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Michael Carrick Departs: Evaluating His Interim Spell

Manchester United managed to fight their way to a 3-2 victory against Arsenal mid-week, in what would be Michael Carrick’s final game as interim manager. While everybody knew Ralf Rangnick was waiting in the wings to take over, it came as a huge shock when Carrick announced he was leaving the club altogether after the victory. 

Carrick, who joined the club all the way back in 2006, has been a vital servant to the club over his 15-year spell, quietly instrumental in the core of United’s midfield for years. Playing as intelligently as he did, it only seemed natural that he would one day progress into coaching or management, an opportunity eventually afforded to him in 2018, which subsequently led him to the position of interim United manager. 

While Carrick has only had a brief stint in the hot seat at Old Trafford, the 40-year-old has been largely impressive over his three games of management, making several important decisions while steering United to two crucial wins and a good point against Chelsea.

The disastrous end to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s managerial reign had many expecting a full clear out of United’s existing coaching setup, so the fact that Carrick found himself as interim manager came as a shock, perhaps even to himself. 

Calls for Carrick and the rest of the coaching staff to resign out of respect and solidarity with Solskjaer were raised, something that the interim United manager even talked about himself, but Carrick’s decision to fill in when the club needed him has ultimately proved to be a good one. 

The narrative around United’s shambolic management and structure as a club from the top has been written and dissected many times before, and a cynic may argue Carrick’s stint of management is nothing more than the result of a lack of planning. However, lack of planning or not, United looked much better under Carrick and regained some confidence and belief along the way. 

Qualifying top of the Champions League group F is perhaps the highlight, but a spirited performance against Chelsea that was rewarded with a point is testament to Carrick’s ability to adapt quickly to a hugely difficult situation.

When United arrived in Spain for their Champions League clash against Villarreal, the atmosphere was sombre and miserable around the club. Solskjaer’s decline and ultimate sacking felt like a hammer blow to all who held him dearly and it was left to Carrick to rally the players for a massive game. 

Going into the match United faced a genuine threat of elimination if results went against them, so a good performance and resulting win was huge for club. It was difficult to know what to expect from Carrick, who for most of his career went under the radar while being quietly effective, a trend that seemed to continue into management. 

The decision to drop Bruno Fernandes was a big one, but the timing of his substitution into the game was a masterstroke as United took control in the second half. This confidence Carrick exuded in his own ability was only reinforced further by his calm and insightful interviews, managing to make himself look like a natural when negotiating difficult questions posed. 

Throughout most of the period of Carrick’s interim reign the sense of uncertainty remained, manifesting mostly in questions directed at Carrick, which was a credit to himself as it didn’t interfere with the football. Facing an even tougher second game in charge, Carrick took United to league leaders Chelsea amidst a backdrop of rumours around current Paris Saint-Germain manager Mauricio Pochettino taking over.

Despite conceding a plethora of chances, and being second best throughout, United picked up a brilliant point thanks to a Jadon Sancho breakaway goal- his first in the Premier League and second of the week. 

Carrick had made another huge call in dropping Cristiano Ronaldo, but this only added further merit to his ability to make important and tough decisions, whether they be right or wrong. It was then a sense of relief for supporters of United when after the game the club finally announced a new manager in Ralf Rangnick, interim again, but someone who is hugely respected. 

Some of the intense media speculation and pressure was subsequently lifted, but United were heading quickly towards a clash against Arsenal. After concluding that there wasn’t enough time for Rangnick to get a work permit, Carrick was given one final game in charge. 

In what was objectively the most enthralling game of the three, United came from behind to overcome Arsenal in a game that was end to end at times. Where there had been a lack of belief and fight before in previous weeks there was now some urgency and desire, with the three points being what Carrick deserved for his impressive spell as interim manager. 

Moments after the games conclusion the club announced Carrick’s complete departure, which came as a shock to most considering his longevity as a servant to the club and impressive work over the week

Much like he was when a player though, Carrick opted not to tell anyone but the club of his decision to step away, claiming the focus should be on the game and not his future, once again illuminating the selflessness and class he possesses. 

The combination of a great result and this revelation left an emotional aura around the players and the supporters, fully aware of the dedication Carrick has shown towards the club throughout the years.

Overall, during his short week or so in charge, Carrick had not only qualified top of Champions League Group F and picked up four crucial Premier League Points, he’d also made good judgement calls and finally got Jadon Sancho scoring

This amount of good work in one week for someone who has never actually managed before is outstanding,further enhancing his reputation and stock as a potential future manager

Carrick cited the need to spend time with his family as the major reason for stepping away, despite Rangnick’s best efforts to convince him otherwise. Leaving behind a United side in much better shape than when he took over, Carrick goes down as a United legend for his commitment and class over the last 15 years, and a future in management sometime soon is almost a certainty.

Written by Sam Wilson

Player Focus: Fred’s Resurgence

Manchester United managed a respectable 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, which was a good result considering recent form

Interim manager Michael Carrick setup a vastly changed side, which included a surprising decision to drop Cristiano Ronaldo. However, in a very defensive game for United, it was Fred who stood out with his pressing and interceptions. 

Over the last few weeks it seems Fred has undergone a resurgence, pressing high against Villarreal to win the ball back that led to a Ronaldo goal, while also doing well against Watford despite the loss.

Naturally the buzz around United is currently regarding confirmation of incoming interim manager Ralf Rangnick, who is notorious for his famous gegenpressing system. This combined with Fred’s recent improved performance has sparked conversation around the potential for Fred to become an integral player under the new United boss.

Rangnick, if confirmed as new interim manager, will undoubtedly bring a higher intensity pressing game to United– one which will favour players with energy and tenacity. This new approach and setup could be brilliant for the 28-year-old Brazilian Fred, who thrives when working to press the opposition and intercept loose balls. 

In the current United setup, it seems like Fred is given more licence as a traditional defensive midfielder, something which Fred is certainly not, mainly due to his lack of quality on the ball. However, in a system that relies less on dithering on the ball but rather quick interceptions and passes forward, Fred could be transformed. 

German coach Rangnick is a bit of a godfather in football, his revolutionary gegenpressing system a model used by a plethora of modern coaches; including Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp. This is a testament to the knowledge and experience of the incoming Manchester United manager, who may be able to get the best out of Fred. 

It’s not just Rangnick’s system that may benefit Fred though, it’s his attention to detail and meticulous individual coaching too, something that Fred hasn’t had a lot of in recent years at United. It’s clear that Fred isn’t going to produce an artful world-class display week in week out, but if coached correctly, he can stick to a game plan and carry it out very well. 

The debate around whether United have actually had any concrete tactics or game plan in recent years rages on, but rest assured Rangnick will bring all of that and more- which will be to the benefit of several United players. Additionally, Fred is unlike any other current United players in the sense that he’s an engine, covering every blade of grass in most performances. 

This attribute is rare (especially at United presently) and paired with a cohesive tactical plan it will reap the benefits for the team in the future.

Just like fellow United midfielder Paul Pogba, Fred seems to excel or play generally well when playing for his country, but this is not replicated at club level. This repeated pattern of players performing at national level but not for United is a syndrome of sorts for the club, but it has to be indicative of a fundamental issue somewhere at a tactical or management level. 

Once again United’s failure to get the best out of Fred, a player with marvellous potential, is more reflective of the mismanagement of the club in terms of planning and scouting for specific positions, while also not focusing enough on tactics in depth. 

Gone are the days where United can sign a multifunctional midfielder to fill the gaps it seems, as most of the top teams now employ specialists in each position to carry out a certain tactical plan.

It’s easy to forget that Fred was a player United had signed for £47 million from Shakhtar Donetsk, which many would argue hasn’t been repaid with performances. Now with over three years at the club, Fred has mostly failed to shine and is often labelled a liability in the United squad, but some of this could be down to him being utilised inefficiently. 

If Rangnick can manage to get the best out of Fred, then United could finally see a player worth his transfer value, a valuable asset to any midfield when at his best.

Written by Sam Wilson

Jadon Sancho: Time to push on?

Manchester United’s 2-0 victory against Villarreal in the Champions League on Tuesday night brought many positives, most notably qualification to the knockout stages of the competition. 

This game also proved a positive experience for some of the players who were low on form and confidence following the dreadful run of games United have been on that led to the sacking of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last weekend. 

One of the players who proved their worth during this game was summer signing Jadon Sancho. 

Sancho signed for United form Borussia Dortmund in the summer for a reported £73 million after United showed a long standing interest in the winger, as reported by Sky Sports. Sancho stated the move was ‘a dream come true’ and seemingly could not wait to get started in a red shirt. 

United fans were also positive about the move, knowing the club had wanted the youngster since at least the summer previous, it felt like a signing that was always meant to happen. It was also a singing that fans felt solved an issue within the squad, which was the weakness in the right-winger position previously held by either Mason Greenwood, who is more of a central striker, and Daniel James, who has since been sold to Leeds. 

United fans had every reason to be excited about the young winger as at the time of purchase, Sancho was considered one of the best young talents in the world. 

During his time at Dortmund the winger made 137 appearances in all competitions, scoring 50 goals and contributing 66 assists, for a player who was only 17 when he joined, as reported by the Bundesliga and 21 when he left, these numbers are extremely impressive. 

