Bruno Fernandes opens Manchester United account in win over Watford

After a dour start this became the Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial show. Each have the quality Manchester United require to challenge for a Champions League place, this win lifting them up two places to fifth.

Both scored while showing their teammates how to turn a contest.

In the closing stages Mason Greenwood caught on, starting and finishing a move for the 11th goal of the 18-year-old’s breakthrough season, the final pass to him coming from Fernandes.

It is over a year since United have claimed three consecutive league victories and they go to Everton on Sunday searching to end this dire run.

“I hope [we can beat them] because there are four big league games coming up – Everton, Manchester City, Tottenham and Sheffield United,” Ole Gunnar Solskjær said.

The manager changed two from last Monday’s win at Chelsea: Victor Lindelöf replaced Eric Bailly and Greenwood came in for Brandon Williams, while Nigel Pearson’s only adjustment from a draw at Brighton 15 days ago was a preference for Craig Dawson in place of Adrian Mariappa.

The contest nearly began awfully for United when Nemanja Matic and Harry Maguire dithered allowing Troy Deeney a sight of David De Gea’s goal but he fluffed the chance. “A shambles,” said Solskjaer of the mix-up.

United are flaky in defence because of the gap often allowed between rearguard and midfield.

Sensing this, Roberto Pereyra skated forward and found Gerard Deulofeu to the left, he passed to the unmarked Abdoulaye Doucouré and the home team were lucky he could not finish.

Profligacy was becoming a theme. The next to show a blunt edge was Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

This time the chance came when Daniel James’s cross was parried to the right-back’s feet but he shot into the side netting.

It was a bits-and-pieces contest that lacked a touch of class where it mattered.

Even Martial wildly ballooned a 25-yard effort. At least, though, the buildup impressed: a Maguire challenge winning the ball, Fred then being fed and racing over halfway, before Martial became involved.

At the 30-minute mark came a collector’s item: a curving Abdoulaye Doucouré shot that De Gea had to fling himself right to save.

James and Fred then added to the number of spurned opportunities: both firing over the bar.

Then came the breakthrough via a slick James ball that slipped in Fernandes.

He swerved around Ben Foster and the keeper brought him down to concede a penalty.

Fernandes took with the swagger United have missed in recent years: an odd-looking hop straight up in the air sent Foster to his right before he slotted a first goal for United.

As the break approached he could and should have had a second but spooned wide Martial’s pass.

Still that was Fernandes’s 13th straight penalty converted in top-flight football and neatly set up United for the second half.

Yet when Luke Shaw conceded a corner disaster came close to striking when it was delivered from the right and Deeney bundled home.

Yet as at Chelsea (twice) VAR saved United: Dawson was adjudged – correctly – to have elbowed the ball on to the left post before his captain’s finish.

If this caused inevitable glee from United fans, the emotion was nearly superseded by jubilation when James – in his best display for a while – played Greenwood in.

The teenager’s pivot-and-pass across Foster’s goal was inviting and Adam Masina was relieved to clear.

What came next was a Martial special. The centre-forward had been quiet before waking to show his killer instinct.

Fernandes was the craftsman, threading the ball through, and Martial the artist.

When Foster blocked his initial shot the 23-year-old was in a cul-de-sac manned primarily by Etienne Capoue.

Yet Martial performed a drag-back that left the Watford player a spectator before, from under Foster’s nose, he chipped a third goal from three games in the last seven days.

Solskjaer said: “I am delighted with the week Anthony has had. He has got his critics and I am one of the biggest. The skill for the goal is just mind-blowing.”

If he trusted his left foot he might have hit Fernandes’s free-kick home for a third. Maguire, too, was gifted a golden chance – again from Fernandes – with a clear header but fluffed his big moment.

Yet Greenwood’s emphatic strike, pin-balling off the frame of the goal, sent United and their fans home even more content.

Source theguardian.com
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