Manchester United narrowly beat Watford 2-1 to take three points home in an exhilarating encounter at Vicarage Road.
There were plenty of chances for both sides in the opening stages. De Gea kept United in the game in the 16th minute when he parried away a rasping shot from Deeney. Sanchez thought he’d broken the deadlock in the 24th minute only for his goal to be rightfully disallowed for offside.
Lukaku put United in the lead in the 34th minute as Watford failed to clear their lines after a free-kick into the box. Fellaini excellently controlled the ball with his chest on the edge of the box and his deflected shot eventually found its way out to Young who whipped in an enticing ball which bypassed Watford’s defence. Despite calls for handball, the ball fortuitously bounced off Lukaku’s midriff to find its way to the back of the net.
Fellaini proved instrumental again four minutes later as he headed a corner from Young back into the danger zone. Smalling latched onto the ball and acrobatically volleyed it into the back of the net to double United’s lead.
Watford were lucky to only be two down at half-time as Foster produced excellent saves against Sanchez and Pogba to keep his team in the match.
Watford began the second half with a lot of energy as they harried and pressed United’s midfield. Unfortunately for them, Pogba continued his impressive first-half performance and continually by-passed the Watford midfield with some beautifully weighted through-balls to United’s attackers.
Gray pulled one back for Watford in the 64th minute when he rifled the ball past De Gea after being found in acres of space in the United box by Doucoure.
Gray’s goal galvanized Watford who felt they had a penalty shout in the 68th minute when Lindelof brought down Pereyra although replays showed the clash occurred outside the box. Watford continued to impress in the closing stages as they tirelessly pressured United although they were unable to find an equalizer before the final whistle.
Matic was sent off after getting a second yellow card for a reckless challenge on Hughes in the 94th minute. Kabasele nearly equalised for Watford from the resulting free kick as he connected well with the ball crossed into the box only to be denied by a world-class save from de Gea.
United’s Midfield Shines
United’s midfield unit was very impressive today. The much-maligned Fellaini was key as he provided both defensive cover against Deeney and an aerial outlet in attack. The Belgian sat deepest of the midfield three as he did to great effect against Burnley and looked composed on the ball. While his ability in the air has never been in question, Fellaini’s aerial prowess was on full display today and was essential to United’s two goals.
Pogba was also magisterial for United today. The French world cup winner looked confident striding forward with the ball and splaying impossible-looking passes to United’s front three. Today proved that, when at his best, Pogba is a suave visionary who can unlock an opposing team with a perfectly weighted pass. Mourinho will hope the midfielder can fulfil his undoubted quality on a consistent basis as he settles into a more advanced role in United’s midfield three.
Lukaku slowly gaining momentum
Despite a relatively quiet start to the season, Lukaku is starting to come into his own. United seem to be more and more confident in the Belgian’s pace and power as he was regularly sought to chase down probing balls over the top. While United’s play in the final third continues to look slow and ponderous, Lukaku offers United a very productive outlet for a more direct style of play. The striker also proved he isn’t shy of his defensive duties in the closing stages as Watford piled the pressure on United’s back line.
Javi Gracia’s Watford
Javi Gracia has worked wonders with this Watford since he took charge in January. Watford have taken 23 points from home since then and have had a blistering start to the 2018/19 season winning their opening four matches. There were a lot of positives for Warford today as they looked tactically disciplined and brimming with confidence. Hughes, Doucoure and Pereyra in particular are very exciting players who could lead them to success this season.
Watford may very well have found themselves a long-term manager to bring the team to the next level in Javi Gracia. Let’s just hope Watford’s infamously trigger-happy owners give him time after today’s minor setback.
Man of the Match: Marouane Fellaini
The Belgian was incredible for United today. The midfielder was gritty and composed in defence today and made some vital challenges in the closing stages of the match to stifle Watford’s hopes of a comeback. He was dominant in the air against Deeney and was crucial for United’s two goals. A very impressive performance that will do well to refute his detractors.