Sunday, March 20, 2016 9:26 pm
Louis van Gaal has cemented his place as manager of Manchester after leading United to a crucial derby victory over City at the Etihad.
The victory was even more pivotal as it came on a day the media were agog that former Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho had signed a pre-season deal with the owners of United.
The Dutchman’s response was to orchestrate a fully-deserved 1-0 win on enemy territory, setting United up perfectly to pick at gaping holes through the middle of City’s suspect defence.
With Jesse Lingard chosen in the No.10 role behind Marcus Rashford, and Juan Mata again utilised in the less-familiar right-wing position, Van Gaal clearly hoped to make the most of the susceptibility to pace of Martin Demichelis, Eliaquim Mangala and Fernandinho.
United got the start they craved, with Rashford’s superbly-taken effort crowning an opening 15 minutes which had seen the visitors exploit the lack of mobility and cover through City’s soft centre. The indescribably bad defending by Demichelis which allowed the 18-year-old to stroll into a one-on-one situation underlined how Van Gaal had got his tactics spot on.
They should have been rewarded with the chance for a second goal shortly before the break, with Demichelis’ reckless challenge on Rashford in the penalty area somehow going unpunished. The push and shove which followed, as unseemly and petty as it may have looked, at least showed that this was one fight United were up for.
Van Gaal could not have asked for more from his players. The all-for-one, one-for-all attitude was on display in abundance, with Mata’s key interception at the back and Chris Smalling’s rangy burst forward among the examples of United’s willingness to break down boundaries for the cause. In reality, it is all fairly fundamental stuff, but so rarely has it been on display this season that it really stood out at the Etihad.
While the manager admitted in his pre-match press conference that a defeat would rule his side out of the Champions League running, victory throws them right back into the mix. Less than three days on from burning what many had suggested was their most likely bridge to the tournament with the elimination from the Europa League by Liverpool, there is suddenly some sort of hope again.
*Adapted from www.goal.com