Asked why Shaw, Lindelof and Pogba were not in the squad, Solskjaer added: “They are injured.”

A weakened United side were far from convincing but Scott McTominay’s fifth-minute header was enough to ensure Solskjaer’s side avoided more cup disappointment after Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final exit to Manchester City. Solskjaer made nine changes from that game with Burnley and Liverpool in mind, and while Juan Mata and Donny van de Beek equipped themselves well, United made heavy weather of things against a dogged Watford.

“After 15 or 20 minutes it seemed like the balloon popped, they came into the game, we gave them confidence and they really gave us a good game,” Solskjaer said. “We lost our shape, lost too many balls, we started making difficult decisions, complicating things, but we’re through and that’s the main thing.”

United had got off to the perfect start. Alex Telles whipped over a corner and McTominay – captain on the night until Harry Maguire replaced Bailly – darted in front of Adam Masina, headed down into the ground and watched as the ball bounced up high and in off the post beyond the despairing reach of Bachmann. “Scott has got everything a leader has, I wanted to test him, I gave him the armband to see if there was any change in him but there wasn’t,” Solskjaer said.

United should have scored a second goal moments before Bailly went off. Mata passed the ball into Mason Greenwood, who knocked it first time into Van de Beek. It has been a tough start to life at Old Trafford for the Dutchman but his back heel into the path Mata running in behind was exquisite. Mata should have scored but his shot was weak and straight at goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann. 

Watford, unfazed about going behind so early, had United on the back foot for long periods and, while it was understandable the home side might struggle for fluency given how little football some of them had played, they were sloppy on the ball and too slow to close down space.

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