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Five things we’ve learnt from Watford vs United

Watford-vs-Manchester-UnitedManchester United leapfrogged Arsenal and Manchester City into second place on Saturday after a late own goal earned Louis Van Gaal’s side three points at Watford.

Despite not having a single striker available, United went ahead early through a Memphis Depay goal and controlled the game for over an hour before allowing the hosts back into the game until a Troy Deeney’s penalty looked to have rescued a draw for Watford.

Luckily for United, the Watford captain also found the net at the other end of the pitch. Here’s five talking points from yesterday.

1) Memphis seizes his chance

With Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney out through injury and illness, United arrived at Vicarage Road without a designated striker and with Memphis Depay deployed up-front as an emergency number 9.

The Dutchman, who had endured a couple of turbulent months after he was dropped following United’s 3-0 defeat at the Emirates, seized his chance with both hands as he put his side in front after just 10 minutes with a wonderfully taken finish.

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Earlier in the week, Louis Van Gaal admitted that he had expected more from the former PSV man but in his post-match interview on Saturday he was full of praise for Memphis, adding he has found his best role.

Things can only get better for the young Dutchman.

2) Injuries continue to mount

While the silver lining of having to do without Rooney and Martial was that Memphis was handed a way back into the side, the ever-growing injury list took the gloss off the result. Having traveled to Watford without five senior players, United were left licking counting their casualties yet again after Ander Herrera and Phil Jones picked up injuries.

Van Gaal suggested neither injury looked too serious but with a crucial Champions League game on Wednesday and a difficult trip to Leicester next weekend, United’s resources are starting to look rather stretched.

More worryingly, injuries force Van Gaal to field virtually the same starting XI week in, week out, which could see a number of key players arriving into the hectic Christmas period with their tanks almost empty.


3) De Gea stands strong again

Troy Deeney’s 84th minute penalty was the first goal United had conceded in over 10 hours of football in all competitions and, had it not been for Marcos Rojo’s absurdly poor challenge, they could have extended that run.

Had United kept another clean sheet, David De Gea would have probably scooped the man of the match award, instead his performance was overshadowed by United’s late winner.

With the score still 1-0, the Spaniard twice denied Deeney in the second half before producing an outstanding save to keep out Almen Abdi’s shot. It was a stop of such quality that looked incredible even by De Gea’s freakish standard.

That faulty fax machine was Van Gaal’s best signing of the summer.

4) Are United into the title race?

With a third of the season already gone, United are one point off the top and travel to surprise league leaders Leicester next week. Claudio Ranieri’s side are by far the story of the season so far and while it would be disrespectful to write them off as a lucky fluke, it would take some sort of miracle for them to maintain this kind of form over the next 25 games.

Arsenal and Manchester City have, at different stages, been touted as title favourites this season but both have already suffered alarming blips so far, a trend that continued on Saturday as the former surrendered a 1-0 lead against West Brom, while the latter were trounced at home by Liverpool.

United, for all the criticism their brand of football has attracted, have lost just once in their last seven Premier League games and have a somewhat favourable fixtures list between now and Christmas. Should they arrive into 2016 in this position, surely they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

5) Out with the new, in with the old?

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Louis Van Gaal has steadied the ship since arriving at Old Trafford, making United competitive again, despite a series of ups and downs. However, until yesterday, a crucial ingredient genuine title challengers must possess had been missing.

As Troy Deeney slotted home the equaliser, United looked to have wasted two points and nothing we had seen in Van Gaal’s first 15 months suggested they would find a winner. Instead, they threw themselves forward like in the good old days and were rewarded with a late winner, something the fans had desperately missed since the Fergie days.

Van Gaal said the goal wasn’t occasional, it was the result of the winning mentality that is developing within the team. More of this Louis, please. More of this.