Anthony Martial scored Manchester United’s second goal and Jose Mourinho could barely contain his delight, punching the air repeatedly. It was game over. And maybe, just maybe, Martial is starting to get the message.
The young Frenchman has been the source of much frustration for his manager. Mourinho has challenged Martial to make the most of his first-team opportunities and then rebuked him for not doing so.
The man who could end up costing United £58million has endured a difficult second season after such a bright start at Old Trafford.
Spain midfielder Juan Mata celebrates after firing Manchester United into the lead shortly after the half-hour
Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes is floored as Juan Mata turns the ball into the net for United’s opener
Juan Mata picks out his spot to give Manchester United the lead in the 32nd-minute at Old Trafford
The United players celebrate as their first half dominance is converted into an opening goal courtesy of Mata
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had attempted a flick as the cross came in, but Mata was able to tuck the ball home
PLAYER RATINGS, LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
Manchester United: (4-2-3-1): De Gea 7; Valencia 7.5, Bailly 6.5, Smalling 6.5, Blind 6, Pogba 7, Herrera 7; Mata 7 (Fellaini 72, 6), Mkhitaryan 7 (Lingard 89), Martial 8 (Rashford 80); Ibrahimovic 6
Substitutes not used: Romero (GK); Rooney, Carrick, Darmian
Scorers: Mata 32; Martial 60
Watford: (4-3-3): Gomes 7; Cathcart 5 (Success 83), Kaboul 6, Prodl 6.5, Britos 5 (Janmaat 46, 6.5); Capoue 6, Cleverley 6, Holebas 5.5; Zarate 6 (Okaka 74, 6), Deeney 6, Niang 6.5
Substitutes not used: Arlauskis (GK); Mariappa, Behrami, Doucoure
Referee: Robert Madley (West Yorkshire)
Man of the Match: Anthony Martial
Team P GD Pts 1 Chelsea 24 34 59 2 Tottenham Hotspur 25 28 50 3 Arsenal 25 26 50 4 Liverpool 25 24 49 5 Manchester City 24 20 49 6 Manchester United 25 17 48 7 Everton 25 13 41 8 West Bromwich Albion 25 3 37 9 Stoke City 25 -6 32 10 West Ham United 25 -9 32 11 Southampton 25 -3 30 12 Watford 25 -13 30 13 Burnley 24 -9 29 14 Bournemouth 24 -12 26 15 Middlesbrough 25 -8 22 16 Leicester City 24 -17 21 17 Swansea City 24 -25 21 18 Hull City 25 -27 20 19 Crystal Palace 25 -14 19 20 Sunderland 25 -22 19
Martial has been benched and, at times, left out altogether. Here, he was a surprise starter and justified Mourinho’s decision with a man of the match performance, helping create the first goal for Juan Mata and scoring that second himself.
For half an hour it was a painfully familiar story for United, however. Mourinho has bemoaned United’s finishing in nine league draws this season against the likes of Stoke, Burnley, West Ham and Hull – as well as some outstanding goalkeeping performances – and this game was going the same way with Heurelho Gomes on top form.
But in the end Watford simply had no answer to United’s attacking power as Mourinho’s side got around them with Martial on the left and Antonio Valencia on the right.
It should have produced more goals but Mourinho will just be thankful for the three points to maintain United’s challenge for a top-four finish before they break off for four games in the cup competitions, starting with Thursday’s Europa League tie against St Etienne at Old Trafford.
Anthony Martial celebrates after scoring his seventh goal of the season – putting United 2-0 ahead at Old Trafford
Martial celebrates after doubling Manchester United’s lead on the hour mark at Old Trafford
Martial picked his spot despite the presence of a number of Watford defenders and goalkeeper Gomes in front of him
Martial gets a hug from Paul Pogba as United celebrate their second goal, scored by the French striker
Having been in and out of the United team all season, Martial pleased Jose Mourinho with his goal-scoring performance
‘I cannot say that we are where we want to be in the table right now, but we have gained some ground on the teams just above us,’ he wrote in his programme notes. ‘We need to continue to concentrate on ourselves and keep up the good performances.’
As costly as those draws have been, United still came into the game on a 15-match unbeaten run in the league since losing at Chelsea in October.
However, Mourinho did not need reminding that United were well beaten 3-1 by Vicarage Road in September, the last of three defeats in the space of a week that plunged him into the first crisis of his time in charge at Old Trafford.
Those were Watford’s first Premier League points against United, and the fact that Walter Mazzarri’s side arrived in the north-west looking for their third straight league win was an indication of the threat they posed.
There was little opportunity for the visitors to demonstrate it in a first half dominated by United which should have produced more than one goal by the interval.
The game was little more than two minutes old when Mata’s lovely flick released Valencia down the right. The Ecuadorian’s cross was deflected up in the air and fell invitingly for Zlatan Ibrahimovic who fluffed his volley.
