Watford vs Manchester United
K/O: 17:30 hours
Venue: Vicarage Road Stadium
TV: BT Sport 1
Referee: Mike Dean
Pressure is on the former 13-time champions, Manchester United, as they visit Vicarage Road and an upstart Watford team that find themselves at the top of the Premier League table after a perfect start.
On the back of four victories and 12 points, Watford are breathing some rare air as they are joint top of the table with the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea. The Hornets saw similar success last year, sitting fourth in the table after four weeks ahead of the Manchester United fixture that ended 6-0 in favour of the Red Devils.
It’s a different team this season under Javi Gracia, who has had a preseason to help shape the current form of the squad. Two weeks ago, we saw a resilient Watford give up an own goal but come from behind and put two goals past Michel Vorm and Spurs – 2-1 to keep the momentum going. This week will be another test for Watford against a big six club. “Everyone will write us off and if we win the headlines are all about Jose [Mourinho] and how the Man United team is not as good as all the greats,” said captain, Troy Deeney in a recent interview.
There continues to be turmoil at Old Trafford as the Red Devils suffered back-to-back losses before the international break which sees them currently in 10th place ahead of Saturday’s fixture. Jose Mourinho comes into the game favoured but has seen many of his players on international duty over the last two weeks, as well as having to cope with injuries, tactics and the pressure that comes along with being Jose. Manchester United recorded just 18 shots in their two losses but posted 21 shots in their 2-0 win over Burnley. “Everything that we worked on in the last couple of weeks is coming out now – lots of quick passing, runs in behind, a lot of action and a lot of chances…”As long as we create chances, we know we will score,” said Romelu Lukaku.
Javi Gracia updated the injury situation as there was speculation that Gerard Deulofeu could potentially return against the Red Devils. “I think players like Gerard, maybe next week will be ready,” he said. Watford had a handful of players away on international duty the last two weeks including Ken Sema, Sebastian Prodl, Daryl Janmaat, Craig Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa.
Javi Gracia has been very successful in playing an unchanged, 4-4-2 formation to start the season. While Janmaat and Cathcart were both away on international duty, I suspect they will both start Saturday against Manchester United. Will Hughes will continue to play out of position on the right flank, where he hasn’t been as effective, as if he were playing a central role on the pitch.
Through four games, the Hornets have been in excellent form, with contributions from around the pitch. The attacking triad of Roberto Pereyra, Troy Deeney and Andre Gray continue to work hard, creating space and finding the back of the net. In the game last week, set pieces took centre stage as Jose Holebas continued to provide well-placed deliveries into the box. Defensively, it was a miscommunication with Christian Kabasele that led to the Abdoulaye Doucoure own goal, but Ben Foster has been excellent leading on the pitch from the back.
There have been a rash of injuries, including a concussion suffered by Luke Shaw last week, on international duty for England. Phil Jones has already been ruled out of this weekend’s fixture due to a hamstring injury. Diogo Dalot lacks match fitness but could be ready to start against Watford. Marouane Fellani left international duty with Belgium due to a minor back problem and is doubtful to play.
United could be at a disadvantage ahead of Saturday, as 13 players were on international duty without a two-week break. Under fire to start the season, some are returning in good form including Lukaku, who picked up four goals for Belgium on the back of his first brace of the season against Burnley. Marcus Rashford featured for England and netted against team-mate David De Gea, but will miss the Watford game due to a red card received against Burnley. Eric Bailly featured for Ivory Coast, getting some much-needed pitch time, while Victor Lindelof played one of two games, conceding two late goals against Turkey.
Last season, Manchester United won both fixtures against Watford and have lost just once in 10 Premier League matches. They will need to go on the offensive from the start of the game with Lukaku, Pogba and Sanchez building off the Burnley win. Play to win, not to lose; this could be another brick to build upon in the early games of the season.
Predicted Starting XI’s:
Watford: Foster; Holebas, Kabasele, Cathcart, Janmaat; Pereyra, Capoue, Doucoure, Hughes; Deeney, Gray
Manchester United: De Gea; Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Valencia; Matic, Pogba, Mata; Sanchez, Lukaku, Lingard
Score Prediction: Watford 2 Manchester United 1
Watford’s run down the yellow brick road will continue this weekend, as the Hornets play with a new found unity and spirit among them, building off the 2-1 victory over Spurs. Lukaku is in fine form and could net for the Red Devils. Gracia said, ” It’s a big moment for us. Knowing it’s only the beginning.” I predict another Hornets win, 2-1 to remain golden on the season.