The fact the winger left Manchester City’s Academy at 17 to go abroad to get game time also shows Sancho’s resilience, an attribute that would serve him well at a cub as big as United. 

However, Sanchos time at United has not gotten off to the best start, before Tuesdays game Sancho had contributed no goals or assists during his 14 appearances in all competitions. This poor start led to journalists and pundits alike jumping on the youngster and questioning why he was not preforming, especially after arriving for a big fee.

Sky Sports reported that the situation had ‘echoes’ of the Donny Van De Beek situation at United, a player who was bought in the summer of 2020 and has barely been used since. Gary Neville stated that Sancho ‘is a victim of the current performances of the team’ stating that a new player would ideally come into a settled unit, and that did not appear to be the case for the youngster, possibly explaining his bad run of form. 

Now things seem to be on the up for Sancho who undoubtedly put in his best performance in a United shirt on Tuesday, scoring his first goal for the club. His all-round performance was also praised by interim manager Michael Carrick who stated after the game that ‘Jadon was brilliant’, as reported by BBC sport

As United look to move forward into a new era after the dismissal of Solskjaer, it is highly likely that Sancho will be a key player for whoever takes over at the club as there is no doubting, he is a huge talent and could go onto the be one of the best in his position if handled correctly. 

United fans do not need to worry as Tuesday proved that the player the club signed in the summer is still there and can make an impact, it is just a case of finding consistent performances moving forward, which he must do in order to keep his spot in the firs team. It is now time for Jadon Sancho to push on and prove his doubters wrong at Manchester United. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Ethan Laird: Manchester United’s exciting prospect

Ethan Laird is a name that most Manchester United fans are familiar with, as the exciting young defender has been on the cusp of breaking into the first team squad for what feels like a couple of seasons. 

The right-back seemingly has all the attributes of a top modern defender; pace, defensive ability and attacking quality, however, it has not been plain sailing for the 20-year-old, as injuries blocked his path to the first team. But has the youngster shown enough out on loan to get United fans excited?

Last season, Laird was loaned out for the first time to MK Dons in League One, this loan seemed perfect as Laird was guaranteed minutes and could also learn a lot about the game in a tough League. 

Across all competitions, Laird made 25 appearances, contributing four assists for his new club. He had the trust of his manager as, for the 25 games he was available for in the league, Laird started 23.

He was only sent on loan in the January, as reported by the club, so the fact that Laird slotted straight into the team halfway through the season and was instantly trusted shows the quality he brought to his new club.  

After this successful spell, there were some wondering if Laird would be in the first team squad for the upcoming 2021/22 season with the future of Diogo Dalot under consideration after his loan at AC Milan.

However, United chose to keep hold of Dalot for the 2021/22 season, meaning Laird would need to prove himself out on loan yet again, this time in the Championship. 

United sent Laird out on loan to Swansea City, as announced by the club in August of 2021. The choice of club seemingly being due to the fact that Russell Martin had been newly appointed as Swansea’s boss, who was the manager at MK Dons the season previous, as reported by Manchester United. This was a huge positive for Laird as he knew that he would be trusted by the manager at his new club. 

Once again it seems Laird has settled in quickly to life in the Championship, it should be mentioned that being a young defender in the Championship is notoriously difficult due to the battles that occur all over the pitch. Laird has made 16 appearances across all competitions for the Swans, contributing four assists during that time, only a quarter into the season. 

It was recently reported by the BBC that Laird views his stint at Swansea as a stepping stone on his way to a first team spot at United, he also went on to say that‘I know they (Manchester United’s first team coaching staff) are watching me, which is nice’. This shows the ambition within the youngster to strive and work hard for his place in Manchester United’s first team, he is doing everything right at the moment. 

There is certainly a way into United’s first team for the young right-back as currently the performances of Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been criticised, along with the rest of United’s defence. It also appears back up right back Diogo Dalot has fallen completely out of favour, with the Portuguese defender only accumulating 321 minutes in all competitions for United this season

If Laird carries on in this vein of form, there is every chance that he could be in and around the first team come next season, as United’s defence look to be missing a young, hungry, and talented defender as this current moment. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

The Christmas Period: Squad rotation set to be key

After the dreadful defeat against Watford, Manchester United face an incredibly busy and very much important run of fixtures over the Christmas period. Despite having such a poor start to the season, United are still in contention in three of the four competitions they remain in. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been relieved of his position as manager, which now adds another dimension to the games in the upcoming festive period. If whoever comes in is to turn fortunes around, he’s going to have to use the full extent of the available squad. 

Squad rotation has always been of highest importance over the Christmas period in successful campaigns, and for United it may well just freshen things up this season.

