2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Watford (4-0-0) vs. Manchester United (2-0-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

The surprise package of the first four matches, Watford put their 100 percent record on the line Saturday at Vicarage Road as they try to move nine points clear of Manchester United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Hornets (4-0-0) are enjoying the high life at the moment, trailing only evergreens Liverpool and Chelsea in the table with the maximum 12 points. Manager Javi Gracia has gotten his team to buy into his 4-2-2-2 formation, with Roberto Pereyra a revelation on the left wing replacing the departed Richarlison and keeper Ben Foster making the most of his second go-round with Watford.

One of the underrated parts to Watford’s success is their ability to build a deep squad that is able to run a two-track course with league and cup responsibilities. Watford have won all five of their matches overall and overturned their entire XI in their Carabao Cup win at Reading.

Gracia was named Premier League Manager of the Month, and the Spaniard has instilled confidence his team can claim another high-profile pelt after rallying to defeat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 before the international break on goals by Troy Deeney and Craig Cathcart set up by Jose Holebas seven minutes apart in the second half.

“In this moment the results help us to feel we can do it, but it’s only a feeling because you have to do many things to win,” Gracia told Watford’s official website as they seek a club-record fifth consecutive home win in the top flight. “We need to manage situations, we need to play well, run a lot and fight a lot. After that we can have some options to win. We try to prepare as good as possible.”

Pereyra has a team-high three goals and Holebas leads the way with four assists. The Hornets have scored at least two goals in all five of their victories. Gracia is expected to stick with the same XI he has used in all four of his league matches, with Deeney and Andre Gray leading the line ahead of wingers Pereyra and Will Hughes.

“We are in a good moment, we are enjoying it, we know in the future things may change but this is a good moment for us,” Gracia added. “I prefer not to speak about if it’s the fifth game in a row, the sixth or the fourth – it’s the next one, the new one and the chance to get three points. The past is the past. I prefer to focus on the next game and the next three points.”

Getting three points has been challenging at times for Manchester United (2-0-2), who have been plagued by inconsistency and injuries at various positions across the pitch. They avoided a third consecutive loss before the international break with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at Burnley that relieved some of the crisis mode surrounding Jose Mourinho and the side, but the truth remains United have much heavy lifting to do to get back into the Premier League race.

The next challenge for Mourinho comes at left back, where Luke Shaw is not likely to play after suffering a concussion playing for England in their Nations League opener versus Spain. Shaw, who had been a whipping boy for Mourinho since his arrival from Southampton, had gotten into the manager’s good graces with a roaring start in being named the club’s player of the month.

United do have options if Shaw is not cleared to play, with one possibility being teenager and summer signing Diogo Dalot making his league debut. Dalot, a £19 million transfer from Porto, had his first action of the season with United’s Under-23 side earlier this week after recovering from an injury suffered last season.

“It was nice, the atmosphere was good, I can imagine if the stadium is full and I am very happy to come back,” Dalot told United’s official website. “It feels good to be back. It was a special night, getting my first minutes after four long months and I am really happy. It is a really special moment for me. I just want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing medical department and the coach, who has believed in me since day one.”

If Mourinho wants a veteran presence, he could opt for Marcos Rojo as the Argentina international has worked his way back into match shape recovering from injuries.

Marouane Fellaini is questionable for the match with a back injury that forced him to withdraw from Belgium’s Nations League matches. The towering midfielder was an influential figure in the win over Burnley in his first start of the season.

One player who will not be available is attacking winger Marcus Rashford, who will serve the first of his three-match ban for his headbutt of Phil Bardsley in the win over Burnley. His absence could be filled by Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata or Anthony Martial as Mourinho prepares for a busy stretch of schedule in which United play five matches across three competitions.

Rashford, though, will be available for United’s Champions League opener against Swiss side Young Boys on Wednesday.

United did the double over Watford last season, including a 4-2 victory in the corresponding fixture. Ashley Young scored twice in a six-minute span of the first half, and Martial made it 3-0 just after the half-hour. Manchester United are 9-0-1 in league matches against the Hornets, with the lone loss a 3-1 defeat at Vicarage Road in 2016.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are solid favourites with 10/11 odds, and Watford will give a 3/1 return if they continue their 100 percent start. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 12/5.

United get a 21/10 return to win with more than 2.5 goals and 16/5 odds to win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count. There are also 13/4 odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, while Watford have 6/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals and 7/1 under 2.5.

