With Manchester City taking on Leicester City and Chelsea travelling away to Tottenham Hotspur in gameweek 18, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United had the opportunity to take the advantage by potentially beating struggling Watford whilst witnessing at least two of the four teams above them to drop points. However, a lot of unfortunate things had happened that was not expected.
Ahead of the Sunday afternoon fixture, Solskjaer would have been aiming for the much needed three points and a dominant showing, with the side unable to confidently do both on a regular basis. Meanwhile, for Nigel Pearson, he would be looking forward to finding his first league victory with Watford before Christmas as his men have started to show more hunger and determination.
Now focusing on the match as a whole, the visitors had expectedly controlled the possession and were the side that had managed to create more chances and completed more shots on goal. On the other hand, it was the hosts that were more direct and with the intentions of being dangerous in the final third of the pitch for the first hour of the game, as they were able to get through United’s defence with ease and were causing problems through Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu.
There wasn’t much happening in the first half if we are being brutally honest, with both teams failing to complete a shot on target whilst they were incapable of stringing a couple of passes from one side of the pitch to another. Given the lack of tempo and urgency that was provided by either sides, it had looked like they were awaiting to pounce on each other’s mistakes and break on the counter.
Following the half-time break, Watford started on the front foot and won a set-piece from a dangerous area in United’s half. Will Hughes took the free-kick, which was nodded on by Christian Kabasele, as Sarr’s unconvincing shot somehow went through the hands of David De Gea and into the back of net. The Spaniard had now been at huge fault for a goal in back-to-back league games.
It didn’t take Watford long to double their lead, as Aaron Wan-Bissaka committed a foul in the penalty box by bringing down Sarr whilst intending to intercept the ball. The captain Troy Deeney stepped forward to take penalty and smashed the ball into the net as De Gea dived to the opposite goal post, with the game looking more or less done and with the chances of a comeback being slim.
Once Paul Pogba made his return and entered the match after the hour mark, United began to dominate the ball, were occupying in the right areas of Watford’s half and were managing to move it around at a good level. Despite a few good chances being saved by Ben Foster, the result remained the same, as the Hornets picked up a huge victory whilst the Red Devils went back to square one.
Here are the three valuable factors we learnt from United’s latest league fixture…
The lack of consistency from the backline is starting to be costly
United had looked like they were building a great defensive core, with the arrivals Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, however, the last couple of weeks the side’s backline have gone back to their old selves of making constant mistakes and being out of position and high up the pitch. Because of this, Watford were able to attack through the flanks with ease and with just a matter of a few passes.
From De Gea’s blunder for the first goal to Wan-Bissaka giving away the penalty a few moments later, the two huge defensive errors allowed Watford to gain the victory whilst United lost the three points. On top of that, Lindelof was being targeted by the opposition’s physical presence whilst Maguire and Shaw were doing just enough but have not been showing these qualities regularly.
United have to learn to be on the front foot, especially against the lower teams
For sure, the side’s results in the big games have been absolutely immaculate, but the team have to play 15 other teams in the league, where they have to show their quality, composure and dominance on both sides of the pitch. It’s one of the reasons to why Chelsea and Leicester are in the top four, two teams who don’t have a better squad than United but are more complete as a team.
Given the unconvincing style of play remaining the same, the current line-up not being consistent enough and Solskjaer having no plan B at all, the side’s hopes of being dominant against the lower teams will not be happening anytime soon. Also, the amount of times the ball is cheaply given away and the lack of high press on the opposition does not help the team’s cause of fixing this issue.
Paul Pogba’s return brings a few positives, being sorely missed by the manager and the team
When Paul Pogba stepped on the pitch, nearly every United fan was excited and in content, as they saw the side’s best player make his return from injury and play for the team once again, despite the ongoing rumours of him leaving the club. And making an appearance for just 25 minutes, he was able to create a key chance, attempt a good shot on goal and complete 27 successful passes.
With United’s midfield looking unbalanced and missing the much needed quality, Pogba’s return will massively help the team and most important Solskjaer himself, who will need his key individuals to help them get out of this poor form. When the Frenchman is in the team, he makes the side tick and helps the ball move from midfield to attack with ease, whilst also helping the likes of Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford constantly get into the game with his incredible range of passing.