There’s no getting away from the fact that United have disappointed so far this season; expectations were sky high with an excellent transfer window over the summer. Unfortunately, even Cristiano Ronaldo’s storybook return has failed to inspire United to the heights that many predicted they would reach this year, although there is still time to turn it around.

Poor form from club captain Harry Maguire and Euro 2020-star Luke Shaw hasn’t helped, while recent injuries to French duo Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba had only compounded Solskjaer’s woes. Despite this, it can’t be ignored that the Norwegian has had his worst run in management at the club- the fact that he still had a job up until the Watford defeat was questionable to a large part of the United fanbase. 

Solskjaer’s downfall hasn’t just been due to the form of underperforming players or injuries though, a more glaring issue was his unwillingness to rotate the squad more often. A prominent example of this is the exodus of Donny van de Beek, the young Dutchman has been touted as one of the world’s most promising midfielders yet has been afforded little opportunity in his United career thus far. 

The midfield pairing of Scott McTominay and Brazilian Fred has been the go-to over Solskjaer’s tenure, but it’s clear to everyone that this isn’t good enough for the level United aspire to be at. 

While Van de Beek may finally get his chance due to an injury to Pogba, other fringe players such as Eric Bailly, Alex Telles and Jadon Sancho must be utilised if United are to come through the Christmas period unscathed.

The quality of the three aforementioned players has been called into question before, with Jadon Sancho deserving the most slack being the newest arrival, but these players will have to be rotated in if United are to have the legs to endure the frequency of playing every three days. 

To some teams, disruption like this can throw the squad off balance and lead to negative results, however to United – currently an unbalanced and unsure squad, it could have the opposite effect. Solskjaer’s dismissal may also improve the chances of these players coming in, a new manager with a fresh set of eyes will likely give everyone another chance to impress, so hopes will be high amongst the fringe players in the squad.

United face a gruelling schedule over November and December, and a particularly daunting run over the next two weeks. A trip to Spain against Villarreal is on the cards on Tuesday in the Champions League, followed by an away game against Chelsea. United then face Arsenal four days later at Old Trafford while also playing again on the Sunday against Crystal Palace. 

It’s clear that this period is full of challenging fixtures, and with no established manager in charge as of yet it could be a case of United weathering the storm rather than playing brilliant football.

However, if the club manages to find the right manager to come in over the next week or so and comes through the period of games in late November relatively unscathed then United may be able to claw some points back, as the run of games in December is favourable on paper:

United Fixtures: December 8 Onwards:

Young Boys (H/CL) – December 8

Norwich City (A) – December 11

Brentford (A) – December 14

Brighton and Hove Albion (H) – December 18

Newcastle United (A) – December 27

Burnley (H) – December 30

Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) – January 3

The game against Young Boys could be a pivotal clash as United look to secure Champions League progression from the group, but the games after this look very winnable. United playing to their best must be beating the likes of Norwich, Burnley, Newcastle, and Wolves, while Brentford and Brighton are winnable games too, despite them being tricky opponents this season. 

United need to look to pick up 15 points or 12 at the minimum during this period, to ensure at the least they stay well within contention for the top four. 

As United now move beyond Solskjaer, the next manager must try to freshen the defeatist atmosphere amongst the team at the current moment. It’s a time for fresh eyes and equal opportunities for players, but also surely the time for old favourites such as Fred and Scott McTominay to be rotated far more frequently, as the busy schedule demands it. 

If the new manager ensures he puts out a fresh, highly motivated team each week, then there’s no reason why good results won’t follow, and United fans should have some cause to celebrate over the festive period.

Written by Sam Wilson

Five key positives Manchester United can take from the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era

Saturday’s awful 4-1 loss to Watford sealed the fate of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with the club announcing the managers departure early on Sunday morning. 

For most fans, this announcement was met with conflicting emotions; on the one hand Manchester United have been in obvious free-fall since the loss to Young Boys in the Champions League back in September and it was obvious that the managers tactics had taken the team as far as they could. 

On the other hand, Solskjaer is a legend of the club and has carried himself with class even when the results were bad on the pitch, he has been a model professional and has never hidden his love for the club. Solskjaer steadied the ship and more so besides, here are five key positives from Solskjaer’s reign that United can build upon in the future.

Clear out of ‘dead wood’

When Solskjaer became permanent manager of United one of the most obvious issues within the club was that it was overloaded with players on huge wages who were either not good enough or did not want to be there. 

During Solskjaer’s reign there was an obvious shift towards being more ruthless and selling players who did not fit the playing style and were not good enough. The sale of Alexis Sanchez to Inter Milan was the best example of this, firstly the winger, who was on a reported £560,000 a week, was sent on loan to Milan during the 2019/20 season, then it was announced in August of 2020 that a deal had been reached for the permanent transfer of Sanchez, as reported by Sky Sports.

