It’s been a long time coming, but it looks as though Louis van Gaal has (albeit temporarily) silenced his critics following Sunday’s convincing win versus Tottenham Hotspur. Unlike recent games however, this wasn’t just the team grinding out a result. This was the kind of performance that sent all Manchester United fans home with a smile on their face.
First of all, his initial team selection was ideal. Although it may have been a blessing that he didn’t have Angel Di Maria and Robin Van Persie at his disposal, it was brilliant seeing Juan Mata and Ander Herrera playing alongside each other, even if the former Chelsea man was playing on the right hand side today. What was also good to see was Michael Carrick and Daley Blind play in different positions. Too often I’ve seen the two play at the same time essentially sharing the role of the holding midfielder, given Blind’s versatility, it was good to see him tried at left back today, and he combined well with Ashley Young.
And in Van Persie’s absence and Falcao’s lack of form, the team have appeared to have found an unlikely partnership in Fellaini and Rooney. In the past few weeks with Rooney in midfield we’ve seen passes launched up towards Fellaini, only for him to head it on, or bring it down himself with no red shirts around him. With Rooney playing ahead of him, particularly in the second half, anything that came towards the big Belgian, you could guarantee that the United captain wouldn’t be far away. And from there they kept the ball high up the pitch, which was far better to watch than the back four passing it amongst themselves, and evidently more effective.
Now, before I get carried away, it must be said that Tottenham Hotspur were terrible today. Apart from the early minutes, the Phil Jones back pass in particular, United looked comfortable and were confident passing the ball (forwards as well as backwards might I add) and for the most part, Tottenham were chasing shadows. They couldn’t handle the physicality of Fellaini, the unpredictability of Mata and Herrera and the intensity of Wayne Rooney, evident in his goal and his efforts and determination off the ball. Helped also by the fact Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were giving the ball away for fun and nobody in Tottenham’s attack fancied making a run in behind United’s back four.
The mentality of the players was different as well today which Van Gaal deserves some credit for. Following the defeat to Arsenal last Monday, United can now focus on claiming our spot in the Champions League next season and it gave them something to prove today. The run of upcoming games isn’t kind. With Arsenal and Manchester City still to play at home, not to mention a big away game against some small club from Merseyside next weekend, it was almost compulsory for the Reds to win against Tottenham, just to stay in the running for fourth.
But after that performance, it gives the squad the belief and momentum that they can go to Anfield and get a result. Because before today, I don’t think many United fans could have honestly said we’ll beat the Scousers next week. But after seeing that today, and seeing just how this team can play when they need to pull a performance out the bag, will have changed fans hopes not only for next weekend, but for the rest of the season. Is fourth the best they can achieve? With Manchester City dropping points and Arsenal only a point ahead in third, could they maybe – MAYBE – clinch third or even second?
And to top it all off, the way in which Van Gaal handled the Rooney boxing video that had been leaked and found its way onto the front pages of Sunday’s papers was to be admired. Louis van Gaal is interesting in the way he handles the media and in his press conferences, often digressing from the question being asked. When asked about Wayne Rooney’s goal celebration today, he responded by calling the whole thing “Ridiculous” and disregarding the question as irrelevant to his role as manager, clearly more keen to discuss what many are calling the best Manchester United performance under Louis van Gaal.
So let’s hand it to the Dutchman. He might still be a ‘Marmite’ figure among United fans, but I don’t think there is any United fan that can argue, that Louis van Gaal got it spot on today.
This article was researched and written by Dan Burnett. You can follow him on Twitter.