Memphis Depay scores Manchester United’s opener against Watford
Follow Mitchell on Twitter
Fans of Wayne Rooney should take a second to breathe, as what I’m about to tell you might come as the shock you so eagerly were trying to avoid. Ready for it? Here it comes.
Manchester United put forth one of their best displays of the season and the captain was nowhere near the pitch. That’s right: no Rooney, no worry.
You’d think that a team missing Anthony Martial, Rooney, James Wilson and Marouane Fellaini would struggle against a home side with a reputation for low concession (an average of just over one goal per game) and on stats alone you’d probably chalk up a victory. Tell that to Memphis Depay though, given the forward spot and repaying within ten minutes of the open. A converted penalty from Troy Deeney nearly ruined a hard-fought effort with five minutes to spare, but Bastian Schweinsteiger forcing the ball from a tight angle onto the Watford scorer’s sliding body put the game to bed.
So where do you want to start?
Good to see you again, United.
How many times since Sir Alex Ferguson waved goodbye against West Bromwich Albion in 2013 have fans cried out for that infamous last minute barrage? Under Fergie, the rules were so simple: if you’re not winning in the last ten minutes, keep going until you are. Such tactics have fallen by the wayside in recent years but today it was back with a vengeance.
Championships are won with performances just like this one, where the challengers strike early and then control the game until the end. Watford, to their credit, had their chances and were thwarted only by the type of David de Gea saves that feel almost a cliché to brag about. But United held on and looked a sure thing to walk into three points.
And then Odion Ighalo gets brought down in the box by Marcos Rojo. It’s silly and unnecessary but the ref rightfully points to the spot and Big Dave concedes United’s first goal in 630+ minutes of play to Deeney. It wasn’t his fault but the disappointment was evident from everyone.
But this is Manchester United, right? So they’d always get that winning goal, right? A few weeks ago, you’d bet against it, but Schweinsteiger had other ideas and, in the nick of time, the Watford scorer was sliding into his own net with the ball. Schweinsteiger’s celebration said it all. Ander Herrera’s cheer on the bench said even more.
Let’s discuss the elephant in the Roon…
That’s right, I made a Roon/room pun. Let’s never speak of this again.
So Wayne was missing and, quite frankly, I didn’t miss him a single bit. Jesse Lingard seems to be finding himself more and more at ease in he first team, whilst an under fire Depay was quick to respond in front of goal. The pace and willingness to attack never felt undermined by whatever Rooney seems to do these days. His absence was sorely noticed, for reasons not suiting his favour.
If Depay, Mata and Lingard are allowed another game or two and can prove themselves to be more than a one-hit wonder, it’ll be hard to see where Roo slots back in. If this is the closest that the team look to being considered a real threat to the trophy, why affect the rhythm and chemistry of the team to suit one player whose influence has been nullified?
United are not a team short of leaders, with Schweinsteiger and Chris Smalling rallying the team from the back to the front. It may inspire the skipper to up his game and that may be a benefit to everyone. Then again, if it’s not broken then don’t smash it to pieces.
First vs. Second next week: a game bigger than anyone had anticipated
You may remember when, last season, Leicester came back from 3-1 to beat the reds 5-3 with a second half flurry. You can forgive Sky therefore, choosing the rematch for their evening kick off next week if the game provides as much excitement as its predecessor.
How little Sky must have known, much like the rest of us, that at the end of November this game would be a battle of first against second in the league, with the Foxes in the ascendency. It doesn’t seem real to say that, but top spotted Leicester are a point ahead of Louis van Gaal’s men and if either team come out the victors then they’ll take the top spot going into December.
It doesn’t hurt the narrative to state that the best attack in the league will come up against the top defensive record of the season. For added incentive, a Jamie Vardy goal would see him take the record for scoring in the most consecutive league games, a record currently tied between Vardy and Ruud van Nistelrooy, the ex-Man Utd striker. See? It’s all to play for.
A must-win game doesn’t even begin to describe it. There are so many little battles to be won all across the pitch that anything less than the three points could spell a disaster for either team’s hopes for the season.
Last year, Leicester proclaimed themselves the comeback kings. If today counts for anything, their reign may be short-lived. Whatever happens though, it won’t be over until it’s over.