Watford vs Manchester United match report: Jose Mourinho dealt third straight defeat after as Watford win

Watford 3 Manchester United 1: Jose Mourinho's side are now close to crisis after suffering defeats by Manchester City, Feyenoord and the Hornets

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Vicarage Road
Sunday 18 September 2016 14:35
Jack Pitt-Brooke analyses Watford vs Manchester United

One week, three games, three defeats. This is not what the Jose Mourinho era at Manchester United was meant to look like.

United were out-classed at home by Manchester City and never got going at Feyenoord. But this at Vicarage Road was there worst of all. They were out-run and out-fought all over the pitch, beaten 3-1 by two late goals, a reward for their hosts who found an extra level at the end.

Mourinho’s tenure is just over one month old and any team with a new manager and new players can expect to improve. But this, United’s seventh game of the season, was their worst result and performance. Runs this bad are quite familiar in United’s recent history. They lost four in a row under Louis van Gaal last December. But Mourinho was brought in to improve standards and get results. And this week his team has looked as far away as ever. This is the first team he has lost three straight games in a season since he was at Porto.

No-one expects Mourinho teams to play exciting expansive football. But this Watford win owed to their doing the basics better than United: an early aerial assault, defensive organisation, plenty of running and clever counter-attacks. Walter Mazzarri and Mourinho never got on when they were in Italy, and Mazzarri said it was because of how similar they were. Here, Mazzarri beat his old foe with recognisable Mourinho football. But Mazzarri was only appointed by Watford this summer too. What is Mourinho’s excuse?

Jack Pitt-Brooke analyses Watford vs Manchester United

Mourinho teams are meant to be built on a strong defence but here they were a mess, even with Chris Smalling coming in for Daley Blind at centre-back. They struggled with Watford’s direct style and then were twice cut open by similar goals: a simple ball down to the by-line and a cut-back into the box. Etienne Capoue put Watford 1-0 up that way, and Juan Zuniga made it 2-1 with just seven minutes left.

In between those two goals United enjoyed more of the play, equalised through Marcus Rashford and had chances to go 2-1 up. But they never fully convinced, or threatened nearly as often as they should with the talent they had on the pitch. Heurelho Gomes had to make one good save from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to keep the score at 1-1, but that was that. Mourinho clearly does not yet know his best team or his best system. Whether he even knows who his best players are is not clear from the sides he puts out.

The big issue for Mourinho is how to get the most out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Wayne Rooney at the same time. One simple solution would be not play Rooney but rather than doing that, Mourinho tried again to find a new balance. So the 4-2-3-1 went out for a 4-3-3, with Rooney and Pogba backed up by Marouane Fellaini in central midfield. This was a better system for Pogba than playing in a pair, and he showed flashes, not least when he hit the bar from 30 yards in the first half.

But Rooney was no more effective in a midfield three than he was there for England at Euro 2016. Mourinho had said when he took over that Rooney would only play up front for him, rather than in midfield, but here he was squeezed into the team there anyway. Marcus Rashford did, at least, start his first Premier League game under Mourinho, and scored the equaliser early in the second half. But this did not look like a United team which is just about to click.

Manchester United never looked ready for the aerial assault that Watford had planned for them. They had already lost two games this week and it showed in their lack of confidence, focus and drive. Watford were ferocious from the start. United looked like they were mentally still on the motorway.

Jose Mourinho teams are meant to be strong in the air, but Walter Mazzarri decided to target them that way anyway, firing long high balls into the box from the start. When Sebastian Prodl got a free header on Jose Holebas’ free-kick, United should have woken up, even though Prodl missed.

But just two minutes later Watford missed an even better chance, a chance that showed just how unprepared United were at the back. Chris Smalling and David De Gea both went for the same long ball, collided, presenting Odion Ighalo with a simple open goal. Somehow he missed.

Zuniga celebrates scoring Watford's second against United

United were still walking through the game, and soon it enough it cost them. Anthony Martial had the ball at left-back and was blind-sided by a Miguel Britos challenge of dubious legality. Daryl Janmaat stole in and pulled the ball back into the box. Etienne Capoue drove it home. Martial, who had hurt his head in a collision with Janmaat just before, took a while to get back up and limp off.

Watford were 1-0 up at the break and it was only when they tired in the second half that United took over the game. Rashford equalised on the hour mark after a clever move with Ibrahimovic ended with the teenager lashing home, Ibrahimovic’s cross having hit Valon Behrami in the box. Ibrahimovic had United’s one real chance after that, from Marouane Fellaini’s diagonal, but he could not beat Gomes.

It looked as if Watford were tiring, but their substitutes Nordin Amrabat and Juan Camilo Zuniga gave them the extra edge they were waiting for. Amrabat broke down the right unchallenged, to Mourinho’s fury, and played in Roberto Pereyra. He pulled the ball back to Zuniga, who scored with his first touch.

United were beaten and created very little in the final seven minutes. Watford could wait, their third coming in added time. Isaac Success, another substitute, broke down the left and passed to Zuniga. He was tripped by Fellaini, and Troy Deeney converted the penalty. Mazzarri’s substitutions were better than Mourinho’s, and so were his tactics.

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