Points to take away from United’s 4-2 win at Watford.
Eye of the Tiger
For much of the first half, United played with the sort of clinical edge that comes around but once or twice a season. Ashley Young scored two stunning goals and Anthony Martial finished with the kind of proficiency that has people wondering why he isn’t played through the middle. And that’s the issue with these sorts of passages of play; they cause the supporter to dream and hope for the unrealistic as opposed to celebrating the moment and appreciating the scarcity. That’s because there is just enough of realistic expectation sprinkled in there; this is what these players are capable of, so why doesn’t it happen are often?
United’s first half at Vicarage Road was thrilling, in the number of goals scored and the style of each of them. Coming as they did against a Watford side who have received many plaudits this season, it was the perfect riposte to the criticism about Mourinho’s team not being entertaining enough. United’s four goal haul took them to 32 for the season in 14 league games. Yes, it’s one more game than the majority of the teams around them who play tonight, but compare that tally to the chasing pack apart from Manchester City. Chelsea have 24, Arsenal have 23, Tottenham have 22 and Liverpool, who Michael Owen insists play better football (really, Michael?) have scored 25 (though Liverpool have conceded 18, as opposed to United’s 8). The figures should speak for themselves but where they don’t, these words serve that purpose.
Eye of the slightly less prolific predator
…and yet four could and should have been more. Football players will miss chances and United’s return of four goals from seven shots on target is pretty impressive. That is looking at bare statistics and not considering the context. Romelu Lukaku missed a gilt-edged opportunity to make it four and beside the concerns about a player lacking in confidence and authority, it was the same old problem about the Belgian being presented with time to consider what he should do reared its head again. Maybe at 0-0 he might have been more decisive but the story of this season suggests otherwise.
Lukaku offers so much — and his first half play was very good — that on the balance of everything, he just about deserves his place in the side. United’s goal spread means they might cope without a dead-eyed dick patrolling the front line, and yet no matter how much the supporters stay behind him and no matter how much the manager backs him, it should be the case that we expect more at this point than it being a case of argument about Lukaku perhaps being changed for Ibrahimovic. At £75m, Manchester United should have a striker who makes himself undroppable.
A big talking point before the game was whether or not Mourinho would persist with all three of his strikers. But the manager went for three at the back, a system that hasn’t been overwhelmingly convincing. It worked last night. It meant one less space in the forward line and so the boss went with a three of Lingard, Lukaku and Martial. Marcus Rashford dropped to the bench.
The idea of Lingard over Mkhitaryan can wait for another day (though it should be said that after such a goal and performance, Lingard deserves his chance), but in order for United to return to their free-scoring days of earlier in the season, perhaps they need to return to that left-sided rotation.
Well, at least this United team has this in common with the great Sir Alex Ferguson’s side; the propensity to give their supporters an anxiety attack after being in a position of such command. This was a case of the individual parts being better than the sum because Victor Lindelof’s performance on the right side of the defence was really excellent. Marcos Rojo is rash at the best of times and that invited a fight back from the hosts.
This was a football match packed with entertainment and United got the win so maybe recriminations over the defensive setbacks can be put on hold. That depends on how often the setbacks continue to appear.
Ashley Young, goals aside, has done something in that left-back / left-wing-back spot that no other player has managed to do since Louis van Gaal left. That is to perform to a standard in the position that means it is now his to lose instead of being the area of the team where someone just gets thrown in.
If he keeps up this form, talk of the rumoured activation of the extra year on his contract is secondary, because the most important result is improving the first team to a standard befitting of the club. There is a valid argument to say that Ashley Young is still not the standard befitting the club if we’re being super-critical and judging it in the context of United needing to challenge for the title, but it is a massive improvement from the start of the season.