In a topsy turvy game at Old Trafford, Manchester United beat Watford 2-1.
The result put United up into fourth, though Arsenal could reclaim the spot come Monday. But what did we learn?
1. Marcus Rashford is back in the saddle
Early on in the first half of Manchester United’s massive clash against Liverpool at Old Trafford in February, Marcus Rashford picked up an injury. However, United had to make all three changes in the first half due to more severe injuries and, as such, Rashford had to soldier on.
Since then, the player who looked like he had finally found himself under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn’t looked the same. Rashford scored twice in following games, but one was a penalty and the other a stoppage time consolation. Worse, his movement wasn’t as vibrant and that had a big effect on United.
Well, after sitting out the international break, Rashford looked back to his best against Watford. The Mancunian striker was constantly surging into the space behind and stretching Watford. It was here where he bagged the opening goal of the game, blowing by Watford’s defenders and collecting a Luke Shaw pass before calmly lifting the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper.
That was his 10th league goal, the first time he’s hit double figures in league play. It was also exactly the kind of finish that he needs to be making on a consistent basis if he hopes to make himself a genuinely lethal no. 9.
2. Jupiter Jones: prepare for a mistake
Injury forced Phil Jones back into the Manchester United defence. That should be a ridiculous sentence in 2019, but hey, here we are. The thing is, Jones was great. No qualifiers either. This wasn’t “Jones was good for Jones” or “Jones was good because it was Watford”. No, Jones was just flat-out good. As colossal in defence as Jupiter is in the night sky.
The Englishman (who is now 27 if you can believe it) was first to every loose ball, sensing danger and snuffing it out with ruthless efficiency. He was great in the air, great on the deck. He pushed up and dealt with attackers on the front-foot, but he was also constantly ready to chase back and put the block in. He even passed it well!
This was a total defensive performance. Which would normally mean that United’s fans could salivate at the thought of Jones finally coming good and delivering on his enormous potential. But it’s Phil Jones, which means that United’s fans are now counting down to the injury or colossal mistake that is surely in his near future (that he ended the game limping was pure poetry).
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3. Watford don’t have any sting in their tail
The Hornets came to Old Trafford and played superbly. Despite losing 2-1 they were very impressive, a dominant force who controlled the tempo of the game and had the vast majority of possession. They created numerous half-chances but never really peppered David de Gea with shots. This was partly down to Phil Jones’ performance, but also not.
Watford are simply a side who lack a goalscoring punch. Despite being in eighth, they have a -3 goal difference, conceding more than they’ve scored. For all their possession in the game, for all their impetus and drive, the lack of sting in their tail meant that even a United side looking to re-find their confidence were able to do so with ease. Their consolation strike at the end only served to remind them that, with a bit more composure, they could have really given United a game here.
4. United are desperate for a midfielder
Manchester United won the game, sure. They played some lovely stuff on the break and showed glimpses of their true potency. But for the most part they were playing on the break. At home. Against Watford.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with playing on the break, but a Manchester United side should aspire to move against sides of Watford’s level. Sure, when Barcelona come to town you can expect United to play just like this and get nothing but love, but against Watford, too?
But then they kind of have to play this way, because other than Paul Pogba (and £50m misfit Fred), United don’t have a midfielder capable of creating consistently. A player who can move the ball quickly and intelligently, helping the Red Devils dominate with the ball – or even just slow a game down for a few minutes and get a sense of order back to things. It is absolutely imperative that this summer transfer window sees a creative midfielder brought in.
5. Ole’s back at the wheel!
There was always a sense of concern around Manchester United that, as much as they wanted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be announced as permanent manager, when they actually gave him the job then all the good mojo that he had, all the focus, would slip away. There was a very real concern, though few will admit it, that the whole run would evaporate the second it became official.
Well… nope! In his first match as official manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United not only won, not only scored a lovely goal on the break, but they also rode their luck successfully as they had done under his caretaker regime.
Sure, United need to improve (the return of Victor Lindelof and Jesse Lingard starting should be a huge help) but the fact that all the luck didn’t evaporate upon an official announcement, and they were able to play as poorly as they did in the second half yet not be punished, will be such a soothing balm to the United faithful.