Mata delivered again for Jose Mourinho. He helped United beat Watford and go 16 games unbeaten in the Premier League this season.
Not even Chelsea have done that. But the difference is that the league leaders have the fewest draws in the division, United among the most. This might have been another. But Mata made it a comfortable win. So did Anthony Martial.
Mata admitted: “It started to feel like it was one of those games again.
“Their keeper saved every chance but then the goal came and after that it was more comfortable for us.”
Quietly, Mata is United’s second highest scorer this season. Surprisingly, the man Mourinho sold at Chelsea has become a stalwart of his United side.
Juan Mata celebrates scoring for Manchester United in the win over Watford
Mourinho has dropped Martial. He has criticised him. He has adopted a policy of tough love.
Perhaps it is paying off. The Frenchman set up the first goal. He scored the second. He looked the player he was last season, playing with pace and panache. It will be harder for Mourinho to omit him now.
Martial came in from the cold, selected to start after not being used in the previous two games. He supplied some surging solo runs, and one almost ended in a goal when his shot deflected off Sebastian Prodl and flew just wide.
He helped bring the breakthrough. United wore Watford down. They subjected them to so much pressure that it was only a question of when they cracked.
Paul Pogba had a shot saved by Heurelho Gomes. Henrikh Mkhitaryan blazed one way over the bar.
Mata opening the scoring for United in the 2-0 win over Watford at Old Trafford
Martial marked his return to Jose Mourinho's line-up with a goal
Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a close-range header brilliantly blocked by the goalkeeper. Finally Mata scored.
He completed a move he started. He fed the ball wide to Martial and advanced into the box.
The Frenchman’s cross was aimed for Ibrahimovic, who attempted an ambitious flick. He missed completely but there, behind him to slot in the opener, was Mata. He made it look easy, but he had ghosted into space.
It was an assist for Martial. He got his goal later. When he struck, he steered a shot inside the near post. Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic had linked up well and the Swede found Martial. He kept his composure to stroke in his shot.
But before, between and after those strikes, United subjected Watford to a thrashing. Except for one aspect. They only scored twice.
Manchester United players celebrate Anthony Martial's goal
Manchester United player ratings against Watford
Sat, February 11, 2017
Express Sport brings you our Manchester United player ratings from their clash with Watford at Old Trafford
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How did the Manchester United players rate during their clash with Watford?
They could have had more. They should have done. They had 23 attempts. Watford keeper Gomes was terrific. He made further saves from Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan.
It was a damage-limitation exercise.
Mourinho: “We needed to win. Sixteen games unbeaten is an amazing record but it would be the perfect record with two or three fewer draws at home.
“People sometimes forget that these teams like Watford and Stoke have very good players.
“I looked at this team and these players were in Italy when I was in Italy for Napoli, Inter, Lazio. These are top players.”
UNITED: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Blind; Herrera, Pogba, Mata (Fellaini 72), Mkhitaryan (Lingard 89), Martial (Rashford 81); Ibrahimovic.
WATFORD: Gomes; Britos (Janmaat 45), Kaboul, Prodl, Cathcart (Success 83); Holebas, Zarate (Okaka 74), Capoue, Cleverley, Niang; Deeney.
REFEREE: R Madley