By Alex Wilson
- Mata strikes to keep United’s top four hopes alive
- Rashford keeps place in starting line-up
- Martial and Darmian return
Manchester United build on their momentum from last week’s trio of wins, after completing a Premier League double over Wednesday night’s opponents, Watford.
United look back to winning ways after securing a fourth consecutive victory for only the second time this season, through Juan Mata’s spectacular free-kick which beat Gomez at the far post in the 83rd minute of the game.
Mata, who was the stand-in captain for this game, scored the winning goal from 25 yards out to down a fiery Watford side 1-0 at Old Trafford.
For much of the game Watford looked dangerous opponents, but they wasted several opportunities to go in front. Odion Ighalo’s goal drought continued despite a few chances created for him by defensive errors.
Manchester United now have their hopes of a top-four finish restored, after drawing level on points with Manchester City in 4th, though City have a game in hand and are ahead on goal difference.
This match saw the welcomed return of first team star Anthony Martial, who had been a recent part of United’s seemingly endless injury list. Marcus Rashford, who had filled in successfully in Martial’s absence, also started up front; with Martial moved out wide.
18-year-old Timothy Fosu-Mensah started the game as Louis Van Gaal opted to rest Michael Carrick. Fosu-Mensah becomes the third-youngest player to start a league game for United as they fielded their fourth youngest starting line-up ever with an average age of 23 years. The rest of the team remained unchanged from the 3-2 win over Arsenal at the weekend.
The first chance came for United on 7 minutes after a cross from Blind was hit towards the Watford goal by their own player Holebas, Gomes was there to make the save. Another cross later on from Ander Herrera met Martial’s header but the shot was off-target.
Then a first half free-kick from Mata was cleared only as far as Schneiderlin, who struck a promising volley that only just went wide of Watford’s goal.
Watford showed real determination and were denied early on after Daley Blind misjudged his pass and played the ball straight to Ighalo, who then squandered the chance by essentially passing his shot straight to De Gea.
De Gea would go on to refuse Watford a few more times before the first-half ended after Ighalo done well to get his positions in the box but could not find the net behind United’s number one.
Watford started the second half strongly as Capoue fired a shot just over the crossbar and Prodl had an effort cleared off the line within the first few minutes of the second half.
After defending against a fierce Watford display, United came close after Mata forced Gomes into a great save in the 60th minute, from a well-struck shot outside the box.
United started to show a bit more swagger and came up with two great chances within minutes of each other; the first coming from Rashford who turned the Watford defender and showed great control to get down the right of the box and whip in a low cross which no player managed to latch on to, then Mata again delivered a shot from the edge of the box, which curled away from goal at the last second and relieved Watford.
Watford were by no means out of the game, though, as Amrabat found himself in front of goal after a deflected clearance from Blind but couldn’t finish as the ball went out for a corner. Prodl headed an excellent chance just wide of the post from the corner that followed.
In the end, the visitors were punished for their lack of composure in front of goal, when Miguel Britos fouled Martial on the edge of the area to concede a free-kick after some superb footwork by Martial to dance through a group of Watford players.
Stand-in captain Juan Mata stepped up and curled the free-kick past Gomes to earn United the three points in a game in which the reds dominated possession, but were still heavily tested by the hornets.
Manchester United: De Gea, Varela, Blind, Rojo (Darmian, 70), Fosu-Mensah, Schneiderlin, Herrera (Lingard 77), Martial, Mata (McNair 89), Memphis, Rashford Substitutes not used: Romero, Riley, Rothwell, Weir