Reaction and Player Ratings : Watford 4-1 Manchester United


Manchester United conceded four at Watford to surely indicate the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign as Old Trafford manager.

A disaster of a first half was followed by a complete mess of a conclusion and came with the added footnote of a Harry Maguire red card following the mass of criticism levelled against the skipper in recent weeks.

Solskjaer could barely have endured a more horrific ninety minutes as manager, and that includes the nightmare home games of recent times, as each of his decisions seem to carry some form of symbolism that inflicted severe damage on his own team.

After losing their long unbeaten league away record, United had welcome opposition against Spurs last time around on the road. This time, they found an opponent on the other side of that new manager bounce.

The first few minutes inspired little confidence – Luke Shaw gave the ball away carelessly from a throw in, and a minute later Fernandes was even more reckless, punting the ball aimlessly high in a dangerous area. Watford pushed into the box, McTominay was pulled by King but ended up fouling the former United striker as he fell. Jon Moss gave a penalty.

Sarr’s effort was saved – but Kiko scored the rebound, only for the goal to be disallowed as the scorer had entered the box before the kick was taken. Sarr retook the kick – and it was equally poor, with De Gea still doing well to save. After the events of the Europa League final, it was another step towards the restoration of his reputation.

As for his team-mates, well, the jury is out, with many of them escaping the proper scrutiny their poor form deserves because of the spotlight being on the manager.

Perhaps only Ronaldo from the goalkeeper’s colleagues has no case to answer with regards form but it would not have inspired many to see Harry Maguire bullied into losing possession by Tom Cleverley – though the skipper was in the right place at the right time to block a Sarr cross as the hosts increased the pressure. Maguire then had to block a King shot from the resultant corner.

The mistakes continued to come – Matic misplaced a back pass, Sarr went through and thought he finally had his goal there for the taking, but Maguire did well again to block.

There was still less than half an hour on the clock when Watford got the goal they deserved. Wan-Bissaka was the latest player culpable of a directionless clearance, heading a cross upwards in the box. The ball was crossed to King, who, remarkably found himself unmarked on the edge of the six yard with the entire four man United defence behind the ball. He did not pass up their incredible benevolence.

It was difficult to imagine how United could have put together a worse half-hour in response to the derby defeat. They responded with their first real effort – Rashford seeing his effort saved – but Watford always looked likelier to add a second. King forced another save from De Gea after more shambolic and wasteful possession.

Lessons were not learned – when are they ever? – as Matic and Sancho were played around and then Shaw pulled out of position, giving Sarr a criminal amount of space in the box. This time he finally got a goal, powering a drive across De Gea.

2-0 at half-time with a forty-five minutes to rival anything from the horror shows against Liverpool and Manchester City.

It has been clear since the Liverpool game four weeks ago that a change was inevitable and while Solskjaer could not avoid criticism for the dreadful display, it was also deeply concerning that United’s players seemed devoid of any personal pride.

We’ve been here before with a few of them. But too many of the players Solskjaer brought in needed big performances – and were letting down the manager and themselves again. Solskjaer’s problem is that many of these issues have been clear for some time and it was always more likely that he would pay the price than be rewarded for the faith he was investing in a number of players who are simply not good enough.

The issue, of course, is that they have been better than they showed they were here over the last two seasons. Solskjaer has been unable to push his players to a higher level but now cannot seem to motivate them to even give of their best.

The half-time changes seemed bewildering. On came Van De Beek for McTominay. On came Martial – hardly the man for a fight – for Rashford. Importantly, these are two players who, if they want a future at the club, are surely more motivated by the prospect of a change in manager rather than a continuation.

In what added to the farce of the afternoon, the pair then proved influential in the best period for Solskjaer’s side.

After five minutes of playing in front of their own box, United launched their first progressive move – Sancho’s cross was headed back across goal by Ronaldo, and Van De Beek was there to force the ball over the line from close range.

Van De Beek then put Ronaldo through – but Foster was equal to it, denying United an equaliser in the 58th minute.

Watford took the sting out of the game with some stoppages, though one came at a cost when Sarr came off. But then Maguire handed back all the initiative with a sloppy heavy touch in a harmless area – Cleverley again seized the ball, and Maguire hauled him down. He was booked for the second time in ten minutes – a symbolic dismissal as he trudged off the field.

When he needed his captain to step up – and when Maguire himself needed to – Solskjaer was instead left feeling the consequence of keeping faith with him. It is likely to come at a greater cost than this result.

Fifteen minutes from the end Sancho’s cross from the right was headed over by Ronaldo – the kind of combination that may well have been more influential had we had a chance to see it in earlier weeks.

As the game moved into injury time, Jesse Lingard came on, just 24 hours after posting an image of himself in a West Ham shirt after it was revealed contract talks had broken down. With time ticking on his reign, it would have surely shown Solskjaer in a better light if he’d left the winger out of the squad altogether.

While the critics were busy readying the numerous compelling images that will surely accompany the autopsy of this defeat, Martial provided another, losing the ball in his own half – Pedro, who had just had a shot saved, now fired home from close range at the near post.

The 3-1 scoreline was no less than the hosts deserved. Infact, they deserved more – and they got it, with another injury time goal, when Dennis, who had been the best player of the game, fired home emphatically.

Losing by five at home to Liverpool is untenable; losing without getting a kick at home to Manchester City unpalatable; but letting in four in this manner to a team like Watford, well…

This latest humiliation is one too far for any Manchester United manager to survive – and though that was said on this page after the Liverpool defeat, this was surely the final chapter in the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer managerial reign at Old Trafford, packed with symbolism to reflect the recent disasters, all repeated here in devastating fashion.


Against a poor Watford team, Solskjaer made a couple of notable choices with his selection. The first was to prefer Matic over Van De Beek.

The alienation of the Dutch international is nothing new but it was particularly damning after the suggestion was repeated from one of the briefs issues over the last week that Van De Beek was signed in case of a Pogba exit last year. But Pogba has had lengthy injuries and, top of that, was shoehorned into ill-fitting positions when he was available. So what does that say? What does it say about this situation that he doesn’t even get a chance to play when Fred isn’t fit?

The second selection poser – which again did not reflect terribly well on the manager – was the inclusion of Jesse Lingard after yesterday’s Instagram post. It was not a popular move with some big names attached to the club.

You might even include a third choice – as any number of defenders could feel lucky after recent performances.

It suggests that players can escape discipline in the form of being dropped regardless of form or attitude. The squads are selected in what seems to be an arbitrary process that only Solskjaer knows – and in that case, he will be judged on the results and performances, accelerating the pressure that is on him. There is simply no way this will continue.

Today’s game was a classic ‘can’t win’ scenario. The base expectation against a poor Watford team was a comfortable win and that would not have been enough to alleviate pressure.

The issue for Solskjaer – and whoever will follow him, which will now inevitably be sooner than later – is that whenever a ‘can’t win’ scenario is placed in front of some of these players, they see it as a convenient excuse.

If they can’t win, they can’t be blamed – but that’s not the standard expected of Manchester United players. They were lacking in the basics and seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of the demands on a United player both in terms of performance and reaction. The late collapse was indicative of what happens with this team.

A percentage of this – and you can read this and disagree with the variant of it, but nonetheless it is some – is the responsibility of the individual player.

Who has the character? Who is showing accountability? Who is showing responsibility? Who is happy for the manager to receive the majority of it? That last question is the concern for whoever comes next because on this showing you’ll have needed fingers on two hands to count.

Solskjaer does have that understanding – he was as representative of it as anyone as a player – but knowing and teaching are clearly two different things.

It has been clear for a few weeks, as United’s ambitions rose, that the squad wasn’t equipped for a challenge, and that it’s also too big an ask on the manager to compensate to get more out of the squad. The lack of experience he had when he took over is showing itself every week.

Now we are at that stage which is too familiar – performances dropping off a cliff and results as disastrous to match. Managers don’t survive periods like this.

The question is when, not if – but it’s been that way for weeks.


De Gea 7

Wan-Bissaka 3

Lindelof 3

Maguire 2

Shaw 2

McTominay 3

Matic 2

Rashford 3

Fernandes 3

Sancho 5

Ronaldo 5


Van De Beek 7

Martial 5



Wayne Barton

Wayne is a writer and producer. His numerous books on Manchester United include the family-authorised biography of Jimmy Murphy. He wrote and produced the BT Sport films 'Too Good To Go Down' in 2018, and 'True Genius', in 2021, both adapted from his books of the same name. In 2015 he was described by the Independent as the 'leading writer on Manchester United' and former club chairman Martin Edwards has described him as 'the pre-eminent writer on the club'.

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