The ruthlessness was apparent in the way that the deal included Sanchez and the club wavering the final two years of the players contract, saving the club a reported £40 million in wages, with the player receiving a ‘small pay off’ of between £5 million and £7 million, as reported by Sky Sports

During Solskjaer’s reign fans also saw players like Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian leave the club to relatively little fanfare, players who simply were no longer good enough to play for Manchester United. However, in all of these deals the players were treated with obvious respect and there was no media circus fuelled by the manager, the same thing could not be said of United’s previous manager Jose Mourinho. 

The departures of Sanchez, Darmian, Rojo, Chris Smalling and more recently Daniel James not only made room for other players in the squad to get playing time but also took wages off the wage bill to sign other players or give new contracts to players who deserved them. The way that Solskjaer handled this specific job should not be overlooked and it has undoubtedly been a positive for United and will continue to be after he leaves. 

Bruno Fernandes

It is not an over exaggeration to state that the signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon in January of 2020 changed the trajectory of the team. Before his arrival, Manchester United were lacking creativity with the manager relying on Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard for creative output, both of whom were not fulling this duty to a substantial level. 

United desperately needed a technically gifted creative midfielder who could contribute with goals and assists, and with Bruno Fernandes they found just that. 

When the signing was announced Solskjaer stated that his team had been ‘tracking Bruno for many months’ proving that this was a thought out signing and one that Solskjaer had personally pushed for, knowing the impact he would have on the team. 

Fernandes has not let the manager down, since signing for United the midfielder has made 97 appearances, scoring 44 goals and contributing 33 assists. These are freakish attacking numbers, and even they cannot fully portray just how important Fernandes has become to United, perhaps the fact he has won back to back Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year awards, in his only two seasons at the club, go a bit further in portraying his importance.  

In Fernandes, Solskjaer provided United with a player who will go on to achieve great things at the club, even in the managers absence. In years to come, Manchester United fans will look back and thank Solskjaer for being the man who fought to bring the Portuguese midfielder to the club.

A change in the culture

United fans know that before the appointment of Solskjaer the team was heading on a downwards spiral. Not only were the performances bad, but constant media talk surrounding the club created an extremely toxic atmosphere for the players, staff, and fans alike. 

Mourinho’s managerial style meant he had fallen out with players he felt did not give their all for the club, players such as Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw felt particularly hard done by. 

Solskjaer came in and put his arm around the players, made them excited to play football again and constantly backed them in press conferences and interviews, even when they had put in bad performances. This ingrained a more positive culture into the club, and one that replicated the days of Sir Alex Ferguson who often fiercely protected his players. 

It is certain that this change in atmosphere was part of the reason for United’s stellar form in the early period of Solskjaer’s reign, but it also means that now, even with Solskjaer gone, there is no longer a toxic atmosphere at the club and the team, even with horrendous results and performances recently, appear as together as ever, something that arguably would not have been the case under previous managers.

The evolution of Mason Greenwood

In contrast to Mourinho, Solskjaer consistently promoted youth during his time at the club, promoting players such as Brandon Williams and Dean Henderson to the first team. However, Solskjaer’s handling of young talent Mason Greenwood is something that Manchester United fans will always be grateful to the Norwegian for. 

Solskjaer did not throw Greenwood into the first team, even when it was clear from his numbers in the youth team that he was an immense talent. Instead he adopted a ease in approach giving the youngster minutes as a substitute in the 2018/19 season, with the striker scoring his first senior goal in a win against Astana early in the 2019/20 season, as reported by Sky Sports.

This approach meant that the then 17 year old was not overwhelmed by the pressure and could instead get a feel for the level the would be playing at. 

This approach has worked wonders and Greenwood is now a solidified player in the first team squad, even at the still very young age of 20. Under Solskjaer the Academy graduate made 119 appearances for the club, scoring 33 and assisting 11, these numbers are fantastic for a player still so young and playing in a team with expectations as high as United’s. 

Greenwood is a part of the legacy Solskjaer leaves behind, without him, who knows how the development of the youngster would have been handled. It is very likely that without his management fans would not be witnessing the great player we see today, it was Solskjaer who gave him his chance.

He leaves behind a better squad than the one he inherited 

Finally, the signings he made as a manager will leave a lasting positive impact on the team, with some of United’s best signings since Ferguson’s retirement occurring under the Norwegian. 

Solskjaer signed a mix of experienced players who can fit in straight away and make an impact such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Raphael Varane as well as young, exciting players who could go on to be some of the best in the world in their positions if handled correctly, including Amad Diallo and Jadon Sancho. 

