Manchester United stuttered to a victory over Championship side Watford in their FA Cup fixture on Saturday. A solitary goal from captain Scott McTominay gave the hosts a slender 1-0 victory in a gritty, and nervous encounter. Manchester United have now progressed to the fourth round of the competition in their pursuit of a trophy.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer heavily rotated his squad for this game. Dean Henderson was the goalkeeper for the night. Bailly and Tuanzebe were the center backs, giving Maguire a rare break. Telles and Brandon Williams started as the wingbacks, with McTominay, van de Beek, and Lingard in midfield. Mata, James, and Greenwood were in the attack for the hosts. Bruno, Maguire, Matic, Rashford, Martial, and Ighalo were among those on the bench.
Manchester United were heavy favorites in this game and asserted their dominance in the game from the beginning. Daniel James got in behind Watford’s defense early to test the goalkeeper and win a corner. Alex Telles’ inswinging corner was headed into the far-post by captain Scott McTominay- an ideal start for Ole’s men! Telles’ set-piece and crossing ability were on full display today as the Brazilian fullback gave Watford plenty of trouble. Shortly after, Greenwood’s shot was blocked, and James’ shot was off target but United looked close to finding a second goal.
Bailly had a free header off a corner but could not direct it on target. Ismaila Sarr gave United a headache with his explosive speed but was denied by Telles and Henderson on separate occasions. Late in the first half, van de Beek and Mata combined beautifully on the edge of the box but the Spaniard’s shot was saved. United suffered a bit of a scare in the dying moments of the first half. Henderson clashed with Eric Bailly and injured the center back on his head. Bailly was replaced by Harry Maguire, who cannot seem to get a day off.
Watford were successful in winning set pieces and pressuring United on defense, however, they didn’t trouble Henderson a whole lot. A solitary goal was a very narrow margin for a game like this, and United were definitely hoping to double their advantage soon. However, United struggled to find their rhythm and chemistry as the midfield and forwards could not find each other in their passing and movement. James had an effort saved comfortably by the goalkeeper but otherwise United looked quite lackluster. The attempts for United’s forwards were few and far between, and a change seemed imminent. In the 69th minute, Rashford and Martial came on for James and Greenwood. Although the speedsters started off well, their quality dropped as the game progressed.
Watford also managed to win freekicks around the edge of the box by going down after soft contacts. Luckily for United, the visitors had poor delivery into the box and were thwarted in almost all their attempts. In the 80th minute, Nemanja Matic came on to replace Jesse Lingard. The academy graduate got a rare start today and while he didn’t blow up the Hornets, his work rate was noteworthy. Rashford had a couple of chances but his twisting and turning around the box was selfish and he was unable to get a genuine effort on target. Mata’s freekick in the final minute was hugely disappointing as he failed to get the shot anywhere close to the target- perhaps Telles could’ve done better. Watford had a late set piece in the final third but their delivery let them down as United came away with the win.
United were impressive in their start today- pacey and confident. Van de Beek provided a good outlet for holding the ball and maintaining possession. However, his ability to spot runs and make quick passes is often lacking. Furthermore, Greenwood’s finishing and Mata’s vision left much to be desired as well. Despite bringing on Rashford and Martial, United were unable to find space and finish off the game. Such a display may work against a championship side, but a big 6 team will definitely punish United with such a display. Gladly, goal difference is never a factor in such ties so a win is a win- and United will be happy to go into the Burnley game with some more confidence.
Ole’s men have a great chance of securing the top spot in the table on Tuesday at Turf Moor. Fully rested Bruno, Pogba, Fred, AWB, and Shaw among others will be crucial for the upcoming games. Also, Edinson Cavani will be eligible to return as he has served his 3-match ban. My man of the match today is Scott McTominay. The Scotsman led from the front by scoring the early goal and was crucial in defense today. Although he was the culprit in giving away the ball on a couple of occasions, he won the game for United with his work rate and defensive presence. Lots more to play for! Onto the next game!