United were second best for much of the game in atrocious weather at Old Trafford on Wednesday, but still secured a fourth successive victory thanks to Juan Mata’s 83rd-minute free-kick and the efforts of a defensive backline that has been decimated by injuries and had capitulated in recent weeks to the likes of Sunderland and Denmark’s Midtjylland.
They were solidifed on Wednesday night in large part, Van Gaal noted, by the precocious play of 18-year-old Fosu-Mensah.
The Dutch player, who only turned 18 in January, has played in a variety of positions at the United youth level. Van Gaal said he thought he saw where Fosu-Mensah, making his debut at centre-half, will stick with his performance against Watford.
“Timothy has saved us three times because of his speed. He wanted to come off in the second half, but I kept him on because he always closed the door for us,” Van Gaal added.
“I think he’s a better full-back than a central defender. But at Ajax, he always played right centre midfield or right centre-half.
“However, he had not played before against Odion Ighalo, who is a handful for a centre-half.
“When you get a yellow card after 20 minutes, as Timothy did, it is not so easy to play against Ighalo and Troy Deeney.”
United’s teenage striker Marcus Rashford was unable to repeat the scoring form that brought him two goals in each of his first two senior games for the club.
He laboured in a central striking role in the first half, but was much more effective when moved to the right in the second half, with Anthony Martial switching inside to take the central role.
“In the first half, Martial was not in the game as a right winger and Rashford was not in the game as a striker,” Van Gaal said.
“That’s why we changed the shape. From that moment, we were the better team.”
Mata’s winner was tough on Watford, and on their manager Quique Sanchez Flores, who coached Mata in Real Madrid’s youth set-up and at Valencia.
United manager Van Gaal, though, felt it was just reward for the way his players battled against physical opponents.
“I don’t think it was an ugly win because the free-kick was a fantastic shot from Mata,” Van Gaal said.
“The performance was not so good. The weather meant it was difficult to play good football. It was a physical game.
“If you see the size of the Watford players compared to ours, it was not beneficial to us.
“I think that the youngsters give us a lot of spirit and now when the dressing room is full of joy and all the players are laughing, that is beautiful to see.”
Flores was encouraged by Watford’s display, but disappointed by a result that left his side 12th in the table.
“This happens in English football. We played well. We tried to get a good result, but a moment of quality decided the match,” he said.
“It was a bad result, but we had good feelings after the match because of our performance.
“It didn’t surprise me what Mata did with the free-kick. I’ve known him since he was 14, when I was training the teenagers of Real Madrid.
“Mata can score these kind of goals. He can make the difference in very dangerous areas.”
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport