Manchester United return to Premier League action on Saturday afternoon as they travel to Vicarage Road to take on Watford. A fortnight after the terrible 2-0 defeat to Manchester City at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side will be seeking to get back to winning ways in the league after a poor record in their last six Premier League matches, winning once, drawing once and losing four times. United have a fair few problems to solve at a time when the manager is under a lot of pressure. He has weathered it at this time and looks set to continue as the manager of the club and until that changes, he will be backed by myself.
Watford are not in good form this season, losing four, drawing once and winning once in their last six matches, sitting 17th in the Premier League, two points above the relegation zone. United, at the time of writing, sit in sixth place in the league, three points from fifth, five points from fourth, six points from second and third position but nine points from the summit of the table. Had United won at least two of the matches they lost, they would be up there with the likes of Manchester City, West Ham United and Liverpool with them all having a better season that United at this point and United in dire straits.
Previous meetings with Watford and their connections with Manchester United.
United and Watford have met a total of 14 times in the history of the Premier League. United have won 12 times, drawn zero times with Watford winning the remaining two times. United have scored 31 goals, winning two penalties and scoring both of them. Watford have scored 14 goals, winning four penalty and scoring all of them. United have kept a total of five clean sheets, with Watford keeping one. United players have been shown 21 yellow cards and two red cards with Watford players being shown 24 yellow cards and two red cards. This will be a big match for both teams who are under pressure at this time.
Watford have five former United players in their squad at this time with Ben Foster, Craig Cathcart, Tom Cleverley, Joshua King and Ashley Fletcher all coming through the academy at the Old Trafford club before leaving for pastures new. Ashley Young played for Watford before heading to Aston Villa, with him leaving for United from the Birmingham club. Danny Webber, Chris Eagles, James Garner, Reece Brown, Tomasz Kuszczak, Danny Drinkwater, Cathcart, Cleverley, Foster, Eagles, Webber and Jimmy Davies were all loaned to the club as youth players. Odion Ighalo and Danny Welbeck also played for Watford.
Here is my predicted starting XI to face Watford in the Premier League at Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon…
Goalkeeper: David De Gea
David De Gea has been largely positive for United this season so far. United have conceded 25 goals in all competitions, which is a problem but the defence has let him down a lot of the time with only a few mistakes turning into conceded goals. Dean Henderson has played just once for the first team this season, and for that reason, him remaining on the bench is what will be likely. I don’t think he will be fit enough to play, but Solskjaer could allow him some minutes with matches coming thick and fast over the next month. De Gea will be determined to get himself into his top form, which will really help United to move forward.
Keeping clean sheets is what it needed for United, who have had just two in the Premier League this season, which is not good enough. Maguire has let the team down recently after a slump in form and after a positive display with England during the International break, he could have the confidence to find some form at club level, which is needed right now. But that said, there will always be some critic on social media who will pretend that Maguire has never been a positive player but they will forget about how United could not deal with his absence at the end of last season with the captain being a big miss for United at the time.
Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Alex Telles
United’s defence is a major problem at the club right now. None of the players seem to have the form to drive United to glory, which is the reason why titles will not be won any time soon. Attack will win the club matches but defence will win them titles but with the number of goals conceded this season, which stands at 25 in all competition, there is massive room for improvement. Raphael Varane is still out injured, unless a miracle happens, so Solskjaer will need to make do with the players at his perusal at this stage of the season. Most of the defenders who have played this season are full internationals, so should do so much better.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka will keep his place in the right-back position. He has done well but I would like to see more of him overlapping the right-winger and playing to the strengths of the attack. What he does in defence is largely positive, although some people moan about minor things and pretend the are much more. With Luke Shaw likely unfit, Alex Telles should be given an opportunity in the left-back position which is something that could help Shaw as he could lose his place. Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire should partner in the centre of defence. Maguire had a positive two matches with England, scoring twice and Lindelof is not a bad defender.
Defensive Midfield: Nemanja Matic
Nemanja Matic has been in good form this season and could play a big part in the remainder of the season. Playing in the defensive midfield position, protecting the defence, is the best way for him to play. Largely he plays positive game and does get forward at times and can be a threat on goal. Fernandes and Van de Beek could both assist him when United are being attacked, which could work as a good midfield three with this squad needing a defensive midfielder who can play the majority of the season and help United with a mixture of experience, ability, steel, flair and speed. That would be great for United if that actually happened.
United will need to ensure they are not caught on the counter, so will need pace to deal with Watford’s threat. This could be a match for United to regain some confidence as Watford are not in a good place this season, but that could also mean that they could be prime Barcelona come Saturday. If Solskjaer gets his formations and tactics right, United will play like a unit. Granted, things have gone stale in the formations and some, namely the 3-4-1-2 has not worked, which is problematic as this has been tried a few times, only really working when Raphael Varane was fit and bale to play. He’s a few weeks away from playing again this season too.
Attacking Midfield: Jadon Sancho, Donny van de Beek, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford
United have a wealth of attacking players in the squad this season and playing a formation that plays to the strengths of the team is the best way to go, providing the manager is gutsy enough to do so. The 4-2-3-1 formation is stale and the 3-4-1-2 formation did not work as was expected, well only against Tottenham Hotspur, which does not say much. Playing in a 4-1-4-1 formation will benefit United with three midfielders on the pitch, two of them in an attacking sense. Donny van de Beek and Bruno Fernandes could combine well in that respect with Matic shielding the defence, which is a role he has done well. Even if he’s getting older.
Jadon Sancho has not really been tested enough this season and after a positive international break with England in October, he still did not get many chances, so it is time for him to play in his favoured right-wing position. Marcus Rashford, who has scored three goals since returning from injury, despite looking off at times, should be ready to get his season properly started. This formation could be reverted to a 4-3-3, which should still be strong for United, being that the midfield is stocked with ability, talent and a defensive steel with Matic in that position. Solskjaer needs to try something new as the stale formations have let United down at times.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored nine goals and one assist since returning to United an is the top scorer at the club so far this season. It is expected that he will start against Watford as he looks to get over the disappointment of Portugal not qualifying for the FIFA World Cup next year and having to get through the play-off first. This could see the Portuguese attacker in determined form, seeking to help right the wrongs at the club after their poor performances over the last few months. United really do need to find some good form or this season will be over before it really has begun. United are not all that far behind their rivals this season.
Ronaldo is determined to finish what he started at United and have a glory period at the club before he ends his career in the next few years. Some people complain that he’s a problem at United, but nine goals and one assist shows that it is not the case. With a good attack behind him, precise passing and determination, he will continue to lead the line for United in a way that will bring out the best of him and the club. United have a squad that is overstocked with attacking players, which bodes well for the remainder of the season If United can put the poor recent performances behind them and move on, things will be back on plan.
Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw; Jesse Lingard, Fred, Scott McTominay; Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood
With nine substitutes allowed to be named in the Premier League, with three able to be used, Solskjaer will need to ensure that the bench has enough on it to change the game, which is likely to happen unless United has suddenly found some form during the international break. Recently, the great performances that this squad are capable of have not happened and here’s hoping that it soon comes back. United need to get back on the road to victory. Dean Henderson will remain on the bench but there will be a time that he will need to play, even if he does leave the club either on loan or permanently during the January transfer window.
In defence, Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw could all be available with the latter subject to a fitness test to see if he is able to travel down to Watford after the head injury which kept him out of the England squad during the last international break of the season. In midfield, Jesse Lingard, Fred and Scott McTominay could all be available with the midfield the main area on the pitch that may need reinforcements at some point in the match. In attack, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood could both be available as there is an expected absence with Edinson Cavani, who is suffering from Tendon problems.
Written by John Walker