Anthony Martial returned to the starting XI as Manchester United tore Watford to shreds on Saturday afternoon. United controlled proceedings from start to finish, as the midfield dominated play and the attack was mostly fluid without despite some inefficient attacking play.

If they were more clinical, it would have been a riot. Nevertheless, another three points are on the board.

Martial Sends Timely Reminder

Anthony Martial made a stunning return to the first team, providing a goal and assist on the way to a man of the match performance against the Hornets, terrorising them down his flank all day long. He has had a goal or assist in his last eight starts, and whether or not you believe it Jose Mourinho’s man management has paid dividends.

And not just once, but twice:

Martial is a bonafide first XI player, and whatever is going on behind the scenes Mourinho has made it work with Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Martial despite public reports stating they were all planning on leaving the club. So perhaps it is time we start ignoring the press’ desperate attempts to sell stories and generate clicks, and focus on the facts at hand. The Frenchman is proving himself to be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Zlatan Continues To Polarise

Despite 20 goals already this campaign, Zlatan Ibrahimovic appears to be the target of abuse in some sections of the fanbase. A victim of his own success, his failure to finish key chances has meant he has been on the receiving end of some bizarre fan criticism.

Ibrahimovic is far superior player to Wayne Rooney, a fading Robin Van Persie and a horrid Radamel Falcao, so to put it in perspective United fans are almost spoiled by their own financial power and success. There’s no doubting he has missed crucial chances, but he’s also put his share away.

Not to say it could be worse, but it’s fair to say also that United fans are acting a little spoiled in some aspects of their criticism of the Swede. He’s cost United points, but he’s won them more than he’s lost. Criticism is always valid, but credit where it is due too.

Herrera & Pogba Silently Dominate

It won’t make highlight shows, YouTube clips or Vines but Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba were quietly superb in midfield on Saturday, handling Watford with ease. Herrera’s break up play and ball movement from deep was superb, recycling possession quickly to the attackers time and again.

Herrera’s improvement has been incredible under Mourinho and many would not have expected his breakout to be from such a deep position and role. It has made Michael Carrick less necessary game-to-game, and as a result the team may not need three midfielders as often and this will give better balance to the attack when an extra attacker can be involved. Did Jose stumble on the right formula for games where he doesn’t need to pack the midfield?

Pogba meanwhile operated in a deeper position once again and was very good. Whilst some continue to expect endless highlights on a game by game basis, the Frenchman went about his business well. He created chances (one of which Ibrahimovic should have converted), ran forward from deep time and again carrying the ball like no other can, and spread the ball around wonderfully. They are without doubt one of the very best midfield duos operating at the moment.

Mourinho Shows The Pieces Are In Place

A rebuild is continuing at Manchester United, make no doubt about that. They are beginning to put the pieces in place, with Bailly, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic all adding much needed steel to their respective areas on the park. Antonio Valencia is an undoubted starter at right back, whilst Bailly’s long term partner and first choice left back still to be decided.

Herrera and Pogba are midfield mainstays, with Carrick’s long term replacement one still to arrive. Mata, Mkhitaryan and Martial are long term options in attack, and Marcus Rashford forms as Ibrahimovic’s replacement down the line (perhaps sooner). Meanwhile, there are improvements to be made rounding out the squad.

If United had been more clinical this season they would be perceived differently, but they haven’t. Nevertheless, the core of the side is starting to form. Mourinho and Ed Woodward need only add to progressively add to it, echoing the manager’s pre-match statements on Friday that the summer wouldn’t be a huge one for the club. It’s all coming together, though bumps in the road are always par for the course.

Mourinho Knows Best

If anything is being learned this season, it is that it seems pointless to keep questioning Jose Mourinho’s management. Fans and almost all media are not privy to what goes on behind closed doors at Manchester United, yet stories keep popping up at convenient times to suit the driving narrative posed by media:

  • The media said Mata would leave – he stayed and appears very happy
  • The media said Mkhitaryan would leave – he stayed and appears very happy
  • The media said Martial would leave – he stayed and appears very happy

The same applies to the constant questioning of first XI’s selected by Mourinho. The manager is employed to pick that, and if social media and fans at large knew better they’d be enrolled in coaching courses. Mourinho has the track record and reputation to have earned fans faith – he should be given that. Fans can be fickle, but should try not to be.

It’s unfair to always be so critical then appear grateful when things actually work out. Have faith, it will pay off.