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Manchester United 3-0 Watford: Bruno Fernandes scores first goal for the men of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

With a quarter of their rather mundane season, Manchester United is on the verge of unexpected performance. If they show any form of consistency, appetite or gumption in the coming months, a spot in the Champions League may be theirs.

United did not look like a Champions League team for much of this campaign. Even their better moments are so fleeting that they disappear from memory almost immediately.

But now, a combination of successive victories and the persistent weaknesses of others, the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer team have faced unexpected chances and it looks like the next four games can go a long way to tell us if they really be able.

Manchester United defeated a comfortable 3-0 win over Watford at home in the Premier League on Sunday

Manchester United defeated a comfortable 3-0 win over Watford at home in the Premier League on Sunday

Bruno Fernandes delivered the opener from the penalty spot in the Manchester United stalemate against Watford in Old Trafford

Bruno Fernandes delivered the opener from the penalty spot in the Manchester United stalemate against Watford in Old Trafford

Bruno Fernandes delivered the opener from the penalty spot in the victory of Manchester United against Watford in Old Trafford

The Portuguese star burst into the penalty area in 42 minutes, but was hit by the upcoming Watford stopper Ben Foster

The Portuguese star burst into the penalty area in 42 minutes, but was hit by the upcoming Watford stopper Ben Foster

The Portuguese star burst into the penalty area in 42 minutes, but was hit by the upcoming Watford stopper Ben Foster

Fernandes converted 12 meters cool after the midfielder's jump during his run, sending Foster diving the wrong way

Fernandes converted 12 meters cool after the midfielder's jump during his run, sending Foster diving the wrong way

Fernandes converted 12 meters cool after the midfielder’s jump during his run, sending Foster diving the wrong way

EQUAL FACTS, PLAYER REVIEWS AND LEAGUE TABLE

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): The Gea 6; Wan-Bissaka 6, Lindelof 6, Maguire 6, Shaw 6; Matic 6, Fred 6 (McTominay 78 minutes); Greenwood 7 (Chong 78 minutes 6), Fernandes 7.5, James 8; Martial 6.5 (Ighalo 78 minutes 6). Not used: Romero, Bailly, Mata, Williams.

goals: Fernandes pen 40, Martial 59, Greenwood 74

Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 6.5

Watford (4-2-3-1): Foster 5.5; Dawson 5.5, Kabasele 6, Cathcart 6; Masina 6; Hughes 6, Capoue 6; Pereyra 5.5 (Sarr 68mins) 6, Doucoure 6.5, Deulofeu 6; Deeney 6 (Welbeck 75 minutes 6). Not used: Gomes, Mariappa, Cleverley, Chalobah, Gray.

booked: Cathcart

Manager: Nigel Pearson 6

Referee: Martin Atkinson 56

Man of the competition: Daniel James

Spectators: 73, 347

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A victory over Chelsea last Monday followed by a performance here that got better as it lasted and left United in fifth place, just three points lower than what is a rather sloppy pace. The following are games against Everton, Manchester City, Tottenham and Sheffield United. Four games to make or break a season? This is what it looks like.

Here, the Solskjaer team started slowly, but ended reasonably well. He will hope that it is a metaphor for the season. This is a United team that is more suited to counter-attack – a new signing by Bruno Fernandes certainly helped – and once they were in charge of a Watford match that was competitive for an hour, they grew in confidence and they looked really dangerous.

It was Fernandes who gave United the lead after Ben Foster had brought him down to award a penalty 40 minutes into the game. Then, after what looked like a Watford equalizer was ruled out of VAR control in the early part of the second half, United strengthened his advantage through Anthony Martial and young Mason Greenwood.

The goals of the second half were easy to see, as were the sight of Fernandes and the man of the match Daniel James who ran directly and regularly from deep positions to the Watford defense. United looks dangerous when they attack like that – worried defenders turn on their heels – and it is something that Solskjaer should try to exploit between now and May.

Conversely, it is nowadays unusual for United to start a game well. The Solskjaer team tends to slowly fall out of the trap. That was how it was here. On a turbulent day, they played early without any specific intensity or pace, which enabled Watford, among other things, to settle down and play their part.

Anthony Martial doubled United's lead with a loft finish after the Frenchman's initial attempt was smothered by Foster

Anthony Martial doubled United's lead with a loft finish after the Frenchman's initial attempt was smothered by Foster

Anthony Martial doubled United’s lead with a loft finish after the Frenchman’s initial attempt was smothered by Foster

The striker retained his calm to end up from a tight angle after Fernandes' penetrating ball cut open Watford's back line

The striker retained his calm to end up from a tight angle after Fernandes' penetrating ball cut open Watford's back line

The striker retained his calm to end up from a tight angle after Fernandes’ penetrating ball cut open Watford’s back line

Mason Greenwood took the points for the hosts after an attempt at home to thunder the edge of the penalty area

Mason Greenwood took the points for the hosts after an attempt at home to thunder the edge of the penalty area

Mason Greenwood took the points for the hosts after an attempt at home to thunder the edge of the penalty area

The first chance indeed fell on the visiting team. Nemanja Matic and Harry Maguire got caught in a jumble just outside their own penalty kick and when the ball broke, Troy Deeney looked like he could get a shot. He would also have done it if Luke Shaw had not read the situation so well and had rushed from left to right.

That should have served as a warning for United. Watford does not play as a bottom three under Nigel Pearson and had clearly come to Old Trafford to participate.

