Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has admitted that he was about to take Juan Mata off before he scored the winner in a narrow win over Watford tonight.

The stand-in captain curled home a lovely free-kick in the 83rd minute to seal all three points and go level on points with Manchester City in fourth in the Premier League table.

However, the Spaniard had been limping moments before taking his chance on the edge of the area, and van Gaal had briefly considered replacing him.

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Speaking to MUTV after the game, the United manager said:

It is true, because he was limping at the time. We were in a better moment, so I didn’t want to change him anymore. I had changed the shape with [Anthony] Martial in the striker’s position and [Marcus] Rashford on the right wing. At that time, we were in a better shape, so I didn’t want to change it. Then Juan scored the goal, so I’m very happy I let him stay on.

It was admittedly a fortuitous win for United tonight, with the Hornets having the better chances throughout, but van Gaal praised his players for the fight they showed during the game, as well as praising Watford for their performance:

I am very happy for the players because they have fought until the end, and they knew out on the pitch that our competitors were losing. We wanted to win, you have to win against Watford at home, I think, but it was a difficult game because of the wind. It became a physical game and, when you see the size of our opponents compared to us, it’s very difficult for us. We fought until the end and scored a goal, so I am very happy for them.

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Watford played very well, they pressed very high up and we had difficulty with that. We gave a lot of chances away but, of course, it was because of their pressing, I cannot deny that. We still had our chances and I’m very pleased with this victory – it’s come at the right moment.

Tonight’s win against Watford makes it four wins in nine days, and United will be hoping to carry on when they travel to West Brom on Sunday.