Lukaku is the favourite to make it 1-0 at 4/1 odds, with Sanchez hot on his heels at 5/1. Martial is third at 13/2, with Lingard close behind at 7/1. Deeney is the top Watford option at 15/2, followed by Gray at 8/1. Despite his three goals, Pereyra is listed at 11/1 to open the scoring.

Pereyra’s odds for a goal at any time in the match improve to 7/2, while Lukaku nets a 6/4 return. Sanchez has 9/2 odds to bag his first goal of the season for United, with Paul Pogba and Juan Mata receiving 13/5 odds. Deeney is also listed at 13/5 to beat David De Gea at some point.

PREDICTION

Do you know how I know it was a good week of practice for Manchester United? Mourinho was railing about all the questions surrounding Rashford, who isn’t even playing as he serves the first of this three-match ban for his red card against Burnley. In some ways, that win came at the worst time for United since it was clearly their better victory of the two they have.

Replacing Shaw — provided he is not cleared to play — will provide some obvious talking points, more so if Dalot does not make his debut after playing for the Under-23 side, but this is where United must kick on and get on with their season. They cannot afford to lose this game and be nine points behind Liverpool and seven points behind their eternal rivals across town (note: this space is not entirely sold on Chelsea, but a nine-point deficit would be inconvenient) given how the league is again quickly turning into a top 7/bottom 13 league once more.

And all this is not designed to give short shrift to Watford. The Hornets deserve their status as flavour of the month given their start, with Gracia doing excellent work. Watford have a track record of starting fast before fading in recent seasons, and either avoiding or enduring through that difficult stretch is Gracia’s biggest challenge.

Despite their maximum record, the break after rallying past Spurs may have come at the perfect time for Watford because it allowed Gracia to teach as opposed to simply ride the momentum of a big win into the next match. Those lessons will be learned, and while a fifth league win on the trot may be too big an ask, a hard-earned draw feels like the most likely outcome.

Predicted Final Score: Watford 1, Manchester United 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 4 Preview: Watford (3-0-0) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (3-0-0)

Perhaps there was a method to Tottenham Hotspur’s madness of inactivity in the summer window.

Owning the maximum nine points, the Lilywhites look to open a season with four league victories for the first time in nine years Sunday when they face upstart Watford in an unexpected clash of top-four sides.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Much continues to be made of the Lilywhites’ decision to stand pat in the summer transfer window, an unprecedented stance by a Premier League team in the 15 years of its existence. Yet even coming off a World Cup summer, club chairman Daniel Levy and manager Mauricio Pochettino have been validated by their decision early, the latest evidence provided in an emphatic 3-0 rout at Manchester United on Monday.

Harry Kane scored his first league goal at the “Theatre of Dreams” five minutes after the restart with a perfectly placed header off a corner from Kieran Trippier, and Lucas Moura added a brace as Spurs (3-0-0) made a statement of intent they intend to challenge reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool for league honours.

Both Kane and Moura have scored in each of Tottenham’s last two matches, with Moura scoring three goals after producing just one in 12 following his move from PSG in January. Kane, meanwhile, has 61 in his last 70 league matches and furthered the proficiency that warranted his new £90 million contract signed in June.

“It’s massive, just what we needed,” Kane told Spurs’ official website. “We need to kill teams off, especially away from home. “As a club, we want to stay top of the league and the only way to do that is by coming to places like this and getting results, so (Monday) is a huge statement.”

Kane has 142 goals with Tottenham, one shy of tying Jermain Defoe for fifth on the club’s all-time list.

The win also quieted the talk around keeper Hugo Lloris, who turned in his first clean sheet of the season less than 72 hours after being arrested for drink driving. The backstop of France’s World Cup-winning squad retained the captain’s armband and came up with a pivotal save on Romelu Lukaku shortly after Kane’s goal that preserved the slim margin before Moura struck on 52 minutes.

“Hugo knows he made a big mistake,” Pochettino told the BBC after the match. “We will support him, knowing it cannot be justified. He has apologised to fans, us, the whole country. He is punishing himself. He feels so bad.”

Spurs have not opened a season with four league wins on the trot since 2009-10 under Harry Redknapp but faded to a fourth-place finish. Pochettino is understandably pleased with the start but is not getting ahead of himself as Spurs will start gearing up for Champions League opponents Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Inter Milan after the international break.

“The most important thing is to keep calm,” he said. “If at the end of the season with 10 games to go and we are in a good position then we have already shown we can fight.”