Young Greenwood registered an early recording for United, but it was from distance and right to Foster. On the other hand, a low cross from the dangerous Gerard Deulofeu Abdoulaye found Doucoure in a dangerous position, but he couldn’t find a space to get a shot and ran the ball over the dead ball line while looking for a corner.

Neither team had adapted terribly well to the circumstances and that was not surprising. In the absence of the injured Marcus Rashford, United did not have a central point in front.

Fernandes – always looking for a bag of space in the last third – put James on the left in the 17th minute. The curled shot from the Welsh winger to the far post didn’t look that dangerous, but when Foster pushed it directly to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the United full-back might have done better than driving the rebound wide from the nearby post.

Troy Deeney seemed to have leveled for Watford after clicking on a loose ball and ending up in the net roof

Troy Deeney seemed to have leveled for Watford after clicking on a loose ball and ending up in the net roof

Troy Deeney seemed to have leveled for Watford after clicking on a loose ball and ending up in the net roof

But the goal was aborted after VAR discovered that Craig had treated Dawson before he hit the pole, followed up with Deeney

But the goal was aborted after VAR discovered that Craig had treated Dawson before he hit the pole, followed up with Deeney

But the goal was aborted after VAR discovered that Craig had treated Dawson before he hit the pole, followed up with Deeney

Abdoulaye Doucoure had a golden chance to shoot after defending the time period, but could not have repented

Abdoulaye Doucoure had a golden chance to shoot after defending the time period, but could not have repented

Abdoulaye Doucoure had a golden chance to shoot after defending the time period, but could not have repented

Roberto Pereyra was only just wide with a decent shot halfway through the half and then Shaw, for United, routinely worked Foster with a low ride from 25 meters.

For a while that was because both teams felt each other a bit. Over time, however, United slowly took the initiative. Too many of Watford’s trips broke down 30 yards from the goal – much to Pearson’s frustration – and although Doucoure saved David de Gea with a grating left foot in the half hour, it was no surprise that United finally managed to squeeze in charge.

Space was the key. United started to find it in the attacking areas of the field. Fred should have done more than a sideways shot after a combination of Fernandes-James in the 38th minute and then Fernandes took matters into their own hands.

James’s pass through the middle was a good one and Fernandes reached the ball well ahead of Foster who brought it down. Fernandes waited for Foster to bind himself to the right before quietly placing the penalty in the opposite corner. Five minutes before half time United was at the forefront and it was a reward for what had been steady if not spectacularly improved.

It felt like a big moment in a game that never felt it would have many goals. It happened that the most important passage did not arrive early in the second half, because Watford had excluded a goal and then, six minutes later, United went on.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer instructed his players from the sidelines when United struggled to break down a compact Watford early

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer instructed his players from the sidelines when United struggled to break down a compact Watford early

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer instructed his players from the sidelines when United struggled to break down a compact Watford early

United Wonderkid Greenwood chose to fly from a distance, but his powerful attempt did not cause Foster to run into problems in the first half

United Wonderkid Greenwood chose to fly from a distance, but his powerful attempt did not cause Foster to run into problems in the first half

United Wonderkid Greenwood chose to fly from a distance, but his powerful attempt did not cause Foster to run into problems in the first half

Watford started the second half strong, as if he were instructed by Pearson to try and get hold of the game. And when Will Hughes took James on the edge of his own territory, Doucoure was able to ride a low cross that had to find Shaw for a corner.

When the ball arrived at the nearby post, two United defenders missed it and Craig Dawson bundled the ball against the post, allowing Deeney to poke into the rebound. It seemed a reasonable goal, but while Watford was fourth, the VAR officials set to work and the repetitions showed that Dawson’s use of the upper arm to divert the ball to goal was clear.

So, relieved and undoubtedly relieved, United took advantage of it and did it soon afterwards. James and Greenwood were neatly combined on the left to cause problems when Fernandes sent Martial through the same channel in the 59th minute. Foster saved the Frenchman’s first shot with his leg, but when Martial regained possession, he was able to turn and lift the ball over the Watford goalkeeper and into a goal that really should have been protected by that time by a defender on the line.

Able to relax a bit and now with Watford following the game, United began to play freely. Foster saved again with his from Martial – this time the attack came to the right – and then Maguire got off the goal with a header from a free kick.

Shortly afterwards they sealed the game and it was a beautiful goal. Hughes lost the ball in midfield and when Fernandes broke and fed Greenwood, the young attacker could go in on his left foot and defeat Foster high to the right of the keeper.

The hosts had endured a largely frustrating 45 minute opening with Watford steadfast and created their own opportunities

The hosts had endured a largely frustrating 45 minute opening with Watford steadfast and created their own opportunities

The hosts had endured a largely frustrating 45 minute opening with Watford steadfast and created their own opportunities

Watford boss Nigel Pearson and assistant Craig Shakespeare watched while Watford tried to climb out of the bottom three

Watford boss Nigel Pearson and assistant Craig Shakespeare watched while Watford tried to climb out of the bottom three

Watford boss Nigel Pearson and assistant Craig Shakespeare watched while Watford tried to climb out of the bottom three

A giant banner was unveiled in the Stretford End to remind former United player Harry Gregg, who died last week

A giant banner was unveiled in the Stretford End to remind former United player Harry Gregg, who died last week

A giant banner was unveiled in the Stretford End to remind former United player Harry Gregg, who died last week

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