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Preview: Manchester United vs. Watford - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Premier League clash between Manchester United and Watford, including predictions, team news and head-to-head records.

Manchester United welcome Watford to Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon in their first match since announcing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as their new permanent manager.

The Norwegian landed the job after an impressive three-month trial spell as caretaker boss, though his side headed into the international break on the back of successive defeats and they need to respond this weekend.

Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in charge of Manchester United on January 19, 2019© Reuters

After three months of smiles around Old Trafford, the bubble well and truly burst with those defeats to Arsenal (Premier League) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (FA Cup) in the week leading up to the international break.

Solskjaer saw his side lose back-to-back games for the first time, but that was not enough to put off the club hierarchy awarding him a three-year deal to become their fourth permanent boss since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward will be hoping that it is fourth time lucky, and on the basis of United's overall form since mid-December the future certainly looks a lot brighter than it has done at any point over the last six years.

United have entertained their supporters and, more importantly in the view of Woodward, they have taken 32 points from the last 39 on offer since Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho, while also overcoming the odds to knock Paris Saint-Germain out of the Champions League en route to the last eight.

With momentum on their side, though, United suffered a slightly harsh 2-0 loss to Arsenal in their most recent league game on March 10, leaving them fifth in the table and two points adrift of their opponents.

That was far from a fatal blow in terms of the Red Devils' top-four hopes, but the 2-1 reverse at the hands of Wolves two weeks ago was a lot more damaging, as the FA Cup was seen as Solskjaer's best chance of adding some silverware to the trophy cabinet.

Solskjaer did not hold back after the quarter-final loss, admitting that his side took "a big step backwards" with their performance. If anything, though, it went a long way to showing that plenty of work still needs to be done in the summer to turn United into title challengers.

Before the transfer window opens, United still have plenty to play for. As well as preparing for a Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona, Solskjaer will also be targeting a run of victories in the Premier League to overhaul Arsenal - or Tottenham Hotspur - and finish in the top four.

If the second half of 2018-19 was considered a free hit for United's Norwegian gaffer, next season will be nothing of the sort. By returning to winning ways at Old Trafford on Saturday and rebuilding some momentum, Solskjaer can usher in a new era and send out a message that English football's most successful club are back in the mix for major honours.

Recent form in Premier League: WWDWWL
Recent form (all competitions): DWWWLL


Watford's Andre Gray celebrates scoring their second goal with Troy Deeney during their FA Cup quarter-final with Crystal Palace on March 16, 2019© Reuters

Unlike Saturday's opponents, Watford have an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to in a little over a week's time after edging out Crystal Palace 2-1 in their most recent outing.

Etienne Capoue and Andre Gray struck either side of Michy Batshuayi's strike to set up a meeting with United's conquerors Wolves at Wembley next month, and all of a sudden this is shaping up to be one of the most memorable campaigns in Watford's history.

As well as challenging for silverware in the oldest club competition of them all, Watford are also in contention to qualify for the Europa League via the more traditional league route.

Seventh place could well be enough to secure European football for next season, and Javi Gracia's side lag just a point behind Wolves as we enter the final straight.

Gracia has now prioritised the FA Cup, rotating almost his entire side for the recent trip to Manchester City in the Premier League, which came a week before his side's quarter-final against Palace.

Even with the majority of their regulars on the bench, Watford restricted the champions to minimal chances during the first half at the Etihad Stadium and were only undone by a controversial goal early in the second half, eventually succumbing to a 3-1 reverse.

Since their return to the Premier League in 2015, Watford have now taken just four points from 66 available away against big-six sides, losing the last 13 in a row. The exceptions were a 2-2 draw at Chelsea in December 2015 and a 2-1 win at Arsenal in January 2017.

After losing back-to-back away matches to Liverpool and Man City, conceding eight goals in the process, Gracia will know that this weekend's match provides him with an opportunity to put that negative statistic right.

Recent form in Premier League: DWWLWL
Recent form (all competitions): WWLWLW

Team News

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring against Leicester City in the Premier League on February 3, 2019.© Reuters

The two-week hiatus came at a good time for Solskjaer as he has been given a chance to get a number of his walking wounded up to full fitness.

Long-serving full-back Antonio Valencia made his return to action for Ecuador over the international break and Matteo Darmian is also back available for selection.

Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard were used against Wolves after spending the best part of a month on the sidelines, meanwhile, and the likes of Eric Bailly, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford should also be in contention after a period of recuperation.

Striker Romelu Lukaku is not expected to return to action until next week, however, so Solskjaer may be tempted to go with Rashford - fitness depending - through the middle.

In terms of the visitors, Jose Holebas is their only injury doubt due to a ankle problem sustained against Palace a couple of weeks ago.

Gracia rotated his side in the league match immediately before their last FA Cup tie, but after a two-week rest he may be tempted to get his first-team stars back in the groove of things.

Troy Deeney and Gerard Deulofeu are therefore likely to start up top in what is a unique 4-2-2-2 formation of sorts, with Will Hughes and Roberto Pereyra occupying central positions.

Deulofeu has had a hand in six goals in his last four Premier League games - four goals, two assists - and 41% of his total goal involvements in the competition have come in his last 21 games this season (12/29).

Manchester United possible starting lineup:
De Gea; Young, Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw; Herrera, Matic, Pogba; Lingard; Martial, Rashford

Watford possible starting lineup:
Foster; Janmaat, Mariappa, Cathcart, Masina; Hughes, Capoue, Doucoure, Pereyra; Deeney, Deulofeu

Head To Head

Man United have won 10 of their 11 Premier League matches against Watford, with their only loss coming in September 2016.

The Hornets are winless in all 11 away league visits to United, and they have won just once at Old Trafford in all competitions - a 2-1 League Cup victory 41 years ago.

In terms of top-flight meetings, the only side to play more away matches against United without winning than Watford are Luton Town (15 between 1955 and 1991).

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We say: Manchester United 3-1 Watford

United suffered their first league loss of the Solskjaer era against Arsenal and followed that up with defeat to Wolves in the FA Cup. Not since August have they lost consecutive league games, and not since September 2016 have they lost three successive games in all competitions. The third of those defeats came against Watford, ironically, but we are backing the Red Devils to come out on top in this one.

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Manchester United forward Anthony Martial in action during his side's Premier League clash with Fulham on February 9, 2019
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