Manchester United defeat Watford in a closely fought battle


Manchester United defeated Watford in a match both team had plenty to play for and were willing to give their everything to get the result in their favor.

As all of us know, results in football are not always fair. Was this result fair to Watford? No. Did it display what this Manchester United team is capable of? Yes, it was shown with aplomb.

Manchester United dominated the game in parts and that was sufficient to get the end result of 3 points against a team that they are expected to beat. Jose Mourinho set up his team in the same formation that worked at Burnley with one forced change of Ashley Young slotting in for Luke Shaw who was benched due to the injury he suffered during the international break.

Manchester United team didn’t exactly fly out of the blocks on the opening whistle and were made to run for the ball with the excellent passing of the ball by well drilled Watford midfield who had the luxury of training hard for the game due to minimal number of players not being on international duty.

United’s defenders held their line pretty well and also managed the threat of imposing and mobile front line of Andre Gray and Troy Deeney. But the surprising tactic of the match was making Marouane Felliani at the base of the midfield instead of Nemanja Matic. To his credit Felliani showed he is not just a destroyer but also a protector with his astute positioning and shielding the defence throughout the match, almost!.

United defenders did make an early mistake when they didn’t clear the ball quick enough which allowed Deeney to take a shot, which was bound on target but saved excellently by De Gea. Goal for Watford could’ve had potentially big impact on the further proceedings in the match since Watford’s midfield players Étienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucouré were controlling the tempo of the match. But the credit should go to United’s defenders Smalling and Lindelöf for allowing the excellent home support at Vicarage road get to them and dealt everything that was thrown to them excellently.

United’s full backs did just sufficient in their defensive duties considering majority of the threat from Watford was down the middle and via long balls. But they did play an excellent part in the offensive part of the game when they kept pushing when an opportunity open up.

With Matic and Paul Pogba further up the pitch should’ve led to more opportunities but United squandered to build any sort of coherent play with Lingard and Sanchez roaming and interchanging their positions in the forward line. Despite the tight defensive line held by Watford, quality of United’s forwards should’ve unlocked the defence alas it didn’t. United faced problem in building moving the ball out of tight spaces due to dithering and inviting pressure from the opposition.

Amid all the strong showing by Watford who were controlling the tempo of the match and United only getting odd chances at the break, United found a goal. Build up to his play was very important considering it was initiated by a free kick given away by Capoue to stop the counter attack led by Lingard. Ashley Young’s cross into the box was controlled by Felliani, who kept it in play and swung it back to Young who put in an excellent cross which evaded everyone in the box and had to be finally bumped home by an alert Lukaku who scored fourth of this season.

This goal gave players confidence, Pogba and Sanchez were knocking the doors with some excellent link up play. Pogba was especially was in an excellent form being an excellent offensive outlet and tormenting Watford defence for a brief time with some excellent long range shots, kind of shots which brought him excellent goals during his time in Italy. But all he could force here was corner kicks.

Without Mata in the match, it was upto Young to take the corners. Sometimes his hit left a lot to be desired, heaps the frustration on to the fans and wastes away all the potential of United’s aerial threat of having so many tall players. But here, Young delivered excellent crosses in succession. First one perfectly to Pogba who again let rip off a screamer only to be saved to be saved excellently by ex-United player Ben Foster.

In the ensuing corner kick, Young went long to find Felliani on the far side who again showed his aerial powers (with his head) to knock the ball to Smalling, who made an excellent chest control of the ball and then a sweet connect and composure to give United a two goal lead. Smalling composure and technique for the goal would’ve made Zlatan proud. This goal also highlighted the effort put in the training ground by coaches to come up with plays to utilize player’s strengths, as everyone could see from the celebration of Jose Mourinho with his coaches after the goal.

Two goal lead gave United players a spring in their steps who kept the pressure on Watford and could’ve easily found another one or two goals, but had to settle for finishing the first half with swagger due to some excellent defending by Watford’s players.

Second half started just like the first half with both sides being scrappy, but slowly and steadily Watford began to find a firm footing with some excellent link up play and run down the flanks. United’s players took their step off the gas which led them to chase the ball rather than controlling the tempo of the match. Matic especially faded as the second half progressed also picked up a yellow for an avoidable foul.

In attack nothing came off for the hard working Sanchez who did everything to keep contributing to the offensive play, despite of being shackled excellently by Daryl Janmaat. Lingard did everything which Lingard does, running across the lines to disrupt opposition and then collecting the ball to initiate the counter attacks but the magic touch was lacking to find United an another goal. Pogba was again excellent switching the plays and one such ball gave perfect opportunity to Lukaku to  double his tally only for Christian Kabasele to thwart his shot.

Watford counter attacked with purpose knowing that they were still in the game and buoyed by the raucous home support. This persistence from Watford paid off when a decent build up led to an excellent pull back from Doucouré fell to Gray who slotted to rattle United’s players confidence. United’s defenders held good line but there was no to cover to the pull back which gave Doucouré all the time to pick his pass and Gray to size up his shot accurately. This mistake was purely down to Felliani not covering his position correctly once in the match and when it mattered the most.

Home players started pouring forward from this point onwards and United was completely on the back step and clearly devoid of ideas on how to keep control of the match. Mourinho opted to bring in Anthony Martial in for Lingard on the right had side. United had an another excellent counter attacking chance with 3 against 2 but was wasted by Marital leading to the frustration of fans and manager alike.

Next change was to bring in Scott McTominay for his second substitute appearance of the season to steady the ship in the place of Sanchez. McTominay slotted into the right wing with Martial going over to the left. This time when an opportunity arose Martial raced past Watford into a promising position but was saved excellently by Kabasele. In a quick succession Martial showed his promise and failings.

Final ten minutes was a nervous wreck for any United fan, with players just hoofing the ball up to Watford half at any given opportunity. This clearly showed lack of cohesion, composure and maturity in the team to handle the tough moments in the game. Another needless foul by Matic reduced United to ten men and giving Watford a free in a promising position. Will Hughes swung, last kick of the match, an excellent cross into the box which was met by Kabasele, who could do no wrong in the second half, sent the ball goal bound but De Gea was there to make an outstanding save yet making it look so simple.

De Gea’s save gave United three points, back to back away wins and much needed confidence. Challenges are plenty ahead and a better opposition would make a meal of the United’s tentative play. But that is a worry for another night, this win gives Jose Mourinho a lot of positive and also lot to work with.

One important aspect of United’s play was that it wasn’t a typical Jose Mourinho team, he set up the team to play an open game, fans should be encouraged by what they are seeing from this team and should stick by them to support through all the times.