Watford have enjoyed a strong first few months of the Premier League season and will be hopeful of causing an upset when they host Manchester United at Vicarage Road on Tuesday (20:00 GMT, live on BT Sport).
Watford were similarly impressive during the first third of last season only to fall away after the turn of the year and eventually end the campaign in 17th, just six points clear of relegation. But all indications are that their form is more sustainable this time around.
Not only do The Hornets have solid underlying statistics (albeit with some room for improvement on the defensive end) that justify their current league position of eighth, but they have also picked up 16 more points than they did in their equivalent fixtures against the same opponents last season. Both indicate that significant improvements have been made.
A convincing 3-0 win away to Newcastle on Saturday provided further evidence that Watford look good for a top-half finish. Will Hughes got on the scoresheet for a second consecutive match, while fellow summer signing Richarlison again directly contributed to a goal, for the eighth time this season, by setting up Andre Gray for the third. The second was an own goal. Marco Silva afterwards expressed his delight at a clinical display from his side.
Silva came in to replace Walter Mazzarri as head coach in the summer after an impressive, if eventually futile, attempt at keeping Hull in the Premier League during the second half of last season. After a good start at Vicarage Road, he now seems to be very much the in-fashion coach, with Everton still keen on wresting him from Watford mid-season.
Jose Mourinho was once in the same position as his Portuguese compatriot. It seemed he could do little wrong over the course of his first couple of seasons in English football, during which he provided Chelsea with back-to-back league titles and produced a string of controversial utterances that were happily gobbled up by the British press pack.
Since, though, the shine has slowly but surely come off him. He is still a very successful coach, of that there is no doubt, but his act is getting a little tired. He spends a lot of money and brings short-term success to his teams with an efficient, often defensive, approach, but his divisive style means that things often start to unravel come this third season in charge.
This is his second at the helm of Manchester United and it currently seems unlikely that he will be able to continue his record of having won the league title in his second full season at each of his previous clubs. Local rivals Manchester City’s relentless accumulation of points means that while United are well on course to comfortably better their haul from last season, the likelihood is that it will not be enough to win the title. The bookies’ Premier League betting odds rightly suggest that Man Utd have almost no chance.
Mourinho’s side extended their perfect home record this season with a slightly awkward 1-0 win over Brighton on Saturday. A Lewis Dunk own goal mid-way through the second half was sufficient to see them record their 10th win in 10 matches at Old Trafford in all competitions. Their road form, a strength last season, has been less impressive, with two wins, two draws and two defeats in their six away league matches to date.
That and the fact that Watford were 3-1 victors in last season’s equivalent fixture – their first victory over United since the mid-80s in an admittedly fairly limited set of meetings – gives reason to believe that Silva could be capable of upsetting his compatriot on Tuesday. How competitive his underpowered Hull side were against United in the semi-finals of last season’s League Cup, losing out 2-3 on aggregate, only strengthens that belief.
Watford have already defeated Arsenal and drawn with Liverpool at Vicarage Road this season, so a win or draw against Man Utd is very much possible; if they do fall to defeat, the margin is likely to be narrow.