WATFORD vs MANCHESTER UNITED
After the last away performance United at Crystal Palace needed to prove their worth against Watford. They were without Rooney so Memphis was asked to step up and address Van Gaal’s comments.
In: Jones, Schneiderlin, Herrera and Memphis.
Out: Rojo, Carrick, Rooney and Martial.
- United’s 4-2-4 was adventurous and helped push Watford back whilst creating space for Herrera, Mata, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin to be creative.
- United defended well, except for the penalty and the number of successful tackles executed in the middle was pleasing to see.
- Both team employed two strikers up front; a rarity these days.
- Herrera’s withdrawal changed United’s shape and was unfortunate. It would have been interesting to see United persist with their initial strategy for longer.
- Battling to the end…at last!
A bold Van Gaal set the team up in what appeared as a 4-2-2 formation but was often a 4-2-4. This benefited Young and Blind who had plenty of space to attack. In contrast Watford were set up a as a 4-4-2 with the industrious Deeney and Ighalo with the intention of disrupting the central defence and midfield duo.
United were easily on top early on, helped by a fluid quartet of Lingard, Mata, Depay and Herera; this pegged Watford back. This strong start was helped by an advanced Schweinsteiger who got forward and kept narrow ahead of Schneiderlin. The occasions when Watford did appear to get a hold of the game was when the German and Schneiderlin sat back, although they did both defended well.
Boom! United were crossing and passing first time and with some urgency for once, yes, and deservedly took the lead through a great goal from Memphis. 11 minutes player, 1-0.
Watford did not help themselves when dealing with the pressure United applied near their defensive third. We saw plenty of poor clearances which didn’t reach far enough away to allow them to regroup.
An early change in shape and approach was necessary when Herrera was forced off with a hamstring injury after 25 minutes. Van Gaal introduced Rojo as a replacement to shift to a 3-5-2. Watford didn’t change and United were still on top yet therefafter their play was not as fluid but instead cautious, more orthodox.
Watford brought Anye out to the right wing by Ake’s introduction on for Jurado at half-time. They were more assertive in their play as United reverted to a narrower formation. This allowed Watford space to attack in wide areas. Mata floated infield, often behind Memphis and Lingard. The latter should have put United 2-0 up but he spurned a great chance early in the second half when his shot from the centre of the box was saved after he was tee’d up by Memphis. This is what Van Gaal talks about when emphasising the need to score, these chances need to be taken. United aren’t creating that many chances, but they certainly aren’t clinical enough with those they are creating.
From about the 55th minute Watford began to get back into the game with more precise movement and passing out from the back in a 4-2-3-1 shape. United responded with a 3-4-2-1 formation, but the defence was lopsided against Watford’s midfield from Rojo on the left across to Young on the right. United’s performance at this point wasn’t helped when the ball wasn’t circulated quickly, Memphis is an example of a player who had plnty of the ball but who kept hold of ball too long before releasing a pass.
Inevitably with a slender lead Watford got back into the game when they were awarded a penalty in the 85th minute. What Rojo was doing with an unnecessary impetuous challenge on a player with his back to goal only he will know. About ten minutes to go, if you include the inevitable injury time. Were United drifting to a disappointing draw and two points dropped?
Boom! A blast from the past as United battled until the final whistle! The impact Smalling had on the goal shouldn’t be underestimated as his presence set the Watford defence back by 3 yards; they were panicking. Scweinsteiger followed the ball as it ran wide and fired across goal to force an own goal in injury time.
Great to see a late winner for United; it’s been a while. But it was United’s attitude in the first half that was most pleasing. United pushed Watford back with a 4-2-4 and this created a lot of space for the front four and midfield duo to venture into.
A sound display from Memphis may have given Van Gaal a thought to include him along with Martial and Rooney or to use him as a replacement for one of these two.
The front players movement was fantastic, especially early in the game and it was interesting to see both teams with two up front. But this made the game more frustrating as United should have taken more of their chances in the second half. If it wasn’t for De Gea United would have regretted taking those chances; the defence was sound (until the penalty) and the clean tackles in the middle of the pitch was pleasing to see.