There is no doubt that the squad of players Solskjaer leaves behind have the ability to win trophies, if the right manager comes in, the same could not be said of the team Solskjaer inherited in 2018. In three years, the additions Solskjaer has made to the squad, on paper, make United genuine title challengers, it is now down to whoever is next to take this squad to the next level, one Solskjaer unfortunately could not reach. 

While Solskjaer’s reign ends in misery, the manager did all he could to get the club back to where it belongs, he promoted youth, believed in his players, and brought in world class talent to take the team to the next level. 

He will always be a legend for his days as a player, and now, he will be fondly remembered as the man who steadied the ship and made Manchester United fans dream again. The group of players he leaves behind can bring trophies back to United, that is a legacy to be proud of. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Ratings: United humiliated by Watford; Maguire not a captain, Wan-Bissaka poor; Van de Beek the MOTM

Manchester United were beaten 4-1 by Watford at Vicarage Road in the Premier League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were outplayed and outperformed by Watford, who opened the scoring in the 28th minute through Joshua King. Ismaila Sarr doubled the lead before the break. Five minutes into the second half, Donny van de Beek scored his first goal of the season. With United unable to draw level, the continued to struggle and two added time goals from Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Dennis saw United beaten and dejected. Whatever happens from here is on the Glazers. United face Villarreal on Tuesday evening.

United did not start off all that well and looked like they did against Manchester City a fortnight ago. Watford won a penalty in the seventh minute of the match, which was initially missed by Ismaila Sarr but tapped in by Kiko Femenia. However, after some complaints by United the goal was disallowed and the penalty was signalled to be retaken. Harry Maguire was vocal about that as the offside of Femenia was after the penalty was taken, so it should be offside, but the penalty was retaken with David De Gea making the save again. United looked abject in defence once again and that is worrying at this stage in Solskjaer’s management.

In the 28th minute of the match, former United academy graduate Joshua King opened the scoring for Watford, assisted by Emmanuel Dennis. It was a good goal for the striker, who punished De Gea from close-range to score against his former club. United needed to hit the ground running now, but they would not do that just yet. Solskjaer looked like he did not care in the dug out, which is easy to say as it was a few seconds of the camera looking at him. One things is for sure, this United side have some major problems and it is not making very pleasant viewing for the supporters of the club. The so-called fans on Twitter will love it though.

Just before the half time break, Sarr doubled Watford’s lead with Femenia assisting. United were 2-0 down and looked dejected. The manager would need to make changes during the break. There was a feeling in me that United would not come back from this and that it could get worse. At the start of the second half, Solskjaer brought on Anthony Martial and Donny van de Beek for Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay, who was on a yellow card from the first half of the match. Within five minutes, the Dutchman, assisted by Cristiano Ronaldo, had a goal back for United which was followed by a period of good play by United.

United did not get anything else from a period of pressure and the longer they were behind, the further they would fall. This was a very poor performance for United. Maguire was booked in the 62nd minute for a challenge, which was deserved as United tried to find their way back. They did manage to get level but the goal was ruled out for offside – which was just United’s luck. Solskjaer needed to get this side playing like they had been for him at times over the last three years, well almost. That was not happening though. Just seven minutes after his first booking, Maguire was send of after receiving a second yellow card.

This was a new low for United. To be in this position against Watford, who have been poor this season and newly promoted after a season in the Championship, was not good enough. Manchester United which this squad should be better than they were last season but it seems clear that certain players have downed tools, which is never a good look for these supposedly professional players. To hang a manager out to dry like this is something that will result in pay back for them at some point in the future. The players should be responsible for this abject display just as much as the manager. But if they want a new manager, they should get one.

With ten minutes left to play, United still needed a goal to draw level and possible share the spoils, which was better than losing but not what anyone wanted. It still was not happening for United. Diogo Dalot replaced Luke Shaw in the 85th minute but United still did not get anything from the match. In added time, a fourth substitution with Jesse Lingard replacing Jadon Sancho, who had a good performance at times, gave United one last chance which did not pay off. Joan Pedro scored a third for Watford in the second minute of added time with Emmanuel Dennis scoring in the sixth minute of added time to seal the rampant victory.

It is unknown whether Solskjaer will be given more time by the club, but at this time, it seems that nothing is ever going to work as something is clearly happening with the players. United will face Villarreal in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday evening, the penultimate match of the group stages with United needing three points to command the group and reach the knockout stages of the competition. Next Sunday, they will face top of the Premier League Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, which is another daunting match in such a busy week, especially with the players that are out injured and with Maguire clearly suspended for that match.

Manchester United

1 David De Gea

Seemed confident for the penalties, saving the one which was retaken. His defence let him down. Will take the blame for the third goal. United need to learn, especially defensively. These players need to be moved on if they are not going to stand up and be counted. De Gea deserves much better from his defence.

