded as Doucoure converted an excellent cross by Carrillo. The Frenchman bounded forward to get on the end of the drilled cross, before prodding the ball home brilliantly on the stretch. The goal gave the home side an incredible level of confidence, and the Vicarage Road crowd became raucous as they urged their team on.
The visitors had other ideas however and Jesse Lingard ran the full length of the pitch on a remarkable one-man counter attack just moments after Watford’s second. The winger swerved around five or six Hornets defenders on his way towards the goal, eventually cutting into the right hand side of the box. The icing on the cake was a sensational drilled finish back across goal, catching Gomes off balance and restoring his side’s two-goal cushion. The incredible solo effort was to be the final goal of an astounding game of football, and Manchester United ran out as winners after an excellent offensive performance.
Watford can consider themselves slightly unlucky not to get something out of this game. For the opening 20 minutes Marco Silva’s men utterly dominated Manchester United, but somehow found themselves 0-3 down after a few sucker punch goals. The defensive issues were laid bare in this game against quality opposition, but this Watford attack is sensational to watch. Richarlison and co could well be the reason that they Hornets stay up this season, and Silva has to take huge credit for turning his side into one of the most exciting teams in the Premier League.
In the end it was an incredibly nervy victory for Manchester United in what turned out to be a tricky fixture. Mourinho’s side lacked their usual impressive defensive solidity in the face of a talented Watford attack, but the Red Devils’ own forwards finally got back to their best. Martial and Lingard in particular were excellent in this game, as was wingback Ashley Young, but another blank for Lukaku represents a worrying trend. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic returning to full fitness, the Belgian needs to find his form soon or risk being displaced by the supremely talented Swede.
Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Prödl (Carrillo, 58’), Kabasele; Femenia, Cleverley, Doucoure, Zeegelaar; Hughes (Pereyra, 58’), Richarlison; Gray (Deeney, 72’)
Manchester United: De Gea; Smalling, Valencia, Young, Lindelof, Rojo; Matic (Herrera, 54’), Pogba; Lingard, Lukaku, Martial (Rashford, 64’)
Goals: Young (0-1, 19’), Young (0-2, 25’), Martial (0-3, 32’), Deeney (1-3, 78’), Doucoure (2-3, 84’), Lingard (2-4, 86’)
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Yellow Cards: Doucoure (24’), Rojo (38’), Mariappa (41’)
Red Cards: None
Watford: Gomes 7; Mariappa 6, Prödl 6 (Carrillo 7), Kabasele 6; Femenia 7, Cleverley 6, Doucoure 6, Zeegelaar 6; Hughes 7 (Pereyra 8), Richarlison 7; Gray 6 (Deeney 7)
Manchester United: De Gea 7; Smalling 7, Valencia 7, Young 9, Lindelof 8, Rojo 6; Matic 7 (Herrera 7), Pogba 8; Lingard 9, Lukaku 6, Martial 8 (Rashford 6)
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