Cleat Geeks

Watford 1 Manchester United 2 & Echoes of 1999

olegunnarsolskjaerA well loved mantra of the Manchester United supporters is “Who put the ball in the Germans net, Ole Gunnar Solskjær”. This, as any self professed United supporter will tell you, harks back to the famous night in Barcelona, Wednesday 26th May 1999, when with Manchester United trailing 1-0 to Bayern Munich, United scored two goals in the three minutes extra time to win the UEFA Champions League 2-1. Giving birth to the now famous catch phrase uttered by manager Alex Ferguson after the game “football, bloody hell”.

It is Solskjær, who scored the all important second goal after Teddy Sheringham had scuffed in the equalizer, who remains foremost in the minds of the United fans that evening. All the glittering prizes in that season of 1998-1999; UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and the Premier League Title, ended their own particular journeys at Old Trafford. It was Solskjær’s outstretched right kick deep in injury time from a corner by David Beckham and headed towards goal by Sheringham, which to paraphrase Captain Kirk ‘made it so’.

Around 3.30pm on Saturday 21st November at the home of Watford FC, perhaps the seeds for another mantra were sown this time in favor of a German. With time fast diminishing the home crowd were in full voice after seeing Troy Deeney hit home a disputed penalty decision. David De Gea after his heroics of the afternoon was finally beaten and with it Manchester United’s long run of 641 minutes without conceding a goal ended.

Then adding to the drama Bastian Schweinsteiger latched onto Lindard’s parried shot by Heurelho Gomes the Watford goalkeeper near the byline rifling it across goal more in hope than expectation. The cross shot most likely would have been cleared or saved however in his rush to defend it Deeney inadvertently helped the ball into the net. That however did not stop the mass ranks of United supporters in the ground celebrating the late winner in style. The goal was also celebrated by Schweinsteiger as if he had hit the winner in a World Cup Final as he charged down the touchline. The relief of his United team mates was plain for all to see and the group celebration echoed that fact,

Ander Herrera who had been taken off in the 25th minute with a suspected hamstring injury nearly demolished the away team dugout, perhaps charges of ‘dug out abuse’ will follow at a later date.

Although not technically Schweinsteiger’s first Manchester United goal nevertheless the United fans might well think it a moment worthy of being documented in song. Perhaps not quite on the level of the more famous ’12 Day’s of Cantona’ or even ‘Who put the ball in the German’s net, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’ but still worthy of recall in future matches.

The late goal brought back memories of the Sir Alex Ferguson era when late goals were almost the norm and the ‘fat lady’ often sang loudest during the dying embers of the game. The reason for the collective relief was in truth more about a game in which United looked comfortable and ready to pick up the three points. The late Watford rally again proving that 1-0 is never enough and no match should be taken for granted in the Premier League.

In a match which fitted the cliche ‘a game of two halves’ Watford in the second half finally decided to give their supporters something to cheer about. It could and probably should have been different as just before the Deeney equalizer United’s new protege, Jesse Lingard was clear with only the Watford keeper Gomes to beat. Unfortunately Lingard failed in lifting the ball over the oncoming keeper who was adroit enough to save the attempt.

United fielded a team short of four of five regular players due to injury or as in the case of Wayne Rooney sickness. Louis Van Gaal team shape was set up very differently at Vicarage Road with Morgan Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Juan Mata, Herrera, Memphis Depay and Lingard in a 4-2-2-2. Mata and Herrera were however allowed to drift wide and for the first 30 minutes Watford could not handle United. Unfortunately for Van Gaal once Herrera went off he was forced into a reshuffle which affected United’s overall passing game and rhythm.

The main striking position was taken by Memphis Depay who until recently has been a little out of favor with the Old Trafford boss. Van Gaal challenged Depay to step up and find his form and the winger turned striker for the day answered his manager’s clarion call with a superbly taken volley in the 11th minute. Depay’s lack of match fitness saw him disappear in the second half but with games coming thick and fast over the next few weeks he will perhaps have the chance to become the player United expected in the summer.

It was not only a good goal for Depay but a good team goal as the cross was swung over from the right by Herrera. Without looking where he was going to place it Herrera’s instinctive skill gave the ball a superb arc landing towards the penalty spot. Depay keeping himself onside met the ball around knee height and sent it past Gomes in the Watford net.

Even in a match United were controlling, when the Watford revival came, they must have been thankful they still have De Gea in their goal after the summer on-off transfer to Real Madrid fell through at the last minute. De Gea playing against a side managed by Quique Sanchez Flores, who gave him his debut for Atletico Madrid made five crucial saves, including a stunning reaction stop from Almen Abdi’s deflected strike with the score 1-0.

At the final whistle the contrasting expressions of desolation and jubilation from the two teams were mirrored on the Watford terraces. Deeney took a pragmatic approach in the post match interview in expressing his own feelings and the unusual experienced of scoring Manchester United’d late winner. Reflecting that any positive result against United would have been a bonus Deeney spoke of Watford’s next three matches against lesser teams and the need to pick up needed and valuable points from them.

The joy of the result and the three points which temporarily took United to the top of the table will no doubt be tempered by the present injury crisis. The tactics the manager uses in the upcoming games will no doubt be determined by who he can pick for the first eleven rather than who he leaves out.

His first decision comes quickly on Wednesday night when United play PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Champions League. A win guaranteeing United progress to the knockout stage of the competition when it resumes again after the Christmas break.

One player certain of his place on Wednesday night barring any late injury will be Bastian Schweinsteiger who not only has a history of winning with his previous club Bayern Munich but also with the German national team. He brings to the United team a depth of European football knowledge and know-how, which on nights like Wednesday against PSV is invaluable. He may not, in the end, have scored his first United goal at Watford, but that will not stop the United faithful singing Basti,Basti,Basti, and perhaps creating a new mantra in his honor, with echoes from 1999.

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