Manchester United 2-1 Watford: Memphis shines

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Manchester United secured the three points at Vicarage Road with an early goal from Memphis and late own goal by Troy Deeney, sending them top of the table.

The starting lineup saw a couple of changes due to injuries to key players. At the back, Phil Jones started with Chris Smalling centrally while Daley Blind and Ashley Young started on the flanks. Morgan Schneiderlin paired up with Bastian Schweinsteiger as Michael Carrick was out injured. In the attacking midfield, Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, and Jesse Lingard got the start, with Memphis stepping in at striker because of injuries to both Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney.

Manchester United pressed well in the opening minute and nearly created a goal with a dangerous Mata cross going untouched across the Watford box. The team was heavily pressing early on rather than maintaining possession, looking to change the point of attack with long switches to the opposite flank. The change in style paid off quickly, as Memphis scored after about 10 minutes of play.

Ander Herrera provided a perfect delivery that found the makeshift striker in a pocket of space, where he calmly placed his strike into the top netting, giving the Watford keeper no chance. The Dutch international had been struggling for some time now, leading to his repetitive exclusion from the team, but his second goal in the Premier League surely will give him new-found confidence.

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Watford were up against it following the goal as they struggled to create any legitimate chances. The Hornets nearly had a clear-cut opportunity on goal after Young had a poor giveaway and the home side broke in attack. Fortunately for Manchester United, Schweinsteiger showed a great burst of pace to prevent a two-on-one opportunity, and the German ultimately forced a shot harmlessly wide.

Louis van Gaal was forced to make an early substitution as Ander Herrera was replaced by Marcos Rojo after a muscle injury. It looked as though the manager shifted into a wing-back system, with the Argentine defender joining Jones and Smalling at the heart of the defense.

As the first half wore on, Manchester United were gifted some half chances by unforced mistakes from Watford. Schneiderlin had a shot go over the bar at the back post following a series of misclearances from the home side’s defenders, and Memphis cut in to strike with his right foot but Gomes parried the shot comfortably. The Red Devils went into the break with a comfortable 1-0 lead.

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United opened the second half with another near goal, as Memphis played Lingard in for a chance that Gomes pushed wide of the post. Mata had a clever ball that nearly found Memphis on goal, but the defender deflected it wide. After half time, it looked as though van Gaal had told his players to get a second and secure the result.

Watford had their best chance of the game to this point with a Deeney screamer 10 minutes into the second half, but it was straight at de Gea who forced it over the bar. The Hornets continued to apply pressure, though United were able to bend but not break. Paddy McNair came on as a substitute after Jones picked up a knock, making it the second defensive change for United.

Shortly after McNair’s entrance, de Gea came to the rescue following a deflected Watford strike that he reacted to brilliantly. The away squad continued to put pressure on themselves needlessly with haphazard challenges and mistakes in possession. Andreas Pereira marked the final substitution for van Gaal, as he came on for Juan Mata just before the final 10 minutes of the match. Lingard had a gilt-edged chance to get United’s second goal with a ball over the top from Blind. The young winger tried to chip it over Gomes, but didn’t get enough height on the shot.

The Red Devils would go on to rue their missed chances after Watford were gifted a penalty kick as Ighalo was brought down by Rojo. Troy Deeney stepped up for the chance and, despite de Gea guessing the right way, the ball was hammered into the net.

But the Hornets’ celebration was short lived, as United upped the pressure in the closing minutes and were rewarded for their efforts with an own goal in the 90th minute. A corner eventually found its way to Lingard, who struck to the far post where Schweinsteiger struck back across goal and Deeney deflected it into the net.

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It was a brilliant response that gave the Red Devils a deserved lead and the three points from the match, sending them temporarily to the top of the table.