Thursday 29 September 2016

Sluggish victory is icing on cake for Van Gaal

Manchester United 1 Tottenham 0

Mark Ogden at Old Trafford

Published 09/08/2015 | 02:30

Manchester United's Italian defender Matteo Darmian
Manchester United's Italian defender Matteo Darmian
Manchester United's Dutch midfielder Memphis Depay
Tottenham's Kyle Walker in action with Manchester United's Sergio Romero
Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur and Morgan Schneiderlin of Manchester United

Wayne Rooney at least avoided the temptation to gloss over the manner of Manchester United's opening-day victory when giving his snap reaction after Kyle Walker's own goal secured three points for Louis van Gaal's team.

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"We could have played better," Rooney said. "But after what happened last year, when we lost our first game and then had some bad results, all we wanted was the three points. We got them and that's all we can ask for, but as a team we are still coming together."

There has been an awful lot of talk about 'last year' at Old Trafford this summer. The false steps and mistakes made under Van Gaal, particularly in the early weeks of the campaign, hampered United all the way through until the final kick of the season, so there can be no escaping the value of this win against Tottenham.

It was not pretty or convincing, but the positives of a hard-fought victory over a top-six rival heavily outweigh the negatives.

United, thanks to Walker's unfortunate contribution, are up and running and nobody will remember, or care about, this sluggish performance if they achieve their objectives this season.

But they will need to inject more pace into their game and find a more ruthless finishing touch, and Friday night's clash with Aston Villa will be as good a place as any to start.

Van Gaal's big gamble ahead of the game, dropping goalkeeper David de Gea in favour of Sergio Romero, just two weeks after signing the Argentina number one, ultimately paid off - with the former Sampdoria 'keeper making some crucial late saves to deny Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane.

But De Gea's situation and the lack of the anticipated world-class recruits at centre-half and up front have left United resembling a team still waiting for something to happen this summer.

They were there for the taking, but despite creating better opportunities and controlling the game, Spurs failed to capitalise on the lethargy of their opponents.

"It was two high-level teams, but neither team could cope with the high-level pressing and our goal came from that when Spurs shot the ball into their own net," added Rooney.

Walker's shot past goalkeeper Michel Vorm was a result of the England defender attempting to deny Rooney a clear strike on goal from 10 yards after being released by Ashley Young.

Rooney had been slow to get the ball out of his feet, but just as the United captain looked set to stroke the ball goalwards, the on-rushing Walker diverted into his own net.

"I tried to stick my foot in the way so that he'd kick my foot instead of the ball, so it's a bit unlucky," Walker said.

United were counting their blessings, taking the lead on 23 minutes after a nervous start during which Eriksen had shot over from close range and Romero twice made a mess of clearances with his feet.

But having scored, United put their foot on the pedal - and found nothing under the bonnet.

Spurs soaked up their attacks and United only went close when a Juan Mata free-kick floated over the crossbar and, later, when Rooney was denied by Vorm after Morgan Schneiderlin had broken down a Tottenham move.

Memphis Depay, the £25m signing from PSV Eindhoven, showed glimpses of his quality, but not enough to influence the game, yet it was the more defensive players who stood out - Chris Smalling, Schneiderlin and Italian right-back Matteo Darmian.

When Van Gaal replaced Michael Carrick with Bastian Schweinsteiger early in the second half, United lost control of the game, with the Germany midfielder struggling to adjust to the pace of the play.

As a result, Spurs sensed an opportunity and heaped pressure on the United goal in the closing stages.

Eriksen forced a crucial low save from Romero with a volley after 84 minutes, before the otherwise ineffective Harry Kane had a header saved five minutes later. United were rocking and Romero, having made some late saves, still carried the air of an accident waiting to happen.

But Van Gaal's team held on, much to Mauricio Pochettino's annoyance.

"I am very frustrated and disappointed," the Tottenham manager said. "We dominated the game and, with one mistake, we gave them the opportunity to score."

United, who will be without defender Phil Jones for three weeks because of a 'mild thrombosis' which forced him to miss this game, go to Villa with Van Gaal admitting this victory ensured he would enjoy a happy 64th birthday.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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