Magnificent Martial Keeps United in the Hunt for Second Place

Magnificent Martial Keeps United in the Hunt for Second Place

Manchester United notched up their 13th win in the league – a facile 2-0 with goals from Juan Mata and Anthony Martial.

United, after a slow start, quickly shifted gears to produce what was one of their finest first half performances, certainly since their last defeat in the league against Chelsea – 16 games ago. The lineup was greeted with much enthusiasm which saw fan favourite Anthony Martial reinstated on the left flank, part of a fluid and dynamic front four in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

United absolutely coasted through the first half, creating 12 chances as opposed to Watford’s 2, attempting 13 shots and drawing some brilliant saves from Gomes. Juan Mata’s 6th league goal ended up proving to be the difference between the two sides, in a half the Red Devils should have essentially wrapped all 3 points up. Mourinho, normally low key in post match interviews, lavished the first half display, likening to art. He said,

“It was very good, it was very good. I think it’s the kind of football that, instead of being a Mourinho team, if it’s somebody else’s team you would say art. But because it’s my team you just say it’s very good, but that’s fine.”  

They did not kill the game in the opening 45 but managed to do it in the second half when Anthony Martial added to his tally – as he scored/assisted his sixth goal in the last five starts in all competitions. Martial looked at his very best as he constantly ran at defenders, making something happen in the final third – which the other options in that position in Rooney and Lingard often did not. The Frenchman after an assist for the first goal, got himself on the score-sheet after a cleverly taken finish in the near post potentially ending the game as a contest.

Expected Goals (xG) map for United-Watford - Man United are still profligate in front of goal. (@Caley_graphics)

Expected Goals (xG) map for United-Watford. Manchester United are still profligate in front of goal. (Image taken from @Caley_graphics)

After all the speculation in recent weeks and Anthony Martial rubbishing them via twitter – this was a game that Martial was under some pressure to perform in and he duly did. Mourinho may feel vindicated but also reserved special praise for the 21-year old, on account of staying ‘silent’ yet keeping his head down and working hard. He said,

“Martial deserves the chance. He has worked harder than ever in the last two weeks in the way I like – silence but hard.” 

It was a much needed win and three points for the Red Devils in this busy period that it even saw a rare occurrence where Mourinho’s side climbed up to fifth place, albeit temporarily. United, despite the victory, were still far from acceptable in terms of chance conversion (a measly 8%) on a day they should have really bagged four or five and boosted their still mediocre goal difference. On Saturday, they failed to score more than twice despite shooting about 52% of their 23 shots from inside the 18-yard box due to a combination of fantastic goalkeeping and undoubtedly poor finishing.

It was another game where their forwards were guilty of squandering a load of chances that could have easily cost two or even all three points on another day – like it has done many a time this campaign, particularly at Old Trafford. But on the flip side, Manchester United are on their biggest unbeaten run in the Premier League in three years. Sixteen games unbeaten is the right foundation to build on ahead of the final 13 games of the season and the biggest challenge for United now is how they cope with the fixture congestion they are experiencing at the moment.

Certainly buoyed by the fact they are still competing on all four fronts, the resumption of Europa League and an opportunity to win silverware on the horizon, it’s imperative that they sustained their momentum in the Premier League as well, something they have done admirably well thus far.

Despite being sixth, the Red Devils are ultimately only 2 points shy of second placed Spurs in a top four race that has been as exhilarating as ever.

With Manchester United in the form they are in, all the signs point towards an exciting end to the season.