Manchester United against Watford was a game of many parts and stories. United played some dazzling football in the latter stages of the first half. There was a collective sigh that went around Vicarage Road as Mike Dean whistled the first half to a close. The home fans realized that the 2-0 scoreline could have been much worse. They could have shipped 3,4 or even 5 goals if not for some good fortune and the heroics of Ben Foster.
The Hornets’ fans would have taken their seats at the restart with a real sense of foreboding. However, the next 45 minutes saw Watford dominate their more illustrious opponents and they would consider themselves unlucky to have not gotten even a point from this fixture.
Five weeks into the season, Manchester United are at the 8th position on the Premier Leaguetable and Watford after their first loss went down a spot to fourth on the table. So, here are the four main takeaways from the game.
#1. Marouane Fellaini is United’s backbone
The big Belgian turned in another sterling display at both ends of the field. He was a rock in front of the United centre-backs, helping them keep the crosses and the aerial balls out. He also helped nullify the physical presence of Troy Deeney, which is no mean feat in itself.
In the final third, he was often the target for crosses from the wings and set-pieces and even notched up an assist against his name.
#2. The resurgence of Chris Smalling
The United veteran rolled back the years, making crucial tackles and interceptions. He, Lindelof and Fellaini seem to be forming a good understanding and were rock solid in the heart of United’s defence.
Smalling also got the decisive second goal from a corner, which is how he scores most of his goals. However, this time it was not a header. The chest control and spinning volley would have made any striker proud. His new hairstyle seems to be a lucky charm, and things have been only getting better for the centre-back since he started sporting it.
#3. United counter-attacks showing a glimpse of past greatness
For the third game in a row, the United four front men (Pogba included) inter-linked brilliantly, moving the ball around quickly to devastating effect. They have obviously worked a lot in practice on interchanging positions, with Lukaku sometimes pushing wider to allow space for Lingard or Sanchez to come through the middle. Sanchez’s crosses are also finding Lukaku more frequently, and the Pogba swagger is starting to appear in a United shirt as well.
However, a worrying aspect for Mourinho is the lack of quality finishing. Lukaku, who is undeniably working hard for his team, is just not being clinical enough. Sanchez, Lingard, and Pobga have all also passed up glorious chances in the last few matches.
#4. Watford can be a force this year
Javi Gracia seems to have found a perfect combination in his midfield. They have combined well with the strikers, resulting in some very attractive football.
Roberto Pereyra, especially, seems to have found a different gear to his game. Troy Deeney is back to his best, physically dominating defences and creating spaces for others to come charging into. Ben Foster was also a very astute buy on the part of Gracia and is coming up with some game-defining saves.
It will be interesting to see how far this seemingly well-oiled machine that is Watford goes in this year’s Premier League.