Watford enforced a third straight defeat for Man United – Jose Mourinho’s 14th in his last 32 games – thanks to a dogged, determined and disciplined display.
While Mourinho will point to poor officiating – like he did during last week’s derby defeat at home to Man City – Walter Mazzarri will be mightily proud of his side’s efforts at Vicarage Road.
Both managers persisted with their formations of 3-5-2 (Watford) and 4-2-3-1 (Man Utd). Younes Kaboul was replaced by Sebastian Prodl as the only change for Watford from their comeback defeat of West Ham. Mourinho meanwhile, brought in Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Chris Smalling for Henrik Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard and Daley Blind.
Michael Oliver – who seemed to think it was Valentine’s Day on Tinder as he dished out all six yellow cards in the last 15 minutes – did, along with his linesman, miss the foul on Martial that led to the opening goal for Etienne Capoue.
The penalty awarded right at the death for Marouane Fellaini’s challenge on Juan Zuniga was a correct call despite Mourinho’s post-match complaint.
So despite Mourinho being right to dispute the first call and suggest it was pivotal to the result, he shouldn’t complain about the eventual outcome which like last week was fair. Of course it’s PR 101 to try and deflect some, if not all, of the attention away from your side’s shortcomings and Mourinho has previous for seeking the limelight himself often at the cost of his own reputation. But The Hornets were deserved winners and that will undoubtedly irk Mourinho more than the officials’ performances.
The Problem Players
Paul Pogba and Rooney are becoming negative talking points after each game. One due to his world record transfer fee, the other due to his reputation that has declined – along with his performances – in tandem with this questionable deep midfield role he often finds himself in for both club and country.
Pogba plays best alongside two others in the middle, one of which is a deep-lying midfielder. Whether it was Andrea Pirlo/ Hernanes at Juventus or Yohan Cabaye/ N’Golo Kante at France, Pogba always had that defensive protection and was able to roam – predominantly on the left – as he pleased.
This two-man set-up with Fellaini requires much more positional discipline. Against Watford, Pogba only had one moment of note which saw his dipping shot strike the crossbar with Heurelho Gomes imitating a child playing piggy in the middle. Other than that, it has been a quiet return to Old Trafford for the much-hyped Frenchman.
Rooney on the other hand seems more interested in dropping deep from the expected no.10 position to collect the ball and spray a pass instead of playing in the final third. It’s an odd situation for a player who is England’s record scorer and will inevitably be Man Utd’s once he gets the four more needed to surpass Sir Bobby Charlton. He shouldn’t be dropping deeper at the age of 30, although coming on to the scene as a 16-year-old may result in an early burnout.
Against Watford, Rooney managed just one attempt at goal and succeeded with four from 12 crosses. One of those failures occurred during the second half and went straight out of play despite little pressure and the need to only float one in thanks to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s aerial prowess.
Rooney hasn’t scored two goals for Man Utd in open play since Boxing Day 2014. That was arguably his last stellar performance having scored two and assisted the other in a 3-1 win at home to Newcastle, coincidentally playing a similar role – on paper at least – to Sunday.
The Bully Boys
Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo formed a Premier League partnership to be wary of last season having scored 28 of Watford’s 40 league goals. But their contributions aren’t just limited to goals.
Captain Deeney – who sealed victory with the last minute penalty – clearly loves a physical battle and Ighalo doesn’t shirk an opportunity to hold off a defender, particularly when receiving the ball to feet.
Despite missing an open goal following a lack of communication between David De Gea and Chris Smalling, Ighalo provided a couple of examples of his close control, including a training ground move from a free-kick that led to the opening goal.
Unlike their opponents, Watford looked balanced in the new formation introduced by Mazzarri. The wing-backs allow a trio in midfield that’s certainly getting the best from Etienne Capoue having scored four goals from five league appearances already. That’s a drastic improvement on last season’s zero in 33. The Frenchman was also top for tackles with five from six during this game.
It was no coincidence that his replacement, Zuniga, also exploited his license to attack by scoring with his first touch and winning the injury-time penalty.
The aim when facing a wing-back system is to force them into a full-back position, reducing their attacking threat while creating more space for your midfield. But despite Mourinho opting for pace in the shape of Martial and Rashford, Daryl Janmaat (until substituted in the 51st minute) and Jose Holebas provided plenty of width. Roberto Pereyra was tasked with the creative role behind the strikers and managed to provide the accurate cut-back for Zuniga’s goal.
Fergie Days Without the Quality
Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, United and now Mourinho have been seeking a return to those glory days. The last three games for Man Utd has seen a number of attempted crosses that is reminiscent of the Fergie era with David Beckham and Ryan Giggs on either flank, whipping balls in for the two forwards and Paul Scholes to convert.
This season against Hull, Man Utd achieved nine from 41 crosses and six from 25 during the defeat to Man City.
The difference between pre-2013/14 season and now is that there’s just one forward and the quality of delivery isn’t as good.
In fact, the quantity of Sunday’s games (6/33) is very similar to Ferguson’s last game in charge, the 5-5 draw at West Brom. During that game at the Hawthorns, Man Utd succeeded with nine from 32 crosses and three of those resulted in goals. Against Watford, only two crosses created a chance, while Rashford’s goal was the outcome of a poorly cleared cross.
Against Watford, Man Utd completed nearly twice as many passes (345 to 184) but only managed to create the same number of chances from open play (five). A poor return when you consider the names in United’s side.
Watford will need to try and perform to similar levels against ‘lesser’ opposition so to ensure they won’t face a relegation battle.
Man Utd and Mourinho have plenty of work to do. Introducing a natural central midfielder such as Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera or Daley Blind for Rooney might provide a better balance to the side while bringing more out of their star acquisition, Pogba.
EPL Results (Gameweek 5):
Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool
Hull 1-4 Arsenal
Leicester 3-0 Burnley
Man City 4-0 Bournemouth
West Brom 4-2 West Ham
Everton 3-1 Middlesbrough
Tottenham 1-0 Sunderland
Crystal Palace 4-1 Stoke
Southampton 1-0 Swansea
Watford 3-1 Man Utd