Manchester United faced Watford away at the end of an unconvincing month and, surprisingly, found themselves three up well before half-time. Ashley Young’s name in lights again with two lovely strikes until Jesse Lingard fancied grabbing the headlines instead. Lingard uncharitably scored the goal of the game, after setting up the first, capping off an accomplished night for the support cast who carried their peers.
Ashley Young’s first was fired crisply into the bottom corner from Lingard’s unflustered assist; Lingard looked to be outnumbered but didn’t panic and eventually found Young. When United got a plum free-kick five minutes later, Young, clearly emboldened, talked Paul Pogba out of it with little discussion. When you’re hot, you’re hot. Young whipped it in spectacularly.
Anthony Martial played well and scored in typically certain, necessary fashion yet wasn’t the standout. Lingard twinkled through to put the game to bed with aplomb killing Watford’s laboured comeback. United’s clinical first half and eventually unpunished second did mask a few lingering habits. What made the difference was United’s squad players punching above their weight; equally synonymous as any swashbuckling football in old successes craved.
José Mourinho will be delighted his starting understudies stepped up in the absence of more celebrated players. Romelu Lukaku helped his team’s shape and space but little else. Paul Pogba was relatively quiet. Nemanja Matić looked decidedly off-colour, and later asked to be removed second half. Under the radar at the back, Victor Lindelöf had his best game since joining; anticipating any danger and convincingly mopping up mistakes ahead of him.
Mourinho’s team have slowly buckled without their leaders but enjoyed a bit of swagger all of their own on this occasion. They’ll need similar up next in the league against Arsenal away, and everyone firing for City at home. Getting more from his squad with any regularity would be a significant notch in progress. Ashley Young probably got a measured bollocking from his manager for insisting on the free-kick he scored, such is Mourinho and life.
“I prefer to forget the five minutes where we conceded the two goals.”
If the plan is to pick off Arsenal at the weekend, Watford away was a handy rehearsal but a concern defensively under stress. United need momentum as well as points going into the derby, and maybe a leap of faith.