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29 Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Needs to be dropped. His performances have dropped in the last year or so. Seems to make the same mistakes quite often, which is not progress. United definitely need some competition for him and Dalot is not that, I don't think.

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2 Victor Lindelof

Played slowly today and did not look confident. On the counter, his positioning was not the best. Seemed steadier in the second half, well until the two late goals to embarrass United.

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5 Harry Maguire

Seemed to improve a little in the first half, but not much. Played some important blocks and clearances in the first half. Booked and off in seven minutes, which shows he's possibly not the captain of the club. Will definitely miss the Chelsea match, which is a blow for United.

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23 Luke Shaw

Still not picked up his form, which is worrying. Wan-Bissaka seemed to be at the brunt of the attacks but one goal came down Shaw's channel. Replaced in the 85th minute by Dalot due to an injury. Seems he will be out for Tuesday.

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31 Nemanja Matic

His appearance in this game did not work out for United. More key to the fact United need an enforcer in the midfield and January will need bring that.

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39 Scott McTominay

I don't think he was fully fit for this match. Booked in the first half and did not make it out for the second as he was replaced by Van de Beek, who scored United's only goal of the game.

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25 Jadon Sancho

Seemed to show improvement in this game, despite the result. Was switched sides but his cross led to Van de Beek's goal in the second half. More improvement needed though. Replaced by Lingard in the first minute of added time at the end of the second half.

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18 Bruno Fernandes

Seemed to cause the penalty which De Gea ended up saving after it was retaken. Had no real impact in the game. I'd like to hear what he was doing at the end of the match though, which seemed pathetic looking at the TV screen. It seemed he was asking the fans not to boo the players. After that performance?

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10 Marcus Rashford

Got a save out of Foster but that was really all he had in him today. Replaced at the start of the second half by Martial.

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7 Cristiano Ronaldo

Anonymous at times. Got the assist for Van de Beek, which was his best play of the game. Should have scored a goal himself though. Created something for Fernandes but that was about it.

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Substitutes

9 Anthony Martial

Replaced Rashford 46'. Seemed to dawdle after coming on. Played a good square ball into Van de Beek, but from there, he was not really noticed. Some think he's the talent in this squad. Oh please.

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34 Donny van de Beek

Replaced McTominay 46'. Man of the Match for me. Scored his first goal of the season five minutes after coming on. Should start on Tuesday. He was the only player to really try in this match and all after how he has been treated. What a player to have at this club. He should not be allowed to leave. He needs to play every match now.

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20 Diogo Dalot

Replaced Shaw 85'. Had a cameo but did little for United.

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14 Jesse Lingard

Replaced Sancho 90+1'. Came on with a few minutes of added time left. Not enough to get into the game.

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Goals: Joshua King 28′, Ismaila Sarr 44′, Joao Pedro 90+2′, Emmanuel Dennis 90+6′; Donny van de Beek 50′

Assists: Emmanuel Dennis 28′, 90+2′, Kiko Femenia 44′, Ben Foster 90+6′; Cristiano Ronaldo 50′

Manchester United: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw (Dalot 85′); Matic, McTominay (Van de Beek 46′); Sancho (Lingard 90+1′), Fernandes, Rashford (Martial 46′); Ronaldo

Substitutes Not Used: Heaton; Bailly, Telles; Mata, Fred

Bookings: Scott McTominay 19′, Harry Maguire 62′, 69′ s/o

Written by John Walker

Confirmed XI: Ronaldo, Sancho, Fernandes and Rashford lead the attack against Watford; Van de Beek on the bench

Manchester United return to Premier League action this 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.

Manchester United:

De Gea;

Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw;

Matic, McTominay;

Sancho, Fernandes, Rashford;

Ronaldo

Substitutes:

Heaton; Bailly, Dalot, Telles; Mata, Lingard, Fred, Van de Beek; Martial

Watford:

Foster;

Femenia, Cathcart, Nkoulou, Masina;

Sissoko;

Sarr, Louza, Cleverley, Dennis;

King

Substitutes:

Bachmann; Ngakia, Rose, Troost-Ekong; Gosling, Tufan; Pedro, Fletcher, Hernandez

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.

Written by John Walker

Predicted XI: [4-1-4-1] Ronaldo, Rashford, Fernandes, Van de Beek and Sancho to lead United’s attack at Watford?

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

Preview: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to pick best players against Watford, not most trusted who have let him down?

Watford -v- Manchester United

Premier League

Vicarage Road, Watford

Saturday 20 November 2021, KO 15:00 GMT

Referee: Jonathan Moss Assistants: Marc Perry, Timothy Wood

Fourth Official: Dean Whitestone

VAR: David Coote Assistant VAR: Nick Hopton

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.

