Watford v Manchester United, Saturday 15th September, 17:30
Manchester United enter the fifth round of games already six points adrift of the early pacesetters, but with Spurs and Liverpool facing off this week there’s a fantastic opportunity for United to narrow the gap.
Watford’s form a tad misleading
The international break came at an unwanted moment for Watford and threatens to check the momentum they’ve built over the opening weeks. Aside from their eye-catching win over a below-par Spurs last time out, their other victories have been solid if unspectacular and the Hornets shouldn’t get too carried away.
They won at Vicarage Road against a Brighton side that have struggled badly on their travels since their promotion, recorded victory at a Burnley outfit in freefall, while they were rather fortunate to secure all three points when Palace came to town.
Indeed, they had Ben Foster to thank after he pulled off a couple of big first half saves from Christian Benteke and James McArthur, while Etienne Capoue can consider himself very lucky to have only received a yellow card for raking his studs down the back Wilfried Zaha’s calf.
Jose Mourinho will likely be deprived of the services of Luke Shaw after the left-back sustained a head injury representing England against Spain, meaning Ashley Young should slot into the role with Marcos Rojo a doubt.
Only Romelu Lukaku could possibly challenge Luke Shaw in a credible claim to have been United’s best player so far this term, but it shouldn’t upset the team beyond comprehension. Indeed, with Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia in the full-back areas this United rearguard has a familiar feel to it, while their defensive issues have primarily been in the centre than in the wide areas.
However, they’ve only conceded more than a single goal in two of their last 16 outings when excluding the other members of the ‘Big Six’, keeping clean sheets in 10 of these games.
Watford are quite physical opponents and may not have suited Luke Shaw perfectly in that regard anyway. We wouldn’t be surprised to see bring in Marouane Fellaini alongside Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba to counteract that threat, while it should help nullify one of the core strengths in Watford’s strike duo.
The Hornets typically played with a lone frontman last season but Troy Deeney and Andre Gray have been hugely effective in tandem, with the former dropping a little deeper while the latter seeks the ball in behind. However, Deeney won’t have it all his own way in aerial duels against Fellaini and Matic, thus cutting off some of the supply to his partner.
Lukaku red hot
Man Utd strikers Romelu Lukaku and Marcos Rashford both enjoyed being amongst the goals on international duty, though with Rashford suspended in any case, there’s absolutely no question of who will lead the line.
The Belgium international has netted six times in five outings for club and country, while he has five goals in his last five league road trips since March with the only team he failed to score against Man City. Watford have conceded in each of their last three games despite winning them and United’s frontman should be able to capitalise.