Ruthless, clinical and far-improved will be the majority’s verdict on Manchester United’s first half as they trounced Watford with three goals. Sloppy, silly and helpless will be the verdict on a ten-minute spell that saw Watford threaten to come back in astonishing style.
The Hornets’ hopes of that were quickly dashed by a wonderful solo goal from Jesse Lingard, producing when his side needed it.
The Reds were on the backfoot from the off at Vicarage Road until Ashley Young struck home the cleanest and quickest of half-volleys into the bottom-left corner to beat a stunned Heurelho Gomes.
Young scores stunning double
Gomes was left stunned minutes later, watching helplessly as Young curled in the perfect free-kick from a central area, sumptuously tucking home in the top left corner after Paul Pogba had been fouled on his rapid approach to the penalty area.
On the back of two rather miserable performances from Jose Mourinho’s side in the last week, two goals in such quick succession was utterly unexpected. Anthony Martial topped off the period of madness, showing his centre-forward credentials with a cool finish for his sixth league goal of the season.
Man United were slow, lacklustre and predictable against FC Basel six days ago, and against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday. They were anything but on Tuesday night, Martial responsible for tearing Marco Silva’s side apart before he came off for Marcus Rashford.
The Reds have searched for individual world-class brilliance during two poor performances. They found it in abundance, coming from both sides of the pitch, coming from centre-backs, full-backs, midfielders, wingers and strikers.
Jesse Lingard shows worth
Jesse Lingard came into the side to play behind Romelu Lukaku with Mourinho decision to use a three-man defence and two-pronged strikeforce well-vindicated with both parts of United’s side looking well-oiled and fearsome.
The Englishman will not be Manchester United’s regular number 10, certainly not if links to Mesut Özil are proved correct in the next few months, but he showed Mourinho why he should be starting ahead of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata for now. Lingard buzzed around the pitch, never letting off Watford in the first-half, reacting first to loose balls.
And he took the game away from Watford as they looked seriously likely to complete a remarkable comeback from three goals down, running from his own half, shifting his body well to send defenders the wrong way and finishing terrifically past Gomes after an 80-yard sprint.
He is a big game player, and it will never fail to be perplexing as to why some sections of United's support dislike a United fan born and bred who performs when he needs to in Red.
He combined excellently with Lukaku for Young’s opener. United’s main striker used his strength fantastically to turn his marker, laid it out to Lingard who showed equally good feet before his pass bounced to Young rather fortunately.
There was nothing lucky about Young’s shot. It was clean, powerful and accurate. It was one of football’s immensely satisfying moments, a perfect shot. United’s game changed from then, with Young brimming with confidence.
His free-kick was just as clean, just as precise and just as perfect. Young’s two goals were a masterclass in striking the ball. He curled it from a central position out to the right and then all the way back to the top left corner, where Gomes was standing close, and left the Watford goalkeeper with no chance.
Lukaku and Lingard’s link-up play created the third, too. The Belgian reacted quickly to a loose ball after Lingard had knocked it forward, laying it into the path of Martial who immediately took it in his stride and finished as a centre-forward should do. His stake for that position will have only been boosted.
Martial tears Hornets apart
Quite why he was taken off after just over an hour is a mystery. Mourinho will argue he is resting his 21-year-old forward before Saturday evening’s away clash at Arsenal. But this is a player who has started just 12 games this season, was playing at his very peak and was only benefitting from an hour of running riot. Lukaku, meanwhile, who has rarely been rested, was left on the pitch, his contribution valuable but far lesser.
At the back for United, Mourinho’s three-man defence worked wonders until Marcos Rojo gave away a needless and silly penalty. Victor Lindelöf’s initial exclusion from Premier League games, this was just his third start in the league for United, appears to have been vindicated. The Swede has been eased in, allowed to make mistakes, and has looked very good against Brighton and Watford.
Alongside him, Chris Smalling looked sharper than usual, Rojo, who returned from a long-term injury recently, was in excellent form other than his penalty mishap. The three together looked well-drilled and slick.
And they had to be on their toes for every minute of the game, apart from during United’s manically ruthless spell. Richarlison was a constant danger. He looped a header over David de Gea in added time of the first period, his effort rattling off the crossbar. His speed, not just his running pace but also of his footwork, threatened United.
Watford show their own brilliance
Marco Silva’s double substitution in the 58th-minute was effective. An injured Will Hughes was hooked for Robert Pereyra and Carrillo replaced Sebastian Prodl. Both were vital in an almost extraordinary turnaround.
Watford were torn apart for 30 minutes by United, and again for 10 minutes after half-time, before Martial was hooked for Rashford. But they showed why Marco Silva is such a coveted manager and why they are doing so well in the Premier League, forcing themselves forward and back into the game.
Man United would see off most sides in the second half having been three goals up at the break. Watford didn't allow that. But Lingard's wonderful solo goal was the sealer for United, closing the gap to league leaders Manchester City to five points ahead of their home game against Southampton on Wednesday night.