After a rip-roaring start, Watford face a stern test at home against a United side looking to get their season off the ground
Watford v Manchester United, Saturday 15 September, 5pm, BT Sport 1/HD (CH 531/527)
For the second season running, Watford have got off to a cracking start and are now sitting pretty in the upper reaches of the table. Under Spanish head coach Javier Gracia, the Hornets have been playing some scintillating football; blowing teams such as Crystal Palace and Tottenham away, and making their strongest ever start to a Premier League season.
José Mourinho’s United, however, have well and truly underwhelmed; dropping points and causing many to question whether this expensively assembled squad have what it takes to mount a credible title challenge.
As such, several big questions are hovering over what is certain to be a thrilling match-up at Vicarage Road…
Can Watford’s rise continue?
Appointed in January to halt the Hornets’ slide towards the bottom of the table, Gracia duly rescued them and then proceeded to galvanise his squad pre-season, guiding them to wins in their first three league matches. However, it remains to be seen if Watford are a side that can maintain good form – they made a positive start last season with just one defeat in eight games, only to see it tail off come October.
Will Mourinho’s woes deepen?
Throughout preseason, media stories focused on Mourinho’s strange tendency to flounder in his third year of management at whichever club he’s at. Though the record isn’t as bad as many would believe, United’s form has done little to dispel the persistent chatter about the Portuguese’s supposed “third season syndrome”. What initially looked to be a fairly inconsequential early-season fixture now has a heightened significance that few fans could have foreseen, with the pressure sure to mount should they come away with anything less than a win.
Is Luke Shaw’s resurgence a flash in the pan?
After seasons plagued with injuries and embarrassingly public spats with his manager, Shaw looks a new man in 2018-19. One of the few positives from United’s opening fixtures has been the left-back’s resurgence – which has also earned him a recall to the England squad – and the former Southampton man will be keen to prove he has the consistency needed to justify his place in Mourinho’s starting XI.
Can Gerard Deulofeu replace Richarlison?
Watford fans were sorry to see Brazilian forward Richarlison leave this summer, although the £40 million Everton paid for him will have been welcomed. In a shrewd bit of transfer business, Gracia spent £11.5 million of that windfall on making Deulofeu’s loan spell permanent. A player of undoubted talent who hasn’t yet managed to establish himself at any club, the Spaniard has plenty of experience in both the Premier League and the Champions League – and he’s still only 24. As he returns from injury, Deulofeu will be eager to show Gracia was right to have faith in him.
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