Much-rotated United squad pushes past Watford to advance in the FA Cup
After bowing out of the EFL Cup only three days prior to Saturday’s clash with Watford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned to his wider squad to steer his side through to the next stage of the FA Cup.
Notably there was a first involvement for Jesse Lingard since September, as well as a precious start for Donny Van De Beek – with both players surrounded by media speculation, it was of some relief to see them finally given a chance by Solskjaer.
In a showing that should make every Manchester United fan proud, a total of six starting players were homegrown by United’s very own academy. Capping the achievement off was a first captaincy for Scott McTominay, who is fast becoming one of the leaders of this squad.
Upon kickoff, McTominay was to reward Solskjaer’s trust in an immediate fashion. Just as he did against Leeds, the towering midfielder gave United the lead with mere minutes on the clock.
An Alex Telles corner was sent dangerously in, and though McTominay’s headed connection was far from clean, it bounced fortuitously into the top corner.
A touch of luck, but a fair outcome given United’s early pressure. The tactic was clear, to blitz Watford with an early flurry and leave them fighting an uphill battle.
Without Bruno Fernandes however, this United side always seems to be found wanting for its killer edge. A threatening period delivered few clear-cut chances and soon Watford grew into their challenge.
The balance of the game ebbed and flowed for the rest of the half, though there was only to be one more genuine chance.
Van De Beek, undoubtedly keen to make his impression felt on this game, delivered a delightful heel flick that released Juan Mata on goal, but the angle proved too harsh for the diminutive Spaniard to properly test Daniel Bachmann.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 10, 2021
Half-time: Manchester United 1 – 0 Watford
The second half echoed the first in its fast-paced beginnings, though once again the tempo waned as the clock advanced.
Watford’s most dangerous plays came from set pieces, and as cross-after-cross was floated in, Dean Henderson took every chance to assert his dominance of the area.
His confidence was to result in an unfortunate side-effect.
As one such teasing Watford ball was sent towards goal, Henderson leapt above the melee to claim it for himself. As he rose however, his knee caught Eric Bailly harshly in the back of the head leaving the Ivorian supine and in a good measure of pain.
The stretcher was brought on as a precaution, but thankfully the club has since confirmed that no serious damage was sustained.
The manager revealed @EricBailly24's condition following tonight's game ⤵
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 9, 2021
As Xisco Munoz rotated his team to better probe at the United defence Solskjaer too introduced fresh legs, and ultimately the contest was to peter out with no late drama to alter the narrow scoreline.
The result will have come as a great relief to the United coaching staff, as eyes now turn to the greatest test United have faced yet this season. The strongest XI were covered well by their colleagues tonight, but Ole will need the likes of Fernandes fresh for the coming week.
A contest with Burnley presents the chance for United to move clear of all their competition at the summit of the Premier League table, deciding just how titanic the clash only days later will become.
Manchester United v Liverpool will not be one to miss.
Full time: Manchester United 1 – 0 Watford
Man of the Match: Scott McTominay