Anthony Martial impressed Jose Mourinho with the way he transferred improved training displays into a man-of-the-match performance as Manchester United comfortably overcame Watford.
Questions over the 21-year-old’s happiness – and Old Trafford future – have grown in recent weeks given his struggles to break into the United manager’s thoughts.
Martial dismissed such talk at the start of a week, and ended the week with an eye-catching return to the starting line-up, setting up Juan Mata’s opener before wrapping up a 2-0 triumph over the Hornets with a smart 60th-minute goal.
“The Anthony Martial I want is the Anthony Martial of the last two weeks of training,” Mourinho said of the attacker, reduced to a watching brief in United’s previous two matches.
“Because if he trains the way he did in the past two weeks, he performs naturally the way he did today or better because I think he still misses a little bit his confidence.
“I kept shouting to him, ‘Attack the defender, go to the one against one’. He needs that confidence, but he is working very well.
“I gave him the chance to start. Normally I would start with Marcus Rashford because he played well, and the team played well, at Leicester (3-0 win last weekend), but I thought Marcus doesn’t need a boost – his confidence levels are normal.
“Anthony needs to feel that I am looking at him, that I know what he did in training, the effort he did in training, so I gave him this chance and he played well. He played a good game.”
Martial’s influence proved crucial on an afternoon when nobody in red floundered, with United particularly impressive in the first half – epitomised by Mata’s close-range strike at the end of a sweeping team move.
Put to Mourinho that Old Trafford had witnessed as good a first-half display as there has been during his time at the club, the Portuguese replied with a smile: ”
Not just under me. It was very good.
“I think it is the kind of football that if, instead of being Mourinho’s team, if it is somebody else’s team, you would say ‘art’.
“But because it is my team you just say is very good, but that’s fine. It was very good.
“They play very well, the fans understood. They were behind them, they pushed them and the first half was amazing.
“The second half we got the second goal and we had to kill the game. We didn’t kill with 3-0, we killed tactically and we closed the game because Watford is a good team with good players, very physical.
“They can be very direct and dangerous, so we need to kill the game and the result, but it’s a very important victory for us.”