Manchester United – Recent Form, Goals Scored and Assists: LDWLWL

Manchester City 2-0 L, Atalanta 2-2 D, Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 W, Liverpool 5-0 L, Atalanta 3-2 W, Leicester City 4-2 L

Goals: 9 – Cristiano Ronaldo, 4 – Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, 3 – Marcus Rashford, 2 – Jesse Lingard, 1 – Edinson Cavani, Fred, Anthony Martial, Alex Telles

Assists: 8 – Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, 2 – Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic, Luke Shaw, 1 – Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane

Watford – Recent Form, Goals Scored and Assists: LLWLLD

Arsenal 1-0 L, Southampton 1-0 L, Everton 5-2 W, Liverpool 5-0 L, Leeds United 1-0 L, Newcastle United 1-1 D

Goals: 4 – Ismaila Sarr, 3 – Emmanuel Dennis, Joshua King, 2 – Ashley Fletcher, 1 – Cucho Hernández, Juraj Kucka

Assists: 3 – Emmanuel Dennis, 2 – Cucho Hernández, Joshua King, 1 – Craig Cathcart, Tom Cleverley, Kiko Femenía

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.

Team News: Raphael Varane still injured, Paul Pogba suspended and injured and United are sweating on Edinson Cavani, Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw ahead of Watford clash.

Raphael Varane (Thigh) has been ruled out through injury and should be back in action next month. Paul Pogba (Thigh) is also injured but is also suspended for one more Premier League match after his red card against Liverpool – it is not yet known how long he will be out but it could be for the rest of the year. Edinson Cavani (Tendon)  has a 50% chance of being fit for this weekend and Luke Shaw (Head) and Scott McTominay (Virus) both have a 75% chance of being fit for the weekend, although keeping them for the UEFA Champions League clash with Villarreal might be much better than unleashing them this weekend if they are not fit enough.

Francisco Sierralta Carvallo (Thigh), Kwadwo Baah (Ankle/Foot), Ken Sema (Knee), Christian Kabasele (Thigh) and Peter Etebo (Thigh) have all been ruled out facing United through injury. Juraj Kucka is suspended for getting two yellow cards in the last game, therefore missing out against United. Ozan Tufan (Knock) will be subject to a late fitness test ahead of Saturday’s clash and he has a 50% chance of being fit for the match, which might seem unlikely. Watford have a big squad and the five former United players will be seeking to face their former club, which will be a battle of two teams under pressure at this moment in time.

Predicted Starting XI: Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho to lead the attack against Watford with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seeking a victory.

Solskjaer needs to find a way to improve Manchester United. The club has been heading in the right direction but the current slump is not good enough. Some have been moaning that the manager has not been sacked, even setting up embarrassing protests, which started as an Ole Out protest, then changed to Glazer’s Out but did not attract a crowd that really knew much about what they were doing, spending money in the megastore then protesting for the Glazer’s to leave and moaning that Solskjaer had not won a trophy at the club in five years, despite still being a month away from his third anniversary as manager of the club. Pathetic.

David De Gea should keep his place in goal as he has shown what he is made of this season and despite many goals being conceded in the last few matches, most were down to defensive errors with only a few errors caused by the man himself. In defence, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire and Alex Telles should all start in a back four. Nemanja Matic should play in the defensive midfield position, which could he good for the squad right now. Utilising a 4-1-4-1 formation, Jadon Sancho, Donny van de Beek, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford should play in the positions behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

Match Prediction: United were beaten in their last match at Vicarage Road. It is time for Solskjaer to pick his best players, not his most trusted as they have let him down.

United and Watford have met 35 times in the history of both clubs with United winning 24 times, drawing six times and losing five times. United last played Watford in the Premier League in the 2019/20 season, in which they were relegated to the Championship, beating them 3-0 at Old Trafford with Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood scoring the goals. In the last visit to Vicarage Road in the league, United lost 2-0 with Ismaïla Sarr and Troy Deeney scoring he goals. Last season, United met Watford in the Emirates FA Cup at Old Trafford, winning 1-0 with Scott McTominay scoring the only goal of the game.

This season, United find themselves in poor form entering the busy stage of the season, especially after all international breaks have assed for 2021 seeing United needing to improve their form in the Premier League, secure their place in the Champions League knockout stages and wait to see who they will face in the third round of the FA Cup in January. United started the season well but have won one of he last six Premier League matches with the media, the social media nearly-fans and all the muppets calling for the manager to be sacked and replaced with someone they will turn on in just a matter of time. I remember when support meant just that.

Watford 1-3 Manchester United

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW