So, where do we start with this one?
To say this game was a kick in the teeth would be an understatement. After a decent run of results we had all hoped that the Everton performance was an aberration from which United would bounce back, stronger and more determined. All of that hope evaporated on a cold afternoon in Watford, officially the worst team in the Premier League, who before the match had just nine points from 17 games, a goal difference of -23 and a revolving door of barely adequate managers.
Given the lack of creativity on display the previous week it was brave of Solskjær to stick with the same starting eleven, particularly in light of of Mason Greenwood’s recent performances. The teenage striker must be wondering what he has to do to get a start in the Premier League. Pogba was notably deemed fit enough for the bench having only played once since August because of an ankle injury (amongst other things). Unfortunately for the gaffer his bravery was not rewarded as all of the recent issues which have dogged United when confronted with a deep, well-drilled defence came to the fore once more. If doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of madness, the coaching staff at United must be clinically insane.
The most damning indictment of United’s one dimensional tactical approach came from Watford’s manager, Nigel Pearson, when asked if he was surprised at the opposition’s inability to create goalscoring opportunities. ‘Not really’ was the response. When the manager of the club at the bottom of the league aren’t afraid of you there’s something seriously amiss.
As to the match itself, well, the less said the better. Yes, there were a couple of chances, the Lingard chip that landed on the roof of the net being the best of a fairly thin bunch, but not registering a shot on target in the first half tells you all you need to know about the shocking lack of penetration. The goals that Watford scored were unquestionably down to individual error rather than a catastrophic system failure, however, the flaws in the system do afford relatively weak teams the opportunity to probe and press in a manner which they otherwise never would. It’s much easier to take risks going forward when you’re not concerned with what’s going on behind you.
The one bright spark was the introduction of Paul Pogba, who single handedly created more chances in 26 minutes than the entire team did in the whole game. If the rumours are true, and Pogba is angling for a January transfer, the second half of this season could be one long, barren snooze fest, interspersed with the occasional high profile, yet ultimately inconsequential, victory against a team with a high press. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until everyone else gets it: Like him or not, he’s the best we have. Don’t kid yourself that Fred is anything like an adequate replacement, or that McTominay is ready to carry the team, the simple fact is that the stats don’t lie.
So what next? Where do we go from here? A home victory against Newcastle on Boxing Day would be the perfect antidote to the doom and gloom, but a defeat would put the final nail in the coffin of our top 4 hopes. Whatever else Solskjær does on Thursday, he absolutely has to play Paul Pogba from the start. We need to throw the kitchen sink at Newcastle because two days later there’s the small matter of a night game against a stubborn and unpredictable Burnley.
In previous years our seasons were won and lost at the Camp Nou or the Stadio Olimpico. The stark reality now is that if we ever want to get back there again, we simply have to start turning up at Vicarage Road and Turf Moor.
David de Gea 1/10
It’s such an awful mistake to have happened to United’s best player for the last five years or so and you could tell by his reaction what a horror show it was. This has to be something he moves on from because if he begins to doubt himself it could go all wrong again. It is a high profile error but the Spaniard is only 29 and by no way done yet. Needs to make a good save on Boxing Day and he will bounce back or even better would be a clean sheet.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka 4/10
A bad game from the young defender, he normally makes those tackles so well but was clumsy when it truly mattered and gave away a crucial penalty. He played at a 6/10 for the rest of the game but is still lacking what the likes of Alexander-Arnold can do in the final third.
Victor Lindelof 2/10
Got bullied by Troy Deeney and gave away a fair few fouls. He does struggle with strong strikers but unlike Maguire is better suited to those smaller, quicker players. However they need to co-ordinate better to solve this issue.
Harry Maguire 4/10
Alright but nothing special. Should have tried to help Lindelof with Deeney as it was obvious he was struggling. Could easily have scored to halve the deficit but is not quite right from set pieces. Glancing headers doesn’t seem to be his forte and perhaps he should attack them head on like a sledgehammer as he awaits his first United goal.
Luke Shaw 2/10
Put in a couple of decent crosses but was overrun by Ismaila Sarr and got booked early on which hampered the rest of his defensive game. He will be up against Almiron and Yedlin next so it won’t get any easier.
Scott McTominay 3/10
Could not do a lot in midfield and struggled to have an impact. Was subbed off with what looked like an injury as he went straight down the tunnel but could easily have been frustration.
Was the better midfielder and did try to get passes forward at every opportunity. Struggled to make an impact with his set-pieces but did put in some decent balls but no co-ordination in the box.
Daniel James 2/10
Struggles against low-blocks and his pace was almost totally neutralised. Subbed off for Greenwood.
Jesse Lingard 1/10
Best chance to open the scoring and fluffed his lines. The pressure has got to him as he would tuck that away if he was full of confidence. He cannot play against low blocks and should become an impact player when a proper no.10 is bought.
Marcus Rashford 1/10
Was very poor for two league games in a row. Will want another goal soon as he could be on another long drought.
Anthony Martial 4/10
While he did link up very well with Pogba and others and create the best chance of the first half for Lingard, he was poor in front of goal and had very few shots.
Mason Greenwood 2/10
Offered nothing and missed a decent chance to halve the deficit. Nothing to worry about though.
Paul Pogba 6/10
Best United player on the pitch and did better than all the other attackers combined even though he was on for 25 minutes. Has to start against Newcastle.
Juan Mata 5/10
Linked up well but couldn’t do anything to change the game. Still a better option than Lingard against low blocks.