Manchester United succumbed to a humiliating 2-0 defeat away at Premier League basement side Watford on Sunday. It was the Hornets’ first home win at Vicarage Road since March, and it piles the pressure on United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
In some ways, it was an entirely predictable defeat. As throughout the season so far, United struggled to create chances against a side that sat deep and defended with discipline. The Hornets suffocated United’s front four, depriving them of the space they need to make the most of their blistering pace. In the end, two defensive mistakes was all it took to seal defeat.
The tone was set in a frustrating first half, in which United struggled to get to grips with a physical Watford. Buoyed, perhaps, by Nigel Pearson’s new manager bounce, the Hornets’ hustle and bustle caused problems on the narrow pitch at Vicarage Road. United created the first chance of the game, when Anthony Martial dragged Daniel James’ low cross wide, but it was the first of few.
Sloppy in possession, it took until past the half hour until United carved out a clear-cut opportunity. Watford’s defence — who had sat deep throughout the first half — were caught uncharacteristically high, and a Martial through-ball sent Jesse Lingard out of the traps. Ben Foster did well to spring off his line and narrow the angle, but Lingard should’ve done better than chipping over the crossbar.
Watford had offered little in attack, but a couple of United mistakes early in the second half was all it took for them to sail into an all-too-predictable lead. The first was the most glaring, coming as David de Gea allowed a mishit Ismaïla Sarr strike to slip through his hands and into the top corner, after a Watford free-kick had been flicked in the Senegalese winger’s direction.
The second came when Aaron Wan-Bissaka felled the goalscorer in the penalty area. A brief VAR review offered no reprieve, and Wan-Bissaka could have few complaints. Watford talisman Troy Deeney stepped up and panelled the ball straight down the middle, and Watford went two up.
Solskjær introduced Paul Pogba for Lingard just past the hour, but he could do little to turn the tide. A smart interchange with Martial in the final 10 minutes produced a shooting opportunity, but Foster beat Pogba’s shot away from a tight angle. A raking pass from the Frenchman found Mason Greenwood minutes later, but he could only lob the ball over the crossbar.
United’s final chance came just before stoppage time, when a Martial chip was brought down in the area by Rashford, who smashed straight at Foster from point-blank range. By full time, the Reds had created plenty of chances, but it still wasn’t enough. It won’t be a happy Christmas for Solskjær.