WATFORD, England — Three points from Vicarage Road as Man United hang on for a 4-2 win at Watford.
1. United win overshadowed by injury worries
Manchester United moved to within five points of Premier League leaders Manchester City with a 4-2 victory at Watford, but the win came at a cost, as Nemanja Matic limped off to add to Jose Mourinho’s midfield injury problems.
Two goals from Ashley Young against his former club and an Anthony Martial strike had put United 3-0 up and seemingly in control by halftime. But a 77th minute Troy Deeney penalty, followed by a close-range Abdoulaye Doucoure volley seven minutes later, gave Watford hope of a remarkable fight-back. Then Jesse Lingard sealed United’s first away league victory since late September with a stunning solo goal on 87 minutes.
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With United travelling to Arsenal on Saturday before facing City at Old Trafford eight days later, three points against Marco Silva’s team was crucial to maintaining their faint hopes of catching Pep Guardiola’s runaway leaders. But the loss of Matic to a second-half injury will be a major concern to Mourinho ahead of two such important games.
The former Chelsea midfielder was replaced by Ander Herrera early in the second period with an unspecified injury, but the Serbia international was at least able to walk off the pitch. However, if the injury proves enough to keep Matic out of the Arsenal and City games, United face a midfield injury crisis at the worst possible time.
Marouane Fellaini missed this game due to injury, while Michael Carrick has yet to return to action following his heart procedure in September. Paul Pogba was able to complete 90 minutes, further boosting his fitness following his recent hamstring injury lay-off, but the loss of Matic took the shine off a big win for Mourinho and United.
2. Young is earning his extended stay
Manchester United recently triggered their option to extend Young’s contract for a further year, ensuring that the former Aston Villa player is now tied down at Old Trafford until the end of the 2018-19 season. His performance against Watford proved that to be a smart decision.
The 32-year-old almost left United in January for a lucrative move to China but Jose Mourinho asked him to stay until the end of the season due to his versatility and importance as a vocal presence in the dressing room. Young took time to win Mourinho over but is now an integral member of the squad and has regained his long-lost position as a first-team regular this season.
Young’s success in earning Mourinho’s trust is down to reinventing himself as a full-back, a process that began under Louis van Gaal. Young arrived at United in 2011 as a winger who could also play as a second striker, but Van Gaal believed that his athleticism and game intelligence would enable him to play a more defensive role and so it has proved. He has now started 12 games in all competitions this season — just three fewer starts than he managed during the whole of last season — and his form has all but ended Luke Shaw’s Old Trafford career, with the England youngster now firmly out of the picture thanks to Young’s performances at left-back.
Young’s two goals against his former club at Vicarage Road were a flashback to his past, when he was a regular scorer in his younger days. But by being able to defend like a veteran and provide pinpoint crosses for the forwards, Young has made himself crucial to Mourinho’s plans. The return of his goal threat only adds to his value.
3. Has job speculation got to Marco Silva and Watford?
Marco Silva has stuck rigidly to the party line in recent weeks about not being distracted by speculation linking him to the Everton manager’s position by insisting his focus is solely on his current job at Watford. But this comprehensive loss at home to Manchester United was Watford’s fourth defeat in six games since Ronald Koeman lost his job at Everton; is it a coincidence or has Silva taken his eye off the ball? And has the speculation got to his players?
Watford lost just one in six prior to the Everton situation arising last month, and that was a home defeat against runaway leaders Manchester City, so their form has certainly dipped over the past six weeks. But whether it’s connected to the ongoing uncertainty over Silva’s future at Vicarage Road or not, Watford’s recent results suggest that the highly rated coach is perhaps over-hyped after less than 12 months in the Premier League.
Watford have fought hard to keep him and Everton’s move for Sam Allardyce suggests they seen the threat off, but results and performances in recent weeks have not been good enough for Watford or Silva. Now he must get the team back on track to prove that all the fuss was worth it.
Few clubs change their manager as often as Watford so it will be interesting to see how Silva’s situation plays out from this point on.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_