Depleted United find late magic to repel Watford

Memphis Depay, who was incisive through the middle and on the left, scored the game's first goal in Manchester United's 2-1 Premier League victory against Watford yesterday.
Memphis Depay, who was incisive through the middle and on the left, scored the game's first goal in Manchester United's 2-1 Premier League victory against Watford yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Watford 1

Manchester United 2


LONDON • No Wayne Rooney, no Anthony Martial, no problem.

Deprived of their two leading forwards, Manchester United willed themselves to a 2-1 victory in English football's Premier League at Vicarage Road yesterday, thanks to a moment of late drama.

It had seemed that United were going to regret their profligate finishing when Troy Deeney hauled Watford level with a penalty on 87 minutes after Marcos Rojo's needless foul on Odion Ighalo.

They had missed several chances after Memphis Depay's early goal and it would have been a frustrating afternoon for Louis van Gaal if his side had not roused themselves for a desperate assault on the Watford goal in stoppage time.

BESET BY PROBLEMS

We deserved a draw in the second half. It was difficult to play with the wind in the first half, same for them in the second half but this is football. We tried in the first half but we could not. At half-time, we had to forget and play a match for 45 minutes.

QUIQUE SANCHEZ FLORES, Watford manager, on the change in fortunes

Bastian Schweinsteiger turned a loose ball goalwards and Deeney bundled it over the line.

It will go down as an own goal.

The fear for United before kick-off was that van Gaal's thinking outside the box would reduce their threat inside Watford's.

With his attack depleted by Rooney's illness and Martial's ankle injury, the Dutch manager had to improvise and United's dilemma was exacerbated by the absence of their normal emergency option in times of crisis, Marouane Fellaini, who was out with a calf injury.

Although Depay was expected to play as a "false nine", United's front three alternated positions cleverly.

Sometimes, Depay was on the left; sometimes, he was through the middle. Sometimes, Juan Mata moved inside from the right and assumed a central role; sometimes, it was Jesse Lingard.

And, if it was difficult to keep track of United's movement from the stands, imagine how tough it was for Watford's defenders.

United's counter-intuitive approach brought them the opening goal in the 11th minute.

Ander Herrera's clipped, bending cross reached Depay and he punished Watford's woeful marking by cushioning a firm volley past the helpless Heurelho Gomes for his first goal since the win over Sunderland on Sept 26 .

United dominated midfield, where the impressive duo of Morgan Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger played with absolute focus.

BACK FROM THE BRINK

It was a short time to play after the penalty but you have seen also the spirit of my team. Even after the penalty, we gave another injection into the game. I am a happy coach.

LOUIS VAN GAAL, Man U manager

But their lack of ruthlessness almost cost them.

Schneiderlin whistled a volley over from close range and Lingard was twice denied by Gomes when he was through on goal.

Watford were stiff, edgy and unsure of themselves on the ball in the first half. But they improved after the break and David de Gea preserved United's lead with two outstanding saves, the first from Deeney's thunderous drive, the second from Almen Abdi's prod.

The final 20 minutes became a battle for United, Deeney blasting another shot straight at de Gea.

And it looked like one goal was going to be enough until Rojo hauled down Ighalo and Deeney thumped his penalty past de Gea.

Yet, United pushed forward again and when Lingard's shot was saved by Gomes, Schweinsteiger squeezed the ball in off Deeney.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Depleted United find late magic to repel Watford'. Print Edition | Subscribe