Twenty-four kilometres to the west just outside London’s city limits, Watford (3-0-0) are the unexpected team out of the four on nine points alongside Liverpool, Chelsea, and Spurs. Javi Gracia’s team has confounded pundits who thought the selling of Richarlison to Everton would result in a fast track to relegation.

The Hornets found a more than adequate replacement on the left wing in Roberto Pereyra as the Argentina international has bagged three goals. An underrated summer acquisition in bringing keeper Ben Foster back to Vicarage Road also has paid dividends — the Hornets are seeking their second four-match winning streak in Premier League play in club history and first 4-0-0 start at any level since 1988-89 in Division Two.

The Hornets continued their bright play Wednesday, advancing to the third round of the Carabao Cup with a 2-0 victory at Championship side Reading. Isaac Success and 18-year-old Domingos Quina scored on either side of halftime for Watford, who sport enough depth they overturned their entire starting XI from last Sunday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace for the cup tie.

“The atmosphere in the dressing room is incredible, we’re all prepared for the next challenge,” Success told Watford’s official YouTube channel after scoring his first goal since October 2016. “I’m happy for the team, it was a good win for us. It will make us concentrate more, and we will be ready for Sunday’s game.”

Nathaniel Chalobah and Stefano Okaka made their season debuts after recovering from injury, with Chalobah the more likely of the two to be on the bench for this match. Team selection has become a pleasant headache for Gracia as players are competing for spots throughout the side.

“It is a difficult situation for me,” he said. “I try to choose the best options for the next game and I know my decisions are not fair with some players, but I can only take 18. I would take more players if I could, but it is not possible.”

Watford have yet to beat Tottenham in the Premier League era, claiming three draws in 12 overall matches. All three draws, however, have come at Vicarage Road, including last term’s 1-1 stalemate. The Hornets were aided by Spurs defender Davinson Sanchez being sent off in the 52nd minute.

The teams will also face off in the third round of the Carabao Cup on Sept. 24, but Spurs have asked it be moved to Stadium MK – 80 kilometres from White Hart Lane. Their new stadium is still under construction and Wembley is hosting the Anthony Joshua-Alexander Povetkin heavyweight boxing fight two days prior and is unavailable.

The EFL board which oversees the cup will review the request next Friday.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are solid 6/10 favourites to continue their perfect start, and Watford are 9/2 underdogs to pull off a surprise and continue theirs. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 3/1.

Oddsmakers are liking a Spurs victory over 2.5 goals as those odds lead the pack at 27/20. A 1-0 or 2-0 Lilywhites win returns on 16/5 odds, while a 0-0 or 1-0 draw are slightly longer at 21/5. For those thinking Watford can get their first Premier League era win over Spurs, it’s 15/2 odds on over 2.5 goals and 11/1 on under.

For first goal-scorers, Kane leads the line at 12/5, followed by Fernando Llorente (4/1), Christian Eriksen (13/2) and Dele Alli (7/1). Moura is joint-fifth with Erik Lamela at 15/2, just ahead of top Watford option Troy Deeney (17/2).

Kane has 7/10 odds to run his goal-scoring streak to three matches, while Moura is further back at 23/10. Llorente is 13/10 to find the back of the net, and at 21/10, Eriksen edges out Alli (11/5). Deeney is the top option for the Hornets at 13/5, with Pereyra checking in with 7/2 odds. Gerard Deloufeu is also sporting 7/2 odds to score, which is intriguing since he has yet to play a single minute.

PREDICTION

This is a step up in class for Watford after three wins to start the season turned everyone’s head. Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 set-up has given his wingers room to roam on the flank, with Pereyra taking full advantage of the opportunity offered to him with Richarlison’s departure.

The Hornets have shown they have the potential to be a mid-table team with the victories over Burnley and Palace, now they can show whether they will be a team with potential to make a run at something bigger.

Tottenham have looked the part of a well-oiled machine, though the listless stretches of play that came in their wins over Newcastle and Fulham again were evident against Manchester United before breaking them down early in the second half and taking advantage of a back line bereft of confidence.

This will be an intriguing challenge since Watford’s back four have conceded just twice in the three league wins while playing all 270 minutes together. Spurs are always going to be the more likely of the two teams to leave it late for all three points, but the hedge here is Watford plays over their heads and grab a point.

Predicted final score: Watford 1, Tottenham Hotspur 1.

Other Match Day 4 previews:

Leicester City (2-0-1) vs. Liverpool (3-0-0)
Chelsea (3-0-0) vs. Bournemouth (2-1-0)
West Ham United (0-0-3) vs. Wolverhampton (0-2-1)
Manchester City (2-1-0) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-2)