Manchester United v Watford: Back the Red Devils to find their scoring form
Alan Dudman previews this Sunday's match at Old Trafford, and is confident Manchester United can gain a victory against Watford...
Manchester United v Watford Sunday 14:00
Win at Chelsea has put United in top four contention
It was suggested that Manchester United "blew apart" the top four race on Monday with their excellent counter-attacking 0-2 win at Chelsea - which took them to within three points of Frank Lampard's side in the chase for those much-coveted Champions League spots. The result, and frailties of the Blues, highlighted how inconsistent teams are behind Liverpool, and to a lesser extent Manchester City.
The gulf is huge.
Goals from Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire secured the three points in London last week, and Martial popped up again for his 14th of the season on Thursday against Club Bruges - a game that provided minimal excitement. And those two fixtures and performances sum up United; we never really know what we are going to get. Yes, good against Chelsea, but they really struggled to break down a well-organised unit in that Europa League fixture.
United are 4.70 to back for a Top Four Finish currently, which might look good in a few weeks if results pick up again. But in short, they remain on the penumbra of the league's quality teams. Their points tally of 38 is their lowest after 26 matches since 1989-90, stats that back that up my earlier statement.
Worrying signs for Pearson with progress stalling
The Nigel Pearson revival (a good name for a band) has somewhat stalled following an initial six-game unbeaten run. The win at Bournemouth took them out of the bottom three for the first time, but they've dipped back into the danger zone following a sequence of two defeats in their last three.
Their latest game 13 days ago against Brighton was described as a "missed opportunity" by Pearson. His team were quite sloppy on the ball, and it was slightly worrying they got pinned back defensively and were far too deep in the second half. Although goalkeeper Ben Foster only had one save to make .
Whether opponents are a bit cuter to Pearson's tactics or the impact of his methods have slightly dimmed, Watford are still engulfed in a fight for survival. That's the nub of the matter.
Hornets' fans are probably thankful that West Ham are losing the plot at the moment - with the Hammers now shorter in the Relegation market at 2.30 than Watford at 2.72.
Hosts have a tremendous record at Old Trafford against the Hornets
Using Opta as our guide, Watford have absolutely no chance on historical figures. They have never won away in the league in 12 attempts at Old Trafford and have lost their last eight in a row. On the flip side, the hosts have won all six of their Premier League matches against the Hornets at OT - scoring 14 goals and conceding just two.
The Red Devils were priced at 1.38 to beat Norwich recently, but they are a touch bigger at 1.65 for Sunday in the outright Match Odds. It's not the sort of bet I would recommend, as I don't like backing at those sort of odds, especially as you never quite know what you are going to get with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team.
Yes, there'll be plenty who think those odds at a shade bigger than 1/2 are worth backing. I'd much rather take the Man Utd -1 in the Watford +1 market at around 2.74.
And with that, I am hoping Bruno Fernandes starts. The £47m man has looked full of bloom and freshness when he has played. His debut against Wolves saw him carry the strongest offensive threat with five shots and 88 passes - both superior to any other United player in that game. He also looked bright in midweek against Bruges with a willingness to carry the ball forward. There was also one exceptional pass from the former Sporting man. I do like him.
Solskjaer's team have only conceded 12 at Old Trafford this season, so that should give us a bit of hope that they can score at least twice at the other end to land the bet.
Scott McTominay could return to the squad for the first time since Boxing Day, and United look a better team with him involved. January transfer deadline day signing Odion Ighalo is also tipped to start against the club where he made his name with 16 goals in 55 appearances. For Watford; Ismaila Sarr and Kiko Fermenia could return.
Can Watford old boy net against his former team?
Having outlined my best bet of taking Manchester United -1, I'm hoping we get more of a Norwich performance rather than the 0-0 one against Wolves, and that can be in the back your mind with this current Red Devils team. That inconsistency goes a long way in explaining the 1.94 on offer for the Under 2.5 Goals against the 2.02 for Over 2.5.
They might not be the most trustworthy, which is why I would rather take the 2.70 than those goals markets and prices.
There could be a bit of sentiment around Ighalo for this one, and he's looked quite sharp in his brief run-outs thus far. He is 2.26 in the To Score market, and a healthy 4.80 in the First Goalscorer one. Could he start alongside Anthony Martial in a "two" with Fernandes creating in behind? If yes, I'd be disappointed if they couldn't find the back of the net against a Watford team with a 1.72 GA per game record.
In terms of a cover bet, using the 0-0 Correct Score to trade from 13.00 looks interesting. We don't have to find the winner to make a profit if we can get to around 20 minutes for that bet, and if Watford sit deep with the plan to defend and stifle, it could present an opportunity to "green up" as the 13.00 looks a touch high, and we could aim to get out of the bet at around 10.00.