English Premiership

Mourinho faces unbeaten Watford test

2018-09-14 06:54
Jose Mourinho (Getty Images)

London - Jose Mourinho takes his Manchester United side to high-flying Watford on Saturday knowing they cannot afford another slip-up if they are to stay on the coattails of the Premier League pacesetters.

READ: Boateng called Mourinho to turn down Man United

A 2-0 victory against struggling Burnley followed by an international break has taken the heat off the Portuguese manager as he tries to inject momentum into a stuttering start to the season.

Defeat at Watford - who have won all four of their games - would leave United nine points off the lead and their title ambitions in tatters midway through September.

Former United and England defender Gary Neville hopes his old club can still mount a challenge to Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool despite two defeats in four matches.

"If they can stay in it until January and maybe get one or two defenders in, they may have a chance, but I doubt it," he told the Times newspaper. "I think United will be third or fourth."

Neville insisted it is far too early to write Mourinho off despite his early-season struggles, which have given rise to the suspicion he is yesterday's man.

"I think Jose is a brilliant manager, and, in a 25-year career, young managers will emerge, people will ask questions if you aren't successful," he added.

"He's having a more difficult time, but finished? I genuinely think that's a nonsense."

Pogba rift

Mourinho's tasks in solving a rift with World Cup-winning midfielder Paul Pogba and his side's defensive frailties have not gone away in the international break, even if some of his stars showed the richness of the resources at his disposal with their countries.

Romelu Lukaku continued a fine start to his season by netting three times for Belgium and Marcus Rashford scored twice for England, against Spain and Switzerland.

Rashford has struggled for time on the pitch at United this season with Mourinho able to pick from a clutch of attacking options including Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata.

But the United boss will be spared the difficult decision of whether to play Rashford over the next few weeks, with the 20-year-old starting a three-game ban against Watford following a red card in the Burnley match.

Mourinho could be also be without defender Luke Shaw, who suffered a nasty head injury in England's match against Spain on his return to the national side.

Watford brushed aside Brighton, Burnley and Crystal Palace as they made a perfect start to the season.

But their real statement of intent came in their come-from-behind win against Tottenham that enabled them to keep pace with Liverpool and Chelsea.

Watford boss Javi Gracia, though, warned his side of under-estimating United.

"Nowadays we talk about the coaches a lot more, but they have a great squad, many internationals, recently crowned champions of the world," said the Spaniard.

"We've seen them in all the big international games and we know it is going to be a very difficult game. But we will try to compete in the same way we have done things in the last couple of games.

"I think that as soon as we begin to think the next game is going to be easier for some reason, we are dead... we will pay heavily for any sense of over-confidence against a team like United."

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Fixtures
Saturday, 22 September 2018
Fulham v Watford, Craven Cottage 13:30
Liverpool v Southampton, Anfield 16:00
Cardiff City v Manchester City, Cardiff City Stadium 16:00
Leicester City v Huddersfield Town, King Power Stadium 16:00
Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Old Trafford 16:00
Crystal Palace v Newcastle United, Selhurst Park 16:00
Burnley v AFC Bournemouth, Turf Moor 16:00
Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur, The American Express Community Stadium 18:30
Sunday, 23 September 2018
West Ham United v Chelsea, London Stadium 14:30
Arsenal v Everton, Emirates Stadium 17:00
Saturday, 29 September 2018
West Ham United v Manchester United, London Stadium 13:30
Arsenal v Watford, Emirates Stadium 16:00
Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion, Etihad Stadium 16:00
Everton v Fulham, Goodison Park 16:00
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Southampton, Molineux Stadium 16:00
Newcastle United v Leicester City, St. James' Park 16:00
Huddersfield Town v Tottenham Hotspur, The John Smith's Stadium 16:00
Chelsea v Liverpool, Stamford Bridge 18:30
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