Man United fight back in win over Watford just like the old days
When chasing the game, van Gaal's side looked like the dynamic United teams of old
(Troy Deeney 87-pen)
MAN UNITED 2
(Memphis Depay 11, Troy Deeney 90-og)
For three short minutes at Vicarage Road yesterday, Manchester United rolled back the years.
The adrenalin returned.
The players buzzed about the pitch with a sense of purpose and intensity that had been missing for years.
They pressed Watford with conviction, and pushed the ball forward at every chance.
If the middle got too crowded, they spread it to the flanks.
Going backwards wasn't an option.
It was almost too good to be true.
Alas, it was out of necessity rather than by choice, as the Red Devils desperately sought the win over Watford which would move to the top of the English Premier League, for a couple of hours, at least.
United manager Louis van Gaal had to order his players to abandon their defensive posts, after seeing their slender 1-0 win erased by an 87th-minute Troy Deeney equaliser from the spot.
Unshackled, the players let their instincts work the magic instead of their head.
A winning goal looked almost inevitable. This was like the United of old.
Eventually it came, near the stroke of full-time, when Bastian Schweinsteiger's shot was squeezed into his own goal by Deeney.
It was brilliant while it lasted.
Immediately after the goal, van Gaal flicked the switch, and United saw out the 2-1 win with the cautious possession game they had played for 87 minutes, and seemingly for most of this season.
The Red Devils emerged with the three points, but the pragmatic game which the Dutchman subscribes to means that sooner or later, they will be caught out for refusing to inject more attacking intent into their game.
The win will, however, fuel van Gaal's resolve to do it his way.
On a day when his team were depleted by injuries to his forwards, this was a result and performance he will happily accept.
His decision to field Memphis Depay as a striker in his starting 11 paid off.
For more than six weeks, the 21-year-old Dutchman chomped at the bit, wondering if his second chance would ever come.
After a bright start to his Old Trafford career, he had fallen out of favour with his countryman van Gaal in recent weeks.
Not since Oct 4, when United lost 3-0 to Arsenal away, had he started a Premiership game.
In the absence of the ill Wayne Rooney and the injured Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini, Depay flew out of the traps.
His opening goal, in the 11th minute, took a combination of finesse, timing and efficiency.
Ander Herrera sent in a superb cross, and Depay timed his run to perfection before connecting with the ball in mid-air to thump home a confident finish.
He could have notched a couple more, but for Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes' blocks.
United appeared to be cruising, although Deeney almost made it 1-1 in the 56th minute with a sizzling shot which David de Gea saved.
Later, de Gea would pull off an even more remarkable instinctive save, from an Almen Abdi shot that took a deflection off a defender's head.
The drama, though, was reserved for the final minutes of the match.
Marcos Rojo, who came on as a first-half substitute for the injured Herrera, brought down Odion Ighalo in the penalty area.
Deeney scored from the resulting penalty to shock United into action.
The brief spell of free-flowing attacking football saw United get their reward.
United have not forgotten how to play an attacking game.
They just need to be allowed to, that's all.
"In football you always have 90 to 93 minutes. you always have to believe. There was a bit of luck but we are happy to get the three points."
- Manchester United goalscorer Bastian Schweinsteiger
BY THE NUMBERS
Troy Deeney’s penalty against Man United was the first goal the Red Devils have conceded in 641 minutes.
Since he made his debut for Man United in Jan 2014, Juan Mata has been involved in more EPL goals (30) than any other player.
Troy Deeney became the first player to score a goal and an own goal in the same EPL game since Damien Delaney in May 2014.