Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s work hung on a wire after 10 men Manchester United dropped to a 4-1 defeat against Watford on Saturday. United’s fifth defeat in seven Premier League matches increases the pressure on the Norwegian manager to extreme levels as club bosses decide whether they want to pull the plug on his rule. Claudio Ranieri’s eager Watford team, who came into the game after losing four of their last five Premier League games, were battled over and figured out. Watford dominated the first half and earned their two-goal lead at halftime, thanks to goals from Joshua King and Ismaila Sarr.
The visitors conceded a goal early in the second half through substitute Donny van de Beek but could not find an equalizer and captain Harry Maguire was sent off with just over 20 minutes left.
Substitute Joao Pedro ended United’s hopes with a late third and Emmanuel Dennis rubbed salt into Solskjaer’s wounds, making it 4-1.
Vicarage Road were gripped by early drama when referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the penalty in the sixth minute after United midfielder Scott McTominay King bundled in the box.
Sarr’s weak penalty goal was saved by the Spaniard, but Kiko Femenia fired from the right side of the box only to see that his goal was ruled out by VAR for boxing.
Sarr took over the kick but De Gea saved again to keep the score goalless.
Watford looked the more dangerous side as the half progressed, with United struggling to establish any semblance of control despite playing two holding midfielders in McTominay and Nemanja Matic.
They took the lead they deserved when King kicked home a cross from the impressive Dennis.
King should have doubled the lead with a free kick from the center of the goal, but De Gea made a straight save.
Watford got the second goal they deserved so richly just before half-time when Sarr made up for his earlier penalty miss to sneak past De Gea from the point.
Solskjaer woke up in the tunnel during the break, assaulted by chants of “You will be fired in the morning” while desperately planning a way back to the game.
He threw in Van de Beek and Anthony Martial for Marcus Rashford and McTominay and United suddenly found a bit of rhythm.
They were level in the 50th minute when Van de Beek headed home from close range after a header from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Suddenly, United played with more freedom and fluency. Bruno Fernandes shot wide before Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster made an excellent save to refuse Ronaldo when he was through the goal.
But they could not get another goal and Magiure was sent off in the 69th minute for a challenge on Tom Cleverley.
Pedro pushed from a tight corner to beat De Gea to make it 3-1 and Dennis struck from the right side of the box to send the Watford fans into ecstasy.
The Red Devils are now 12 points behind the leaders, Chelsea, and run the risk of losing contact with the top four.
Solskjaer was without 20-year-old Mason Greenwood, who tested positive for coronavirus. He will now have to undergo a period of isolation during a crucial period for United.
United face a difficult Champions League trip to Villarreal on Tuesday before traveling to Premier League leaders Chelsea next weekend.
But there is now serious doubt whether Solskjaer will remain in charge.