Manchester United - Watford: Opposition in focus

As Watford travel to Old Trafford to face the Red Devils, we take a look at the major threats and weaknesses posed by Louis van Gaal's side.

Manchester United - Watford: Opposition in focus
Photo: Getty Images/AMA/Matthew Ashton

Watford travel to Old Trafford on Wednesday evening, looking for a win which would take them to the magical 40-point mark and perceived safety from relegation to the Championship.

Louis van Gaal’s men have had an indifferent start to the season, but have won three games inside the last week and look to be on something of a high heading into this one.

Having beaten a strong Arsenal side 3-2 on Sunday, the hosts have to be the big favourites to win the game. Here are three things Watford need to be aware of:

The impact of youth has reinvigorated Old Trafford

Much of United’s season has been marred by dull, plain performances, and it seemed to be a strategy that was going to lose Van Gaal his job, leading to another season bereft of any silverware.

In just the past week though, morale at the Theatre of Dreams appears to have improved, and much of that is down to the successful reintroduction of youth to the side.

Van Gaal has always looked to use senior players when possible, but Anthony Martial’s injury prior to the second leg against Midtjylland last week may well have saved the Dutchman his job.

Marcus Rashford, United’s fifth-choice forward, scored twice on the night, bringing Old Trafford alive, and kept his place for the league game against Arsenal on Sunday.

The 18-year-old was once again on target twice against the Gunners, prompting an extraordinary media furore and intense scrutiny on the youngster.

Photo: Getty Images/Laurence Griffiths
Photo: Getty Images/Laurence Griffiths

Rashford, along with young teammates Guillermo Varela and Donald Love, have breathed new life into a United side which had gone stale.

Watford will have to deal with the momentum shift that this young crop have managed to cultivate.

How tiredness might play a part

United may well have generated a feel-good atmosphere at Old Trafford, but this will be their third game in the space of six days, and we would not be surprised to see fatigue set in towards the end of Wednesday’s encounter.

The likes of Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, and Juan Mata have featured in the first two of these three games in a week, and it remains to be seen whether they are rested or persevered with, despite the threat of tiredness.

Injuries mean that van Gaal can’t afford to rotate his squad too much, though he may well be tempted to throw Chris Smalling and Anthony Martial straight back into the action – a decision which could play into Watford’s favour if the returnees are a little rusty.

Either way, the Hornets will be hoping to overcome any fatigue of their own, and exploit any weaknesses in the United side.

How to beat David de Gea

If it wasn’t for the magnificent Spanish stopper, United may well have dropped many more points than they have done so far this season.

Watford themselves were foiled by De Gea at Vicarage Road back in February, the goalkeeper making numerous stops to deny the Hornets before watching his side go up the other end and win the game late on.

He has been sensational all season, the true definition of a magnificent shot stopper, and is one man who may well stand in Watford’s way.

With an inexperienced back four likely to be fielded again for United, De Gea may well have to be at his best again to deny the Hornets.

The problem for Quique Sanchez Flores’ side: can they find a way through come Wednesday night?