Watford vs Manchester United preview: Pearson seeks victory on home debut
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The situation is only getting more acutely urgent by the week. Watford are already six points adrift of safety at the very foot of the Premier League table, and the sooner they can heave themselves out of their precarious predicament, the better for their increasingly threatened status as a top flight club.

As such, the Hornets will be targeting no fewer than three points here for the visit of Manchester United. Head coach Nigel Pearson will take charge of his second match but his first in front of the Vicarage Road crowd, and will be keen to stay true to his vow to turn the ground into a fortress in the bid to escape relegation.

Pearson's first assignment saw Watford lose at title-chasers Liverpool last Saturday, with Mohamed Salah providing both of the goals at Anfield, but the depressing inevitable of the result was somewhat counteracted by the relative positivity of their performance. They created chances aplenty and, for the most part, looked resilient in defence — certainly, there were aspects with which the 56-year old will have been pleased on his debut in the dugout.

Meanwhile, United are showing signs of improvement after a mediocre beginning to the campaign appeared to jeopardise their aspirations to qualify for Europe. Victories over Tottenham Hotspur and fierce rivals Manchester City earlier in the month reinstalled some faith in the ability of Ole Gunnar Solskjær to realise the club's ambitions.

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Their draw against Everton last time out was something of a crash back down to earth following the aforementioned results. The Red Devils trailed for over 40 minutes at Old Trafford before a deft finish from youngster Mason Greenwood put them level with a quarter of an hour to go, but the hosts could not find a late winner.

Previous meetings

The two encounters in 2018/19 witnessed United win by the same scoreline, first putting an end to Watford's statistically perfect start to the campaign in September before beating them 2-1 again in the reverse clash in March.

In fact, the Hornets have defeated these opponents just once in Premier League history: the victory at Vicarage Road in 2016 consisted of goals from Étienne Capoue, Juan Camilo Zuñiga and Troy Deeney, with Marcus Rashford notching for the visitors.

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It may be worth noting that United have not kept a clean sheet in their trips to Watford since the latter's promotion to the top flight in 2015.

View from the dugout

Ahead of his home debut, Pearson chose to emphasise the positive attitude around the camp, which he believes could be crucial in their quest to survive.

"We've had a good couple of weeks of training and I have to say the application has been excellent, really, really excellent. We know we are in a very difficult situation, but I've seen nothing to suggest the players are not up for the challenge.

"The statistics don't paint a false picture. We know we are in a very difficult situation and we've got to start winning points — that's the bottom line. While it's mathematically possible, it allows you to keep working in the most positive way."

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In the opposite dugout, Solskjær considered whether or not he will be looking to make additions to his squad in the January transfer window in order to bolster their chances of European qualification.

"As a manager, you always hope you can do something but, then again, it's not something that's nailed on," the Norwegian said.

"It has to be the right player; the right age; he's got to fit into this squad; and all that for the right value. We're always looking and the transfer window will be open soon, but it might not happen."

Team news

Watford's full-back crisis could be helped somewhat with the welcome return of Adam Masina. Midfielder Roberto Pereyra may also be involved after missing the defeat at Liverpool last weekend.

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However, a hefty list of longer-term injuries for the Hornets continues to include names such as José Holebas, Sebastian Prödl, Daryl Janmaat, and United academy graduates Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck.

Meanwhile, the visitors saw Paul Pogba back in training during the week but the Frenchman is not yet ready to start. Diogo Dalot is also close to a return, but may not feature here.

Defenders Eric Bailly, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Marcos Rojo all remain out.

Predicted XIs

Watford — Foster; Femenía, Kabasele, Cathcart, Masina; Doucouré, Capoue; Sarr, Hughes, Deulofeu; Deeney.

Manchester United — De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelöf, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; James, Lingard, Rashford; Martial.