Watford, touching the right notes, are mirror opposites of Manchester United at the moment

Richard Jolly writes as Walter Mazzarri's Watford clicked in seemingly every facet on Sunday, securing a deserved win, Jose Mourinho's Manchester United opposite them looked all the more disjointed.
Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney walks from the pitch past the Watford team mascot ‘Harry the Hornet’ after losing on Sunday. Tim Ireland / AP Photo
Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney walks from the pitch past the Watford team mascot ‘Harry the Hornet’ after losing on Sunday. Tim Ireland / AP Photo

Watford 3-1 Manchester United

WAT: Capoue 34’; Zuniga 83’ Deeney 90+5’ (pen)

MANU: Rashford 62’

Man of the Match: Miguel Britos (Watford)

The journey from boom to bust took just eight days. Manchester United went into last weekend’s derby arguably as favourites, having reeled off four straight wins. Just over a week later, they have suffered three successive defeats, courtesy of Manchester City, Feyenoord and now Watford.

It is Jose Mourinho’s worst run in the same season for 14 years.

History was made, but not in the way United hoped. Watford recorded a first win over their illustrious opponents for 30 years. A club record buy from Juventus made a difference, but not United’s expensive addition. Rather than Paul Pogba, who is yet to record a goal or an assist since his £89 million (Dh425m) move, it was Roberto Pereyra who fashioned the game’s crucial third goal. It was converted by Juan Camilo Zuniga, placing a shot beyond David de Gea in his first minute on the pitch.

This was the definition of an immediate impact. This was a fine early impression made by Walter Mazzarri, too. Zuniga and Pereyra were two of his men, summer signings from Serie A.

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Watford were determined and deserving winners. They were the more purposeful and the more powerful, the stronger side for the first hour and displaying the resolve to rally when United seemed superior after Marcus Rashford levelled.

Yet it is the fate of the smaller clubs that they sometimes seem the subplots in their own success stories, elbowed out of the limelight by the floundering giants. Even as Troy Deeney’s thumping, emphatic injury-time penalty – won by the catalytic substitute Zuniga – nestled in the United net, it heightened the sense United got this badly wrong.

Theirs was a disjointed display. They were incoherent. Mourinho, a manager known for clinical decision-making, looked conflicted; confused, even.

His search for a winning formula seemed to take him further away from one. Accommodating supposed superstars looked an impossible job. The more difficult decision of whether to drop one may beckon.

Issues from Louis van Gaal’s reign were supposedly banished. They recurred again.

Ashley Young ended up at right-back. Wayne Rooney, who Mourinho had pledged to use in attack, spent the first half in midfield. There were mid-match reshuffles and a general feel of underachievement. Rashford, once again, was alone in offering encouragement.

Pogba hit the bar with an exquisite curling shot during a first half when a switch to 4-3-3 gave him fewer defensive responsibilities. Yet he finished the game reunited with Marouane Fellaini in a mismatched, supposedly holding midfield pair. Neither afforded enough protection and the Belgian tripped Zuniga for the late penalty.

Despite Pogba’s long-range effort, United failed to record a shot on target until Rashford reacted with predatory prowess when Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cross bounced back off Valon Behrami. Youngster and veteran offered hints they could combine profitably and Heurelho Gomes’ brilliant save from Ibrahimovic was a turning point.

Rashford, who was making his first league start for Mourinho, justified his selection. Too many others didn’t.

Chris Smalling came in to counter Watford’s aerial threat, but he and De Gea collided after 12 minutes, presenting Odion Ighalo with an open goal. The Nigerian’s miss was a reprieve, but United did not capitalise.

Instead, they continued to be culpable. Anthony Martial was dispossessed by Miguel Britos seconds before Watford’s opening goal – United appealed in vain for a free kick – and Daryl Janmaat set up Etienne Capoue, who is an increasingly unlikely success story. Before this season, he had one goal in 57 Premier League games. Now the midfielder has four in five.

Watford had seemed slow starters but have surged into the top half. United had a 100 per cent record but are six points behind City.

A week can prove a long time in football.

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Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM

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