Manchester United marched into Vicarage Road and thwarted Watford’s chances of going 5 for 5 in the 2018/2019 Premier League. An emphatic win for the Red Devils indeed, it levels them with Big Six rivals Tottenham and Arsenal in the current domestic standings.
There was more to celebrate from their victory than there was to condemn, so here are the top three things we learned from Manchester United’s win over Watford.
Set piece practice is paying off
Romelu Lukaku’s finish from Ashley Young’s kick reminded supporters that indeed the United of yesteryears have found their set piece groove. The first 45 minutes were probably United’s best since their opener against Leicester City. There was not only proper ball distribution throughout the middle, but also a sense of urgency on the defense. Between Young’s cross, Paul Pogba’s long passes and Alexis Sánchez’s unfortunate off-side goal, there was enough early effort by the offense to weaken the Hornets’ momentum.
United have been disappointing from set pieces as of late, especially when you look at the depth of our men in the box. Lukaku’s goal and the celebration that ensued from it shows that this is something they’ve been working on in training. Major improvement for the visitors.
Smalling has a knack for important goals
Of all the players to have executed a sensational off the chest volley, it had to be Chris Smalling. The centre-back hasn’t created many memorable chances for himself this year, but his finish to double United’s lead in the 38th minute was absolute artistry. Naturally, it came off a pristine corner by Young, who up until that cross had been bossing on the left in the wake of Luke Shaw’s injury during international play.
This isn’t the first time Chris Smalling has humbled United supporters and critics alike. Despite his risky endeavors in the back, he never fails to remind doubters why he deserves a spot in José Mourinho’s starting XI. Smalling is prone to making short sighted decisions sometimes, but then goals like this are a slight reminder why he is preferred in the back over the likes of Phil Jones.
Even better? For the first time, Mourinho managed to crack a genuine smile and the most passionate lunge into his assistant’s arms this contributor has ever seen.
Loss in momentum leads to nervy wins
One itch that United can’t seem to scratch is their ability to maintain any built-up momentum they’ve acquired. At 2-0 to start the second, the Red Devils should have been able to easily kill off the match whether or not Mourinho instructed his men to park the bus or keep pressing on offense. Yet, it took the entire 90 minutes plus stoppage time to settle the nerves of every United fan tuning into the match. Understood, their mentality has been rendered a bit fragile in the wake of shock losses and horrid form. However, fear of losing rather than the revere of winning is not a reasonable explanation as to why there was an unmarked Andre Gray in United’s penalty box with a clear shot on goal.
This is where United could benefit from establishing a clear leader, someone who can reassure his mates that even when the opposition has increased their stamina, the odds are still in their favor.
Despite an uninspiring second half to couple a lively opening 45, three points were justly earned in United’s favor as they travel to Switzerland this week to face the Young Boys in their first crack at Champions League play for this campaign. Nemanja Matić’s red card in the final minutes is an undoubtable blow to the midfield, but a likely opportunity for Scott McTominay and Fred to suit up alongside Paul Pogba to keep Manchester United’s title hopes alive.