Manchester United will be desperate to return to winning ways when they take on Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

The 2021/22 Premier League season is set to resume with Gameweek 12 following the end of the international break. The latest round of fixtures kick-starts with a game between Leicester City and Chelsea. Immediately after that clash, Watford will play hosts to Manchester United at Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon.

Watford have predictably endured a difficult 2021/22 season. Even more unsurprising has been the seasonal managerial change. The start to life under Claudio Ranieri has resembled a roller-coaster ride, though. The Hornets started with a 5-0 defeat to Liverpool before sealing a comeback 5-2 win over Everton. However, they have been poor in the last two games, going down 1-0 to Southampton and Arsenal.

Much like their hosts, Manchester United have had a tumultuous 2021/22 campaign thus far. The Red Devils began the season strongly but have faltered massively in the last month and a half, winning only four of their last 12 games (D2 L6). With the pressure growing on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, something has to give for the 20-time English champions.

Watford were 2-0 victors the last time they welcomed Manchester United to Vicarage Road, with Ismaila Sarr and Troy Deeney on target. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Watford

Claudio Ranieri has a fresh injury concern hampering his preparations ahead of the visit of Manchester United. On Saturday, the Watford manager could be bereft of the services of as many as seven first-team players due to injuries and suspension.

The new issue pertains to Ozan Tufan, who sustained a knock during the international break and will undergo a late fitness test to determine his availability. Apart from the Turkish midfielder, Ken Sema (knee), Christian Kabasele (hamstring), Kwadwo Baah (ankle), Peter Etebo (thigh) and Francisco Sierralta (hamstring) also remain on the sidelines. At the same time, Juraj Kucka serves a one-match suspension.

On Saturday, Ranieri could line his side up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Ben Foster taking his place in goal. At the heart of the Watford defence, Craig Cathcart will pair up with Nicolas N’Koulou, while Kiko Femenia and Danny Rose should be the two full-backs.

Up ahead in midfield, the onus will be on Tom Cleverley and Moussa Sissoko to keep things tight and rob Bruno Fernandes of the required space for him to flourish. From the attacking perspective, Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis will carry the threat from the flanks, while Joshua King and Joao Pedro will take up the two central spots in the final third.

Probable Lineup (4-4-1-1): Foster; Femenia, Cathcart, N’Koulou, Rose; Sarr, Cleverley, Sissoko, Dennis; Pedro; King

Manchester United

Like his counterpart in the Watford dugout, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been dealt a setback heading into his side’s latest fixture. Ahead of the trip to Vicarage Road on Saturday, the Manchester United manager could have to make do without as many as five first-team players.

The biggest casualty from the international break is Paul Pogba, who sustained a thigh injury that will keep him sidelined for the foreseeable future. The other confirmed absentee for Manchester United is Raphael Varane, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.

Solskjaer is also sweating over the fitness of Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay and Edinson Cavani. The trio should be available to take on Watford, with Shaw and McTominay likely to be a part of the starting lineup. Meanwhile, considering the opposition, the Manchester United manager is expected to revert to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation on Saturday.

David de Gea is a certainty in goal, and in front of him, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka will take their places in the four-man defensive setup. Up ahead in midfield, McTominay should have Fred for company in the double pivot.

The shuffle in the formation brings an attacking player back in the side, and Mason Greenwood is in line to earn a recall. The young forward will likely be stationed on the right side of the Manchester United attack, with Marcus Rashford starting on the left flank. Bruno Fernandes will reprise his usual no. 10 role while Cristiano Ronaldo will lead the line against Watford.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): de Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Rashford; Ronaldo

Key Stats

  • Watford have lost 12 of their 14 Premier League matches against Manchester United (W2) – against no side have they lost more.
  • Watford have failed to score in a Premier League-high seven games this season. However, they have scored 12 goals in their other four fixtures.
  • Manchester United are without a win in three Premier League matches against newly-promoted teams, drawing against West Bromwich Albion, Leeds United and Fulham last season. They have not gone four in a row without a win against such opposition since a run ending in September 1997 that saw them fail to beat Sunderland, Derby, Leicester and Bolton Wanderers.
  • Watford have conceded at least once in each of their last 21 Premier League games – it is their longest ever run without a clean sheet in the top-flight.
  • Four points is Manchester United’s lowest tally over a six-game spell in the Premier League since 2015. The Red Devils have kept only two clean sheets in their last 24 matches in all competitions.

Player to Watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

Embed from Getty Images

Manchester United are in all sorts of trouble at the moment. And if there is one player who has managed to come out from the crisis with his reputation intact, it is Cristiano Ronaldo. After all, the veteran Portuguese forward continues to score the goals, despite his team’s struggles.

With Watford likely to be set up to frustrate Manchester United, the onus will once again be on Ronaldo to drag the Red Devils out of trouble. The 36-year-old revels playing against newly-promoted teams, scoring 20 goals in his last 14 games against such an opposition. So, one can expect fireworks from Ronaldo on Saturday.

Prediction

Watford 0-2 Manchester United

Manchester United might not be setting the stage alight at the moment, but in Watford, they have an ideal opponent to get a crucial win under their belt. The Hornets have been hit and miss under Claudio Ranieri, but they have been nothing short of listless at Vicarage Road.

With Cristiano Ronaldo in fine form, Manchester United should have more than enough quality to get all three points and ease some of the pressure off Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In addition, to David de Gea’s relief, the Red Devils should also get a clean sheet in tow to make it a solid win.

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