Louis van Gaal hails 'fantastic finishing' in comfortable win over Stoke
Louis van Gaal hailed his deadly Manchester United strikers after they blew away Stoke to bring some much-needed joy to the home fans at Old Trafford.
United supporters had been down in the dumps after Pep Guardiola was announced as the next Manchester City manager on the same deadline day that the Red Devils failed to sign any players.
But on Tuesday they finally had something to cheer about as goals from Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ensured their team beat Stoke 3-0.
Defeat would have left United sixth, some eight points adrift of the top four, so Van Gaal was understandably pleased to see his team record a comprehensive win over the side that beat them so easily in the opposite fixture just five weeks ago.
"The players have made a great performance," the United manager said.
"They performed well not only defensively but now also attackingly because we have created a lot of chances and we have made fantastic finishing of team goals.
"That is what I like to see. I am pleased. The finishing was also very good."
United went ahead in the 14th minute when Cameron Borthwick-Jackson received Juan Mata's pass and crossed for Lingard, who stooped to head in from close range.
Remarkably, it was United's first goal in the opening half at Old Trafford since September. The tension eased as a result and United launched attack after attack before Stoke buckled again.
The second goal was the pick of the lot - a curling shot from Martial on the edge of the box.
Eyebrows were raised when United paid an initial fee of £36million for the French forward last September and Van Gaal admits the 20-year-old is exceeding expectations.
"It is very much surprising," Van Gaal added.
"He was 19 (when he signed) and now he is 20 so that is surprising when you come from the French league to the Premier League and you can do this."
Rooney took his tally to seven goals in seven games to wrap up the win just after the break.
The 30-year-old United skipper, who also had a goal disallowed for a push on Glen Johnson, tapped in Martial's cross following yet another penetrative run from Mata down the middle.
Rooney is now just five goals short of Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time scoring record and Van Gaal wants his skipper to surpass the 249-goal total before the end of the campaign.
"I hope for him and it is also good for me then because when he scores, we win," said Van Gaal, whose assistant Ryan Giggs was absent from the bench because of a family illness.
The winger's former United team-mate Mark Hughes could only watch on in despair as his Stoke team failed to repeat their heroics against Van Gaal's side on Boxing Day.
"The worst thing that can happen at Old Trafford is to concede early," Hughes said.
"We talked about it before the game and that is what happened. Our performances are a bit erratic.
"That is the same team that did exceptionally well against Liverpool a few days ago.
"The difference is marked so we have to look at it and see why that happened."
Hughes' evening was not helped by an injury to Philipp Wollscheid, who hobbled off in the first half and was replaced by Phil Bardsley, who had a torrid night trying to contain Martial.
Hughes is already without Ryan Shawcross for at least the next fortnight due to injury so he hopes Wollscheid is not out for a long time.
"He felt his calf in the warm up and we tried to loosen it off but it was obvious he was struggling," Hughes said of the German centre-back.
"We will have to check him. We are a bit threadbare in defensive areas so we have to hope we get some good news."
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.