Manchester United’s trip to Vicarage Road to take on Watford was a much more important one than it appears on paper. With two defeats in two games since the international break to rivals Manchester City in the league and in Europe to Feyenoord, United needed a result to bounce back. United started a strong side, as in-form Marcus Rashford makes it into the starting lineup, while at the back Daley Blind was left out in favour of Chris Smalling.
From the get go, things didn’t go to plan for United. As was the case in the midweek European clash, although not to the same extent, United failed to take control of the game, with sloppy passing, a lack of pressing and a lack of incisiveness in attack. The difference being that Watford was quicker to punish them, as Daryl Janmaat dispossessed Anthony Martial before firing a low cross to set up Etienne Capoue’s opener. The second half saw improvements, if only momentarily after Juan Mata came on in place of Antonio Valencia around the hour mark. Not long after that substitution, Rashford scored the equaliser, taking advantage of the defensive mixup caused by a Zlatan Ibrahimovic cross. But then things took a turn for the worse. First, Camilo Zuniga finished off a fine piece of play to take back the lead, less than a minute after coming on. And then, Marouane Fellaini’s gave away a penalty in stoppage team which was converted by Troy Deeney.
United didn’t have much to brag about throughout the game. The same feeling of disinterest remained, with simple passes in midfield not finding their target. While no one member of the squad could be proud of their performance, some players had brought more positivity to the table than others.
Take Fellaini. Yes, he gave away the penalty at the dying moments of the game to further the gap, but he was one of the few players that put in a real shift and did the basics of his role well. He was played at the base of a midfield three and was tasked with disrupting Watford’s attack, and he fills the role well. At times he even had to cover a centre back who drifted out of position, the main example being the second goal when neither Bailly nor Smalling was at the left side of the penalty area. However, much of United’s sloppy passing was his doing, and in truth, that’s what stopped him from being today’s Man of the Match.
There were also the fullbacks. On the right, Antonio Valencia showed once again why he’s no longer the player that was on the butt of jokes for all those years. While he failed to make truly meaningful chances in attack, his confidence in taking the ball forwards was respectable.
On the other side of the pitch, Luke Shaw was perhaps the most consistent player on the pitch for United. He didn’t contribute going forward as much as he normally does, but he was solid in defence when called upon. The first two goals came from his side of the defence but neither could be attributed to him. For the first, he provided Martial with the option for a pass that he didn’t take, which lead to the goal, and while he failed to stop Nordin Amrabat for the second, he stopped him from going on to his stronger foot with his positioning, and was relying on Paul Pogba to cover on the inside, which he didn’t.
Other than that, Shaw was United’s best defender of the day. While there wasn’t much competition there, that is also the case for the rest of the team. Shaw wasn’t especially impressive, but he was better than everyone else wearing red. So on that basis, Shaw is today’s Man of the Match.