Manchester United are in the fourth round courtesy of Scott McTominay’s early attack, but this was a stumbled outing, the high-paced game they like to play absent. Still, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team won’t worry – on a hectic schedule it’s all about being in the hat for the draw and now thoughts turn to Tuesday’s trip to Burnley. Win or even take a point there and United will arrive at Liverpool next Sunday as the Premier League leaders, a position Solskjær had not dreamed of at the start of the season.
Jesse Lingard had a second season start with a United XI that showed nine changes since the loss to Manchester City and was first captained by McTominay.
Xisco Muñoz, meanwhile, came in as Watford’s 13th newly installed coach since the Pozzo family took office in 2012, with the Spaniard winning his first game in command before losing his second.
United’s familiar 4-2-3-1 purred at the start. Daniel James cut in and forced a quick save from Daniel Bachmann. Alex Telles’ delivery from the resulting corner was greeted by McTominay, who made his way to the ground. The ball bounced away from Bachmann, hitting the left post to open the scoring in the fifth minute. Moments later, Mason Greenwood received a pass from Lingard, but the center forward scraped his shot.
Poorer than that, however, was an errant ball from McTominay that went straight to Ismaïla Sarr and allowed Watford’s record-breaking signing to run towards goal. Only his own sloppy passing allowed United to recover.
The visitors were soon fighting again when a cute Lingard chip found Donny van de Beek’s run, but the Dutchman was thwarted by Watford’s desperate defense. United were in control, but received a warning when a Will Hughes free kick was fired at an unmarked Adam Masina – his attempt had to be cleared near Dean Henderson’s line by Axel Tuanzebe.
Eric Bailly should have doubled United’s lead when he was allowed a free header from another Telles corner, but the Ivorian effort was weak. So was Andre Gray’s attempt at the other end, though at least it showed the threat Watford posed. There was more when Sarr pinged a cross from the right that dodged Henderson and that rookie Philip Zinckernagel came close to capitalizing.
Watford enjoyed relative dominance and created panic over United’s weakness: set pieces. A Hughes corner could not be cleared and in the fight that followed Marc Navarro, Zinckernagel and Sarr took aim, the latter’s shot hitting Bailly’s hand, although no penalty was awarded.
Then came a Nathaniel Chalobah shot that had come about due to James’ awkward touch (an unwanted leitmotif of the winger’s game). However, as the interval approached, United unleashed with a sweet move when Greenwood found Van de Beek, whose shoe then slipped on Juan Mata. From close range, the Spaniard should have beaten Bachmann.
An injury to Bailly, who suffered an involuntary knee from Henderson, meant Harry Maguire replaced him just before the break.
A 20-yard shot from Watford’s João Pedro was the first act of the second half. It widened, but here again, the Championship side showed teeth. James offered a response with a curling iron that forced a low save from Bachmann, but the tie held steady despite United’s lead, and the way Watford carried out Muñoz’s demand for a high press indicated that they liked it. drawing level. His belief was evident, too, in the way both Navarro and Sarr attempted crossovers: the latter landed on Gray’s willing head, and Henderson was relieved to collect.
United failed to keep Watford at arm’s length, a cut clearance from Henderson that went sideways and wide for a serve indicative of how they were losing their way. When they won a rare corner kick, Mata threw the ball to Greenwood, who had taken off from the six-yard box, but his shot lacked venom. United lacked strength, so Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial were called up in place of James and Greenwood.
Watford’s response was to claim two corners. The second, shot by Ken Sema, was led by Rashford. Then Telles pushed Pedro to the right, Sema’s free kick was too high, but United held. A final scare came from a late corner but Maguire headed clear.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism