Manchester United 2 (Mata 32, Martial 60) Watford 0
These days, you can tell Jose Mourinho is delighted not by how many people he praises but by the fact he moans about nobody.
The Manchester United manager’s days of running down the touchline in ecstasy at his team’s performance and result appear to be well behind him.
In fact, fans at Old Trafford and beyond are lucky to get anything other than a philosophical looking shrug of the shoulders at best — and a rant at somebody, at worst.
The referee, the referees body, the FA, the fixture secretary, himself; somebody, somewhere is likely to cop an earful from Mourinho whether justified or not, win, lose, or draw.
Yet not even he could find a reason to feel downcast following United’s superb win against Watford.
Juan Mata and Anthony Martial may have confirmed the victory but United’s performance was better than Watford’s by as many stratospheres as you would care to mention.
In the first half, United played with a verve and a joie de vivre not seen in these parts since Alex Ferguson’s sides were in their pomp.
The win means United are now unbeaten in the Premier League since losing 4-0 to Chelsea back on October 23.
In footballing terms, that was a lifetime ago and United are a far better, faster, and fitter team than the one that lumbered and slumbered at Stamford Bridge.
Yet, in a fixtures quirk, this was United’s last league action this month ahead of two Europa League ties against St Etienne, an FA Cup encounter with Blackburn Rovers, and the League Cup final against Southampton on February 26.
The fact the Portuguese will have to watch the rest of the top six inch away from his team would, normally, be a cause for major Mourinho chagrin. Yet not on Saturday.
In fact, so good was his mood, he did not even wish to complain about the notorious Manchester weather.
“They will leave us,” he said of the teams in and around his ever-improving side. “The other teams will have points so for sure, it is going to happen. That’s the way it is.
“I don’t think [four cup games in a row] is easy because you want to play the competition but at the same time, we have motivation.
“We play in the Europa League so let’s enjoy the Europa League. We have a cup final. I don’t believe anyone goes to Wembley not happy to go so we go. We play. We know in this moment that Southampton are probably going to have some days off.
“We have to train in this cold weather, we have to train on bad pitches at the time because the weather doesn’t help the pitches. So our situation is not easy. But we have to enjoy it. Because it is to play football. It is to play important matches.”
On Saturday, United’s dominance — particularly in the first half — was utterly fixating and the half-time whistle felt more like an affront to entertainment than a necessity.
With an attacking formation containing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitayran, as well as both goalscorers, Walter Mazzarri’s side were punch-drunk by United’s possession, passing, and athleticism.
Watford’s fans sung wholeheartedly in memory of the recently departed Graham Taylor but Mata silenced them, finally, after 32 minutes as he poked home a pass following yet another teasing run from Martial.
Before that, Mata, Martial, Antonio Valencia, Ibrahimovic, and Mkhitaryan had lorded it over Watford in some style — without the agility and experience of goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, the visitors could conceivably have been 7-0 down at half-time.
One close-range save from an Ibrahimovic header was the best of the lot but Mata’s finish arrived a minute later, a seemingly inevitable and irresistible event as Watford’s defence finally relented.
It was Mata’s ninth of the season and he is the perfect example of United’s continual improvement this term.
“When I came here people thought Mata was in trouble but I knew he wouldn’t be in trouble,” said Mourinho.
“One thing was the football I wanted my Chelsea to play and the other thing is how I want my Manchester United to play. Mata has adapted to the football I want to play. So he is happy. He is happy on the pitch and you can see it the way he plays.”
After half-time, Martial picked up an Ibrahimovic ball close to halfway, ran through and beat Gomes from six yards out.
Thereafter, Watford did improve substantially and Daryl Janmaat will have sleepless nights about his wasted effort when through on goal, but United tightened up and claimed their fourth straight clean sheet.
The clean sheet part of Mourinho’s gameplan was to be expected. The entertainment factor in United’s play, less so. His sanguine, borderline cheery nature, not at all. Even more surprises could be in store at Old Trafford this season.
De Gea 6; Valencia 7, Bailly 6, Smalling 7, Blind 6; Herrera 6, Pogba 7; Mata 8 (Fellaini 72, 6), Mkhitaryan 8 (Lingard 89), Martial 8 (Rashford 80); Ibrahimovic 8.
Romero, Darmian, Carrick, Rooney.
Gomes 7; Cathcart 6 (Success 83, 6), Kaboul 7, Prodl 7, Britos 6 (Janmaat 45, 6); Cleverley 6, Capoue 6; Niang 6, Zarate 6 (Okaka 74, 5), Holebas 6; Deeney 5 Subs not used: Arlauskis, Mariappa, Behrami, Doucoure.
R Madley 6