Manchester United made a mockery of Watford’s burgeoning reputation as a tough team to beat, dispatching the Hornets in what turned out to be a routine Premier League win. José Mourinho opted to match up with Watford’s formation, setting up United in the 3-5-2 system usually reserved for away matches against tough rivals. What on paper appeared to be a more conservative formation, however, was in no way indicative of the ruthless attacking display to come.
Ashley Young was denied credit for the winner at the weekend, but there was no disputing his opener at Vicarage Road. Jesse Lingard led a counter-attack before patiently playing Young in just outside the box in the 19th minute. The former Watford playmaker and current United left-back lashed in a fierce drive to put the visitors ahead.
Just six minutes later, Young outdid himself. A surging run from Paul Pogba ended in a United free-kick when the midfielder was hauled down thirty yards outside of the Watford goal. Young stepped up to take the set-piece, and curled a beauty of a shot over the wall, under the crossbar, and past Heurelho Gomes. United were cruising.
The Reds were in no mood to take their foot off the gas. Lingard chased down a hopeful ball in the attacking third before playing the ball back to Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian played his strike partner Anthony Martial through on goal, and the Frenchman made no mistake with his finish. Half an hour gone, and United were up by 3 goals and searching for more.
In the last minute of the first half, Gomes had to be at his sharpest to to keep the score down. A remarkable double save denied first Lukaku and then Lingard. The Hornets were still showing signs of life, though, and a looping Richarlison header in the final seconds was only over the crossbar by inches.
Watford emerged after the break looking like a side that believed in their ability to claw back the deficit. Fortunately for United, the backline was up to the task; Lindelöf in particular was doing an admirable job of keeping Richarlison in check.
The first change of the match was an enforced one. Nemanja Matić, who had not looked quite himself, went off limping in the 53rd minute. Ander Herrera came on his place, but Reds fans will be hoping desperately that the injury to the Serbian is not a serious one, especially with Arsenal to come at the weekend.
Watford manager Marco Silva switched to a back four in an attempt to get more players forward, but United were by now comfortably in control, despite having far less possession in the second half. In a sign that Martial has perhaps usurped Rashford in the pecking order for the moment, the former was withdrawn after 64 minutes for the latter.
Lukaku should have made it 4 after 75 minutes. Rashford forced an error from a Watford defender and played a ball across to Lukaku in front of a nearly open goal. The recently goal-shy striker hesistated and got the ball stuck under his feet, and the chance was gone.
After another Lukaku miss, Watford pulled a goal back. Marcos Rojo got bamboozled by Roberto Pereyra and gave away a penalty. Troy Deeney, just off the bench, stepped up to tuck the spot kick into the corner.
Rojo’s tackle was clumsy, but it was indicative of the sloppiness that had now crept into United’s play. Seven minutes before full-time, Watford got their second. A simple ball across the box caught the United defense napping, and Abdoulaye Doucoure smashed a goal past David De Gea.
That Watford hope was quickly extinguished. Two minutes later, Lingard took off on a dazzling individual run. He beat a handful of defenders before slotting the ball in the corner to secure the result for United.