After derby day defeat and disappointment in Europe, Manchester United return to Premier League football this Sunday with a visit to Watford. An away match in the Europa League is rarely the best preparation for a trip south and should make this fixture that much tougher for United. Yet Jose Mourinho will be eager to keep pace with the front-runners in the league after dropping points at home to Manchester City last week. Watford have had one of the toughest starts to their league campaign of any of the 20 teams. By this Sunday evening, they will have faced Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all within their first six matches. A poor run of early results is perhaps understandable against such strong opposition. The Hornets will take heart from the character displayed to overturn a two-goal deficit against West Ham in the last round of matches.
Watford 1-2 Gillingham (EFL Cup)
Watford 1-3 Arsenal
West Ham United 2-4 Watford
Manager: Walter Mazzarri
After earning automatic promotion to the Premier League in 2015, and maintaining that status with a comfortable thirteenth place finish a year later, sacking your manager might seem a little harsh. Quique Sanchez Flores would surely agree and he has left a high standard for new manager Walter Mazzarri to live up to. Those in charge at Watford hope this appointment will build on last season’s success rather than set it back. Results so far have not supported this theory. An impressive comeback against West Ham was Watford’s first win of the season, Mazzarri having presided over three straight defeats before that. Yet it is the manner of the comeback at the London stadium that may give Mazzarri the most encouragement. The players showed a level of character that the manager will hope to cultivate during the rest of the campaign.
Mazzarri himself has enjoyed an uneven managerial career. His best work came when in charge of Napoli, where he managed Marek Hamsik, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi. He secured the 2012 Coppa Italia and lead Napoli to second place in 2013, their best league finish for 20 years. Success with Napoli earned him a crack at one of the top jobs in Italy as manager of Inter Milan. Yet his tenure ended in acrimonious departure during 2014. His sacking came after a run of defeats left the Nerazzurri in ninth place. Renowned for building well organised, counter-attacking sides, Mazzarri is well-known for getting the best out of his strikers. Troy Deeney and the resurgent Odion Ighalo will hope to improve further under his management. He is also known for three successful survival campaigns with Reggina. Most notably in 2007, leading Reggina to survival despite an 11 point deduction.
Key Player: Troy Deeney
Troy Deeney has worked hard to get where he is today. After the low of a short prison sentence in 2012, Watford stuck by him and he has repaid that faith through his performances on the pitch. Now club captain, he has embodied the hard-working attitude of the club and was instrumental in securing their survival in the Premier League last season. Offering strength and determination up front, Deeney is the perfect complement to the more technical ability of Ighalo.
Yet he is not without ability himself. Aside from strength and an excellent work rate, Deeney has the technique to worry even the most effective defences. His impressive chipped finish against West Ham providing proof of this. Unfazed by expectations, Deeney will look forward to facing a Manchester United back four who have conceded three goals in the last week. His combination with Ighalo is likely to cause problems for whatever defensive partnership United field on Sunday.
Predicted Starting XI
Watford 1-2 Manchester United
Watford head into this game having won only once in their last five fixtures. A tough run of games including Arsenal and Chelsea may account for this but it will not get any easier. The Hornets having failed to take any points from United at the last three attempts. United have their own problems heading into this match. There is no shame in defeat to a confident and fluid Manchester City side but the manner of their midweek surrender to Feyenoord in Europe is more worrying. Expected to bounce back from the derby with a positive start to their Europa League campaign, United looked sluggish and lacked a cutting edge. The performance was reminiscent of the dour fare on offer under Louis van Gaal, with United unable to create chances or raise the tempo of their game.
The Premier League presents a different prospect though and many of those rested for the midweek fixture should return to the fold, lending greater urgency to their play. Troy Deeney was quick to point out how complacency from West Ham at the weekend ignited their comeback from two goals down. United will need to ensure that they show the proper respect to their opponents to ensure they do not suffer the same fate. The response needed from the men in red should come at Vicarage Road on Sunday. Though Ighalo and Deeney are likely to cause United problems throughout the afternoon, the fire power United have at their disposal should be enough to earn a win.