Manchester United vs. Watford: Key Battles on the Pitch

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates scoring his second goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on February 28, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United celebrates scoring his second goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on February 28, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) /
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Manchester United must build on the momentum gained during the last week by beating Watford at home.

After an outstanding performance vs. Arsenal at the weekend, Manchester United must regroup and prepare to face Watford on Wednesday night in the Premier League, and there are likely to be a few game-defining battles across the pitch.

Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have combined to great effect this season for the Hornets. The duo have 22 goals between them in the 2015/16 campaign, so Michael Carrick and Daley Blind will have to defend well in order to stop the pair adding to that total. If fit, Chris Smalling’s return would help swing that battle in United’s favour.

Further up the pitch, Morgan Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata – who all did such a good job of pressing the ball vs. Arsenal – will need to stop Watford’s midfielders from feeding Ighalo and Deeney in attack.

In possession, the aforementioned United trio will need to pass the ball as quickly as they did in the win over Arsenal. Watford will likely lineup in a 4-4-2 formation, and breaking down two banks of four will be no easy task.

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Here we take a look at some of the potential key battles in the game.

Carrick/Smalling and Blind vs. Ighalo and Deeney:

Keeping Watford’s strike partnership quiet throughout the match will be tough. Even when they don’t score, Ighalo and Deeney link up well and trouble even the meanest of defences. It’s therefore key that Carrick/Smalling and Blind don’t get isolated against the duo and get caught up in a footrace with Ighalo. The Nigerian is quick, powerful and will be hard to stop in a one-on-one battle. To outdo Ighalo and Deeney, United’s centre-back pairing will need to sit deep when necessary and not get separated from the midfield in front of them.

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Schneiderlin, Herrera and Mata vs. Watford’s midfield:

One area in which United are likely to have an advantage is in midfield. Watford tend to favour a two-man central midfield and, although the two wide players will tuck in, United will have an extra player free in the centre of the pitch. Schneiderlin, Herrera and Mata will have two duties in the game: to stop Watford’s midfield from supplying Ighalo and Deeney in attack, and to feed Memphis, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard in advanced areas when United are on the ball.

Marcus Rashford vs. Watford’s defence:

In the event of Anthony Martial once again missing out through a hamstring injury, Rashford will continue in attack. The 18-year-old is averaging a goal every 43 minutes in a United shirt and has enjoyed a fairytale week. Against Watford, though, expectations will rise and the pressure will increase. The away side will also pay close attention to the youngster knowing the threat he poses. However, if Rashford can get on the ball in the same way he did vs. Arsenal, in between the width of the goalposts, then Watford will find it difficult to stop him from influencing the match.

After scoring 11 goals in three wins during the last week, it’s so important that United pick up three points vs. Watford at this critical juncture in the season. It will take a collapse from Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal or Manchester City in order for United to finish in the top four, but the least Louis van Gaal’s side can do is apply some pressure.

Next: Schneiderlin: United must show desire

United must limit the service to Ighalo and Deeney, and play at the same tempo they did vs. Arsenal. Doing both of those things should ensure a fourth consecutive victory.