What to make of United's 2-1 win at Watford

Manchester United built on the momentum they gained from before the international break where they defeated Burnley 2-0 and once again donned the light pink (I really don’t know what the specific jersey color is but I’m really digging it) with a 2-1 away win at Watford. They ended the Hornet’s perfect start to the 2018-19 Premier League season as Watford conceded twice in the first half which effectively ended the game at the intermission. Lukaku scored (?) his fourth of the campaign so far and Smalling opened his account for the season to cap off a set piece play that came straight from the training ground. Mourinho and the rest of the coaching staff emphatically celebrated after the successful completion of their sharp stratagem. Andre Gray did score in the second half though his efforts were too little too late despite Watford having a stretch of dominance during the second phase of play. Matic did get sent off when he picked up a second yellow card in extra time when he picked up an unnecessary foul and will miss United’s fixture against a newly promoted Wolverhampton. The results mean that United have won two in a row after consecutive defeats against Brighton and Tottenham. Watford moves down to fourth while United jump up to eighth.

United win when Fellaini Starts

Once again, the towering Belgian started in the middle of the park and was Mourinho’s deep-lying midfielder to allow Pogba and Matic to advance forward. He also was a shield to Lindelof and Smalling and was crucial to nullifying the likes of Troy Deeney. For the second straight game, he was a part of the starting XI and had was fundamental to United’s resurgence after their shock losses. Once a plan B, he is starting to prove that he is an integral part of Mourinho’s winning formula. His aerial presence in the box will forever make him a threat and he was the fulcrum that setup Smalling for his goal an United’s second of the afternoon. Mourinho played to his sides’ strength. Fellaini, Pogba, and Matic combine the attributes of physical dominance and sheer height to overpower Burnley and now Watford. He does do the small things that often go unnoticed but play a huge role for a winning side. Fellaini deserves and will start more often. He is a perfect fit in the way Mourinho intends to play from here on out. The Brussels native is an imposing figure for opposition attackers and a menace on the other end of the pitch with his aerial supremacy. He has to become a permanent starter with his run of games continuing with United’s trip to Switzerland where they seek to get off to winning ways in Europe against Young Boys.

Sanchez is clearly not working

Amidst all the horror in regards to United’s poor start to the season, almost nobody has batted an eye as to how pedestrian Alexis Sanchez has looked. This was supposed to be his breakout run with United. Joining a top-six club in the middle of the season has never going to be easy and the Chilean struggled. This was expected with many expecting him to show his true colors after having a full pre-season with Mourinho and the rest of the squad. In comparison, Mesut Ozil has faced much for critique for his lackluster performances and he answered his critics by scoring in away win against Newcastle. The same has to be the bare minimum to be expected from a forward who a year ago was regarded as one of the best in the Premier League. The fact that he has featured in four of United’s five games this season and contributed absolutely nothing has to be raising alarm bells at the manager’s office. While United did not have to pay a transfer fee to Arsenal as he was part of a swap deal that sent Henrikh Mkhitaryan the other way, he is currently on a that pays him nearly £270,000 a week (After Tax. Before tax, he is being paid just a shade under £400,000 a week). For a player who has done nothing but gotten a cardio workout in each of his four games, this season should be encouraging for Martial and Rashford (when he returns after his three-game suspension). While Mourinho has clapped back at those who question Rashford’s lack of time on the pitch, it is becoming more and more painful to watch Sanchez squander half chances that he would relish on during his Arsenal and Barcelona days. The same can also be said for Martial. While both players are best used as a center forward, that role will be filled by Romelu Lukaku. They have to make do by playing in a wider role and maybe it’s for the best if Sanchez is benched against the Young Boys though this could also be seen as a tune-up game for the rest of the season. 

United’s season hinges on Lukaku’s goal scoring

He continues to remain the focal point of Mourinho’s attack with his ability to lead the frontline being pivotal to the inconsistent Red Devils. He was bought from Everton for a whopping £75 million last summer as United looked to find a striker who could lead United like Van Persie, Rooney, Berbatov, Van Nistelrooy, and Eric Cantona among others who have excelled at the same. Though why has it always been Lukaku? This question has been a thorn in Mourinho’s side since his signing. Mourinho does have Rashford Martial and signed Alexis Sanchez in the January transfer window though they all have glaring flaws that hinder their abilities to play as a sole center forward in the Premier League. Lukaku has several blips during his debut season with United. After getting off to a hot start to the season, he went seven games without hitting the back of the net. During another stretch during the season, he scored once in 12 games that he started. That being said, nobody in the club has come close to producing the same level of output as the Belgian.

Mourinho finally had to face this dilemma after seeing Sanchez, Rashford, and Martial struggle in a 1-0 defeat to a then newly promoted Brighton back in May. He was taken to task when for continuously starting the towering Belgian striker during his dry spells. And he snapped after their defeat and defended his decision to incessantly start Lukaku over the other possible candidates. This was taken to a whole other level after United lost the FA Cup final to Chelsea. Lukaku only featured as a substitute where his 17 minutes at Wembley did nothing to try and salvage an unlikely win. Mourinho was devastated after Lukaku ruled himself out and with good reason. The pressure has been piling on the Portuguese manager ever since. 

Fred was the only major signing to join the club over this past summer with United not even being linked to any of the top forwards. This would mean that Lukaku would have to get right back to business after a shortened summer after being part of Belgium’s third-place finish in Russia. He has scored four goals since returning back to the starting lineup against Brighton. After scoring United’s opening goal at Vicarage Road, he took his tally to 31 goals in his 56 appearances for the Red Devils. While he has goals are only spread across 26 games, United have won 22 of them. In the four other games, United drew once and lost three teams. In Layman’s terms, when Lukaku scores Manchester United have won 85% of their games. In comparison, United have won less than 50% of their outings when the 25-year-old features but does not score (29 games: 14 wins, 5 draws, and 10 losses). His value to Mourinho and to United’s success cannot be dismissed. He has energized United during times when they have looked absolutely lethargic. He has all the features to be a talismanic figure with this broad shoulders and sheer ability to win games when he is on song. Being a lone striker is never easy; especially when Lukaku is surrounded by players who are all far from their best. The fact that he tirelessly works the graveyard shift when he gets zero service from his fellow players is indicative of how much he wants to win and how much he cares about the club.

Getting him easier and more chances will be key for Mourinho should United look to make a deep run in the Champions League, make the Top Four (cause let’s face it, Manchester United were never in the running to win the league title), and possibly snag one of the two domestic cup titles. Mourinho’s days are numbered. That is for sure. Zidane has been rumored to be his replacement after their torrid start to the season. While Ed Woodward and the United board have publically backed him since these rumors first emerged, Mourinho will have to do everything in his power to continue to hold onto the coveted seat that many dream of though only a few get to experience. Lukaku has shown that he wins games for Manchester United. Plain and simple. It is always him and by the looks of it, it is only him.

 

 

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