Paul Pogba leaps into the air to control the ball ahead of former United player Tom Cleverley at Old Trafford
Ibrahimovic sees a chance go begging as Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes makes a save with his legs
Gomes dives full length to push away eventual goalscorer Martial’s shot shortly after half time
United striker Martial manages to get a shot away despite the best efforts of defender Sebastian Prodl
Zlatan Ibrahimovic swings from the crossbar after missing a chance during the second half
Mkhitaryan takes the ball forward for Man United in the opening exchanges under pressure from Tom Cleverley
Ibrahimovic challenges the Watford goalkeeper Gomes for the ball during Saturday’s game at Old Trafford
Mkhitaryan goes down under pressure from Watford central defender Prodl during the first half at Old Trafford
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, once again proving highly effective in a more central No 10 role, was next to try his luck as he rifled a low shot that Gomes just held onto.
Martial certainly looked to have taken Mourinho’s message on board and he almost broke the deadlock with a wonderful piece of footwork, breezing past former United duo Craig Cathcart and Tom Cleverley as he cut inside from the left. Sebastian Prodl managed to block Martial’s shot but the ball reared up over a stranded Gomes and looped just wide.
United thought they had taken the lead in the 16th minute when Ibrahimovic was fouled and a quickly-taken freekick gave Mata the chance to tap home, but referee Bobby Madley ordered it to be retaken.
Gomes then produced an excellent save to claw away Pogba’s 30-yard drive before the Frenchman created another chance for Ibrahimovic by floating a pass into his teammate who had timed his run into the box to perfection. The Swede controlled the ball on his chest and swivelled to shoot, but sent it high into the East Stand.
United were attacking at will, and moments later it was Pogba with a clear sight of goal when Valencia picked out his run with a cross to the penalty spot. The Frenchman’s first-time effort was good enough but once again Gomes was equal to it.
Swedish striker Ibrahimovic attempts to control the ball with his legs inside the Watford penalty area
Ibrahimovic is felled in the box by Younes Kaboul during the first half but was flagged offside anyway
Ibrahimovic and Pogba leap in the Manchester United wall as visitors Watford deliver a free-kick
Watford’s Jose Holebas slides in on Antonio Valencia during the first period at Old Trafford
Manager Mourinho applauds on the sidelines as his Manchester United team made all the running at Old Trafford
Watford’s Mauro Zarate bends a shot towards goal as Ander Herrera tries in vain to block it
United stepped up the pace again and it produced three clear chances in as many minutes around the half-hour mark. First, Mata pulled the ball back for Mkhitaryan whose attempt would not have been out of place in the Wales-England game in Cardiff as it flew high into the stands just like Ibrahimovic’s effort before it.
Mata then clipped in another cross to the edge of the six-yard box where Ibrahimovic’s header brought an outstanding reflex save from Gomes.
And it was the little Spaniard who finally beat Watford’s Brazilian goalkeeper in the 32nd minute. Mata helped start the move, playing a one-two with Mkhitarayan who slid the ball wide to Martial. He steered it across goal where Ibrahimovic dummied and Mata guided the ball neatly in with the inside of his left boot.
Up to that point Watford’s only real threat had been an outswinging shot from Jose Holebas which beat David de Gea and might have crept in had it been swerving the other way. The visitors also had a penalty claim rejected just before half-time for Chris Smalling’s challenge on Etienne Capoue.
United’s Pogba controls the ball as he is confronted by former Old Trafford player Cleverley
M’Baye Niang, the Watford striker on loan from Milan, is challenged by Manchester United defender Eric Bailly
Ibrahimovic fires in an early shot at Old Trafford as Manchester United tried to take an early advantage
Paul Pogba controls the ball in the air under pressure from Watford’s Etienne Capoue during the first half
Valencia takes on Holebas during the early stages of the Premier League encounter at Old Trafford
Manchester United’s £89million midfielder Pogba gets a grip on Watford captain Troy Deeney early on
But they went close to an equaliser eight minutes after the restart when Mauro Zarate’s 25-yard freekick brought a fine one-handed save from De Gea, his first of the match.
That proved to be Watford’s big opportunity because Martial killed the game off with a second goal on the hour.
Ander Herrera won back possession midway inside the opposition half and fed Pogba. The ball was transferred quickly between Mkihitaryan and Ibrahimovic to Martial who advanced on goal and looked like he was going to cross before cleverly drilling a shot just inside Gomes’ near post.
Watford still weren’t ready to lie down, however, and produced their best spell of the game. In the 70th minute M’Baye Niang powered past Daley Blind down the right and swung the ball to the edge of the edge of the six-yard box where substitute Daryl Janmaat became the third player to balloon a shot into the East Stand.
Troy Deeney then shrugged off Smalling’s challenge to test De Gea with a fierce effort which the United keeper could only beat away.
But United had this sewn up, Martial had helped see to that. Mourinho can only hope the talented Frenchman kicks on from here.
A banner showing the Busby Babes on the Stretford End at Old Trafford ahead of kick-off
A supporter wearing a shirt with the name of Duncan Edwards on the back attends a memorial for the 1958 Munich Disaster
Two young Manchester United supporters pose with a replica of the European Cup outside Old Trafford pre-match
United supporters pose with a banner mocking former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard outside Old Trafford