Manchester United maintained the pressure on the clubs occupying the top four places after a comfortable 2-0 win over Watford at Old Trafford stretched the club’s unbeaten run in the Premier League to 16 games.
A first-half goal from Juan Mata and a second on the hour mark from Anthony Martial was enough to secure the win over Walter Mazzarri’s men. The result meant United became the first team to amass 2,000 all-time Premier League points, and more importantly stayed in the hunt for Champions League qualification.
United boss Jose Mourinho made two changes to the side that comfortably defeated champions Leicester City last Sunday as Daley Blind came in for Marcus Rojo at left-back and Martial replaced Marcus Rashford who was named among the substitutes.
In the first home match after Monday’s 59th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, the United fans unveiled a giant surfer flag bearing the words ‘We’ll never die’ in remembrance while the players donned the traditional black armbands.
United started brightly and after a clever interchange between Antonio Valencia and Mata, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had the chance to volley an effort at goal, but he scuffed his effort. Moments later, Ibrahimovic dropped a little deeper to influence the build-up phase of the Reds’ attack and Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the beneficiary of the Swede’s vision but he fired straight at Gomes from 20 yards.
Watford’s Jose Holebas was the visitors’ outlet on the counter-attack and he unleashed a wicked effort from 30 yards which drifted wide, before Paul Pogba did the same at the other end which Gomes did well to tip round his post.
The chances were coming thick and fast for the Reds though as firstly Mata found the continuously influential Ibrahimovic, who this time had run in behind the Hornets defence, but after brilliantly chesting down inside the box, he volleyed high over the bar.
Pogba then arrived late to meet Valencia’s ball in from the right but Gomes again saved down low before Ander Herrera had two chances to score in quick succession, both from right sided cut-backs from Blind and Mata respectively, but he fired over on both occasions.
The United faithful could not believe their team’s luck as Gomes again came to Watford’s rescue by instinctively saving an Ibrahimovic header from five yards out, but the fans were soon on their feet just seconds later. Martial was set free down the left by Mkhitaryan and the Frenchman pulled the ball back for ‘the special Juan’, Mata, to tap home and give the Reds a richly-deserved lead at the break.
Possession: United 64% Watford 36%
Shots at goal: United 12 Watford 3
Shots on target: United 6 Watford 1
Corners: United 2 Watford 0
United were again quick out of the blocks as Martial cut in from the left and shot inches wide of the far post, whilst at the other end, Mauro Zarate’s curling free kick was clawed out of the top corner by David De Gea – the Spaniard’s first real save of the afternoon.
The Reds had to wait until the hour mark for the next clear-cut chance, but it was well worth waiting for as Martial gave United a two-goal cushion after linking up with Ibrahimovic and cutely wrong-footing Gomes with a neat near-post finish.
Ibrahimovic so nearly got his reward from a fine unselfish display after Mkhitaryan found him free on the edge of the area, but his effort deflected wide.
Watford’s best chance of the game, and one they really needed to take if they wanted to give themselves any chance of salvaging anything, fell to substitute Daryl Janmaat who should have tapped home M’Baye Niang’s far post cross, but he wastefully missed the target.
Troy Deeney then beat Valencia in the box, but could not find a way past De Gea who punched his effort away, whilst Mkhitaryan had a chance to wrap up the game for good, but he could not overcome Gomes who saved with his legs.
After a goal and an assist, Martial went off to a standing ovation and his replacement Rashford was involved in the move which so nearly allowed Ibrahimovic the chance to meet Mkhitaryan’s cross, but the no.9 missed his kick late on.
That and other spurned opportunities really didn’t matter however as the Reds’ imperious league run continued with this victory. It was the perfect way for Mourinho’s men to sign off from the race for now and embark on a run of four cup matches in three competitions, starting with the Europa League Round-of-32 tie at home to Saint-Etienne on Thursday.
Possession: United 58% Watford 42%
Shots at goal: United 22 Watford 9
Shots on target: United 11 Watford 3
Corners: United 5 Watford 1
United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling (c), Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Mata (Fellaini 72), Mkhitaryan (Lingard 89), Martial (Rashford 80); Ibrahimovic. Subs not used: Romero, Darmian, Carrick, Rooney.
Watford: Gomes; Cathcart (Success 83), Kaboul, Prodl, Britos (Janmaat 45); Cleverley, Capoue; Niang, Zarate (Okaka 74), Holebas; Deeney (c).
Subs not used: Arlauskis, Mariappa, Behrami, Doucoure.