Memphis Depay fired United ahead after just 11 minutes on his return to the side before a Troy Deeney penalty levelled it – but the Watford man also netted at the wrong end to hand the points to the visitors. Troy Deeney went from hero to villain during a dramatic finish as Manchester United went top of the Premier League.
Captain Deeney looked to have earned Watford a point with an 86th minute penalty go make it 1-1. But the unlucky Deeney then turned in Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shot, which was going across goal, as United nicked all three points.
Memphis Depay, recalled due to United’s striker crisis, had earlier given United an 11th minute lead when he volleyed in Ander Herrera’s cross. The gloss maybe taken off United’s win though after they lost Phil Jones and Ander Herrera to injury.
Here are five things we learned:
1) Memphis Depay is back:
The recalled Dutch forward produced just the sort of response Louis van Gaal would have wanted against Watford. United’s injury crisis up front handed Depay a way back into the team and his start here was his first since the beginning of October. Depay had simply failed to produce the goods since his £25m move from PSV and paid the price when he was hooked at half-time in the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal and dropped. Louis van Gaal admitted he had expected more from his countryman. His winner was a perfect start as he bids to revive his Old Trafford career.
2) Contrasting fortunes of United’s two centre-backs:
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were supposed to be United’s future centre-back pairing and natural successors to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. But while Smalling is finally fulfilling his potential injuries continue to be a concern for Jones. Smalling, United’s stand-in skipper in the absence of Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, was excellent again against Watford as his confidence and stature grows by the week. Jones was having a good game alongside him, though his involvement was cut short by injury when he was forced off in the second half and replaced by Paddy McNair.
Injuries seem certain to be the biggest barrier to him copying Smalling and living up to the billing.
3) Van Gaal has faith in youth:
His hand may have been forced by injury but Louis van Gaal’s readiness to turn to United’s academy is still to be admired. There were fears he would abandon the club’s tradition early in his reign. But he included five academy graduates in his match day squad, including young striker Marcus Rashford and Sean Goss for the first time.
4) Is United’s never say die attitude back?:
United could easily have sulked and settled for a point after being pegged back late on by Troy Deeney’s penalty. But they deserve plenty of credit for composing themselves and piling on the pressure to force a late winner. It was just like the old days under Sir Alex Ferguson.
5) Watford tempo:
When Watford lifted the tempo, passed quicker, rattled into challenges and got the crowd going, they caused United problems. Survival is Watford’s priority and boss Quique Sanchez Flores is trying to find the right balance to do it. He is reluctant to open up too much, certainly against the bigger teams, for fear of being cut open and admits he prefers the pragmatic approach. But, even in defeat, he would have seen the benefits of taking off the shackles a little.