Goals from Juan Mata and Anthony Martial saw Manchester United beat Watford 2-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday to extend the unbeaten league run to 16 matches and cut the gap to 2nd place to two points.
United were outstanding in the first half, in particular after the opening 20 minutes when Anthony Martial properly came into the game. It was only suitable that Martial was the one that set up Mata for the opening goal just after the half hour mark with a low cross at the near post. Mata had an easy job for the tap-in and United were finally ahead after blitzing the Watford goal for about 15 minutes straight.
The Frenchman was in inspiring form after being reintroduced to the starting XI and got United’s second just before an hour was played at Old Trafford. Henrikh Mkhitaryan started a counterattack, found Zlatan Ibrahimovic who again played through Martial down the left. Inside the box at a cute angle, the 21-year-old cut inside and cleverly finished at the near post.
United were in complete control and were unlucky not to be 3 or 4 up by half time. The first half was one of the most scintillating halves of the season as the front four with Martial, Mkhitaryan, Mata and Zlatan peppered the Watford goal. 14 attempts and 7 on target in the opening 45 minutes says it all.
Watford struggled to cope with the diagonal runs in-behind their defence. Mata and Zlatan in particular regularly found space and Paul Pogba picked them out with precise passing. Zlatan had the first few chances of the game but three volleys in the opening 20 minutes all failed to test Gomez in the Watford goal.
Pogba however made Gomez work with a curling effort from range and he should have done better when Antonio Valencia squared the ball to him minutes later. Gomez got down quickly and pushed the ball wide. Just before the opening goal, Mata’s cross from the left found Zlatan inside the six yard box and the Swede looked certain to score, only to see Gomez keeping United at bay – for now.
United made the Watford team that beat Arsenal only 11 days earlier look remarkably poor. The pace was back in the United attack with fantastic movement and interchanging of positions between the front four. Watford’s holding midfielder of the day, ex-Red Tom Cleverley, struggled to cover enough ground and was forced out of position, which opened a lot of space up in front of their back four for Zlatan, Mkhitaryan and Pogba to utilize.
Given the amount of great chances, Zlatan must have been kicking himself for not getting on the scoresheet in the opening half but thankfully Mata was at the end of Martial’s low cross to give United the lead.
United knew that getting that second goal early in the second half would be important as one big chance for the guests could spoil a great performance. Martial had been on fire all day and already provided an assist when he doubled United’s lead, which finished off the game in United’s favour with half an hour left on the clock. From there on in it was all about controlling the game.
David de Gea did not get much work to do throughout the game. Early on he controlled a wide shot from range from Holebas, before he easily picking the ball out of the air at Zarate’s overhead attempt. Throughout the game, de Gea was well protected by Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling in the heart of the defence, while Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia both defended brilliantly and attacked whenever the opportunity was there.
The midfield partnership between Herrera and Pogba also grew and it was easily their best performance together without Michael Carrick pulling the strings behind them. Instead, Juan Mata – who was the third central midfielder on the day – drifted around to allow Herrera and Pogba to dominate the midfield, recovering well when the ball was lost and winning the ball back quickly. Their passing was exquisite and their performance was another proof of a world-class partnership in the making.
Mourinho was delighted with the first half performance, claiming it would have been ‘a crime’ hadn’t there been a goal before the break.
The manager said: “It was beautiful. The period before the first goal was amazing. The crowd were so happy and so enthusiastic because the quality, the chances, the beauty, the football, the movement, the chances, the saves. It was absolutely amazing. It would have been a football crime if we didn’t score a goal in that period.”