Manchester United claimed a 2-1 win away to an impressive Watford side, in a match where they claimed control and then conceded it. After going two goals clear by half-time, ultimately, they had to withstand some ferocious late pressure from the home team to pick up all three points. Once again, they ultimately had the brilliance of David De Gea to thank, but in ending Watford’s 100 percent league record they provided the type of resilience you would expect from an elite outfit. It is all the more confusing, then, that they have already endured such frustrating losses this season.
De Gea, almost inevitably, made game-winning saves. Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling scored and worked tirelessly throughout, and Marouane Fellaini was almost as effective as both of them. For most of the game, Paul Pogba looked in a different league to everyone else in midfield.
United failed to assert control of the game after half-time and it almost cost them, with Nemanja Matic’s late red card typifying their loss of discipline. They were also generally a little too slow in the buildup, and it is notable that both their goals came from set pieces or their immediate aftermath.
Jose Mourinho got a fine win against an in-form team, and so deserves great credit for that. His use of set pieces was excellent. At the same time, he will be concerned that his side could not stamp their authority on this game in its late stages, and some of that responsibility — despite squandered opportunities by his players — does fall to him.
David De Gea, 9 — His late saves made him the game’s star man. Throughout the match, he repelled Watford where a lesser goalkeeper would have readily conceded. He is indispensable.
DF Antonio Valencia, 6 — A disciplined outing, if somewhat limited going forward. He took up good positions, but his passing lacked imagination and urgency.
DF Victor Lindelof, 7 — Quietly accomplished in defence, with his passing and positioning both sound even as some of the composure around him evaporated.
DF Chris Smalling, 9 — An exceptional finish, worthy of an elite striker, won the game — and he was very good in defence too, keeping Watford at bay and in particular minimising the considerable physical threat from Troy Deeney.
DF Ashley Young, 7 — His first half was stronger than his second, but he remained full of running and was diligent in defence throughout.
MF Nemanja Matic, 5 — A confusing performance. Assured on the ball in the early stages, though perhaps a touch slow in the buildup. He provided the platform for United’s superiority and closed several gaps but lost composure and by the end Watford were creating more problems than he could solve, illustrated by the lunge that brought him his second yellow card.
MF Marouane Fellaini, 7 — Very effective when it mattered most, playing a significant role in United’s decisive goal and keeping Watford at bay at key stages of the match. Could have been more inventive with his passing, though.
MF Paul Pogba, 7 — At times he was utterly imperious, with a range, vision and technique of passing that is matched by very few in the world and probably surpassed by none. However, he did also lose possession and match control towards the end of the game. At his best was far superior to what Watford could offer.
FW Alexis Sanchez, 6 — Worked hard but not to great effect — his effort will doubtlessly be applauded, and rightly so, but save one fine first-half attempt he did not look anything near his devastating best.
FW Jesse Lingard, 6 — Like Sanchez, his was a performance of great intensity but with little attacking product. Like Sanchez, he can also very fairly argue that his defensive work was essential to grinding out a result against one of the league’s form teams.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 8 — This was much closer to the Lukaku that Belgium saw for the bulk of this summer’s World Cup. He opened the scoring after some intelligent movement, held the ball up well on most occasions, and as late as the closing stages was chasing back and defending in the full-back position. A fine display of centre-forward play.
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