"Unwelcome reality check" - How the media saw Manchester United's shock defeat to Watford

It was a game to forget for the third time in eight days for Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United side as they departed Vicarage Road on the back of a disappointing and humbling defeat to Watford on Sunday afternoon.

Off the back of defeats to city rival Manchester City and Europa League competitors Feyenoord, Mourinho was hoping for a good start to the game to put his side back on the front foot and put the Hornets in their place after an impressive comeback against West Ham had given them their first victory of the season one week before.

However, it was an on-form Etienne Capone who opened the scoring from a Daryl Janmaat assist after Odion Ighalo should have scored following a David De Gea error gifted the ball to the forward.

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Mourinho gave Marcus Rashford his first Premier League start of the campaign and the youngster was one of few bright sparks, particularly following the substitution of Anthony Martial after appearing to suffer concussion from a head injury and also limping off the field of play. It was Rashford who fired his side back level in the tie not long after break with an equalising strike.

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That wasn’t enough to kill off Watford though, with substitute Camilo Zuniga putting his side back in front with just seven minutes left to play before Marouane Fellaini conceded an injury time penalty to allow Troy Deeney to make it 3-1 as tempers flared, with captain Wayne Rooney booked for dissent despite what seemed like a straightforward decision.

Here’s how the media reacted to the game…

The result was a massive one for so many reasons. It continues to kick start Watford’s season after the Hornets picked up one point from their first three games and fell out of the EFL Cup at home to League 1 Gillingham, but also puts United into what could be the start of a crisis. Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail provided some context:

Juan Camilo Zuniga had not blown out his first birthday candle when Watford last beat Manchester United. And as he blew out his 30th last December, that gives some idea of the milestone nature of this result. Watford don’t beat Manchester United. They don’t even draw, not for 11 straight meetings going back to September 16, 1986, two months before Sir Alex Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford. Yet 30 years and two days of frustration were swept aside in ten wonderful minutes at Vicarage Road, when Zuniga helped Watford close out the game in quite magnificent style, scoring one then winning a penalty to earn a deserved three points.

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In the Guardian,  Stuart James was left perplexed as, against all odds, it was the eleven men in yellow who dominated the opening exchanges, with Ighalo going closest amongst a host of chances, whilst Mourinho’s side failed to threaten. He wrote:

There were only 17 minutes gone and it was tempting to wonder when United would grab hold of the game.

He also made other interesting observations about the United midfield, with Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba coming in for the most criticism as both picked up yellow cards and saw their poor form continue as neither had any substantial influence on the game, writing:

 Paul Pogba hit the crossbar with a dipping shot in the first half but never did enough to impose himself and, rightly or wrongly, it is hard not to look at the Frenchman and expect so much more from the world’s most expensive footballer.

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However, whilst it will be the Red Devils who attract all of the attention, praise must be given to Watford for a superb display and never say die attitude which saw them emerge victorious thanks to two late goals. Alyson Rudd of the Times wrote:

Walter Mazzarri’s team were boisterous, keen, energetic and optimistic and, for most of this match, all the visitors could summon in return were the moans and groans of Wayne Rooney and the occasional strut from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Martin Samuel agreed, and pointed out the tactical display from Walter Mazzarri, saying:

Credit, too, Watford manager Walter Mazzarri. He has used 27 players with 21 nationalities already this season but his determination to work with this muddled squad and embrace its variety paid off. Of the three players involved in the build up to the all-important second goal, two were Mazzarri’s substitutes.

However, it was another of Samuel’s lines which summarised the significance of the defeat for United, as he finished his piece by reminding fans:

They were supposed to be the pace setters, remember? They certainly weren’t supposed to lose to Watford.

With many fans expecting United to return to be one of the most feared sides in the Premier League under Jose Mourinho, results like this only serve to provide embarrassment and show just how far United are from the finished package. Instant success cannot be expected, but to a certain extent, that is what Mourinho had made them hope for.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Damanpreet Singh.

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