Manchester United-Watford Preview
Manchester United might have lost a striker and a midfielder over the international break, but they've required only minimal scoring to earn three points as of late.
An impressive scoreless streak follows them to Watford on Saturday, when the Hornets are out to prove they can keep up with a top-four club.
The Red Devils (7-3-2), fourth in the table on 24 points, have posted five consecutive clean sheets across all competitions, last conceding in the 15th minute of a 1-1 Champions League draw at CSKA Moscow on Oct. 21. The month-long run stands at 525 minutes, reaching that level after a 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion on Nov. 7 at Old Trafford. It was their fourth straight league shutout, and their eight goals conceded are a league low.
"It was a clean sheet today, and I'm very satisfied with our defensive organisation, but it starts with Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney and you've seen that today," manager Louis van Gaal told the club's official website. "They have pressed a lot and have had to run a lot because of that, but every player is doing that, so I'm a happy manager."
While United went to the break feeling upbeat, that might have been curbed some as Martial suffered a foot injury in France's 2-0 loss to England on Tuesday. The 19-year-old was seen leaving on crutches so it seems unlikely he'll be fit for the weekend. His three Premier League goals in eight matches trail only Juan Mata's four for the club lead.
Additionally, Michael Carrick was removed from England's 2-0 loss to Spain last Friday with an ankle injury.
Against France, Rooney scored but needs to get going in the Premier League. He netted in a 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow in the Champions League on Nov. 3, but he's been limited to two goals in 11 league matches. Newly 30, the striker has never scored fewer than 11 league goals in his previous 11 seasons with United.
Ashley Young is returning to Vicarage Road for the first time since the midfielder experienced promotion to the Premier League with the club of his youth in 2006-07 before moving to Aston Villa later that season.
"It won't be an easy match," said Young, who experienced a 2-1 loss to the Red Devils at Vicarage Road while with Watford that season. "A lot of people wrote them off at the start of the season but they're a team that works hard and gets players on the ball, and they score goals."
That last point is debatable. Watford's first Premier League campaign since Young's last season with them can't be considered a letdown, though it also won't be referred to as exciting just yet. Their 11 goals are more than only Stoke City, West Brom and Villa, and the 23 total goals in the Hornets' 12 matches are fewer than all clubs other than the 22 scored in Stoke matches.
At the same time, the Hornets' minus-1 goal differential shows they might know how to manage a game. They've trailed by more than a goal for only 66 of their 1,080 minutes played. The bad news is those deficits have come against teams of United's calibre - Leicester City, Arsenal and Manchester City - the three teams ahead of the Red Devils in the table.
The only math that matters, however, is this: Watford (4-4-4) are 11th in the table with 16 points, just one off the pace of Everton and Liverpool, and the newly promoted club have doubled the point total of Bournemouth at the top of the relegation zone.
"It's been a really good start," winger Steven Berghuis told the club's official website. "We already have a lot of points so I think we can be satisfied how it's gone, but we know we can still do better."
When they have scored, it's almost always been Odion Ighalo. The Nigerian has seven of their 11 goals, tied with Leicester's Riyad Mahrez, Everton's Romelu Lukaku for second in the league behind only Leicester's Jamie Vardy.
It was Vardy who made the difference in Watford's 2-1 loss at Leicester before the break to end the Hornets' two-match winning streak.
Like United, Watford had a player injured over the break. Defender Sebastian Prodl was subbed off in Austria's loss to Switzerland and Watford teammate Valon Behrami.