Everything that you need to know ahead of Saturday’s match:
(1) Manchester United turn their attention to the FA Cup fresh off another semifinal disappointment. Manchester City struck twice in the second half to win 2-0 at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, advancing to the EFL Cup final for the fourth straight season.
4 - Manchester United have been eliminated from all four semi-finals they've contested under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (League Cup x2, FA Cup and Europa League). Hurdle. pic.twitter.com/JqSD8kjscp— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 6, 2021
(2) On Wednesday, both Manchester clubs played with a heck of a lot more tempo and aggression than in last month’s derby. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named just about his strongest side for the EFL Cup semifinal, bringing in Paul Pogba on the left side of midfield, which opens the door for some big-time rotation this weekend.
(3) Rotation is always a gamble, but there won’t be many better opportunities for Solskjaer to rest players than Saturday’s match. Guys like Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford, et al. have played heavy minutes over the festive period and need a break ahead of some important Premier League matches. Why not give some minutes to young players like Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams, Donny van de Beek, Facundo Pellistri, and some of the deserving academy youngsters? Or get really crazy and hand Odion Ighalo a rare start against his former club in place of the suspended Edinson Cavani.
(4) The overworked Bruno Fernandes was not at his best against Manchester City and Solskjaer was asked if he would be rested this weekend:
There will be a few changes, of course there will, as it’s such a season that we have to. We have shown quality when we have had to [rotate] before and we will make a few changes. I will see [on Thursday] who is fit and who is not fit and who is ready to go. He wants to play every game, Bruno. Of course, it’s a long season. Let’s see what team we come with on Saturday, so I’ll have a chat with him about how he feels.
(5) Solskjaer on the semifinal loss and looking ahead to other competitions:
We wanted to go to a final. We wanted the final to look forward to and that would have given us an extra boost. But it is not happening and then you have to dust it off and use the night to get the disappointment away because, on Saturday, the FA Cup and then we have big league games against Burnley and Liverpool and, within a month, suddenly the Europa League is here again. There are loads of things to play for.
(6) Football is never boring with the Pozzo family around. Watford’s owners shocked everyone by sacking Vladimir Ivic last month, meaning that the Pozzos have now churned through eight head coaches in five years. Ivic had only joined the club in August and had his Hornets up to fifth in the Championship table at the time of his dismissal. Not good enough, apparently. Reports suggest that the board grew tired of Ivic’s defensive approach — with the benching of star Troy Deeney the final straw.
(7) Little-known Xisco Munoz replaced Ivic shortly before Christmas. The 40-year-old last coached at Dinamo Tbilisi in Georgia and promises to build a more attacking side. Through two matches, he has Watford pressing high and looking to get the ball forward to a frontline that includes Deeney, Andre Gray, and Ismaila Sarr.
(8) Munoz’s task grew more difficult when Etienne Capoue bolted for Villarreal in Spain once the January transfer window opened. The 32-year-old Frenchman played 181 matches for Watford and leaves a gaping hole in the Hornets midfield.
I honestly don’t think I’ll see a more complete player than Capoue play for Watford in my lifetime. His passes, his energy, his ability on the ball, his tackling, his interceptions. He seriously had everything and at such a high standard. The closest we’ve had to world class— Aaron (@aaron_bennis10) December 30, 2020
(9) With Capoue gone, all eyes turn to Ismaila Sarr and Troy Deeney. It goes without saying that Watford’s promotion hopes hinge on hanging onto these two. Sarr, in particular, continues to draw interest from top Premier League clubs — with Liverpool reportedly leading the pack. The 22-year-old has four goals and five assists this season in the Championship and provides blazing speed from his spot on the right wing.
(10) Interestingly, the club just signed Philip Zinckernagel from Bodo Glimt in Norway — who also plays out right. He turned down interest from Celtic, Schalke, and Fenerbahce after his contract expired with the Norwegian champions.
37 - Philip Zinckernagel was involved in 37 goals for Bodø/Glimt in the Norwegian Eliteserien last season (19 goals, 18 assists), more than any other player in the competition. Hornet. #WatfordFC https://t.co/mSb4gURGQo— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 1, 2021
(11) James Garner, who is on loan at Watford this season, cannot play against his parent club. Nonetheless, there’s still a strong Manchester United connection in this Hornets squad: former Reds Tom Cleverley, Craig Cathcart, and Ben Foster. Cathcart has been out for the last month with a hamstring injury, but Cleverley and Foster should be in the Watford lineup this weekend.