Van Gaal relief after 'anger' drives United to raise their game
Manchester Utd 2 Swansea city1
Relief appeared to be the major emotion swirling around Old Trafford after Manchester United finally won for the first time in nine games but, according to manager Louis van Gaal, it was a feeling of anger that had driven his players towards a victory that could potentially transform their season.
Having raised their game to end a run of four straight losses in drawing with Chelsea in their previous fixture - albeit at a fifth scoreless draw in eight home matches - United eventually went one further to beat Swansea and avoid a longest winless run since 1988.
And according to Van Gaal, it was not just an enhanced belief that had lifted his players as they moved up to fifth in the Premier League and within sight of the Champions League places ahead of their FA Cup third-round date with Sheffield United next weekend.
"It is also because the players are very angry that we have lost so many games in a row," the Dutchman said. "They are also not used to that.
"I'm not used to that, losing four matches in a row. Never, and I have been in this profession for 25 years. So it's unusual and they are angry also and want to change the situation.
"That is also what Juan Mata is saying in the programme. We shall do our utmost best, fight to the end and he has done that."
Throughout United's miserable run Mata had been one of their better performers but on Saturday it was the attacking trio of Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Ashley Young who were the catalyst for a first home victory since November 7 as the hurt evidently being felt within the dressing room finally produced a positive response.
Martial powerfully headed United's opener from a Young cross two minutes into the second half, the France international's eighth goal of the season.
Then, after Gylfi Sigurdsson had glanced Swansea level, Rooney brilliantly flicked home the winner from behind his body with the instep of his left foot to claim his first league goal since October from a Martial assist as the pair both scored in the same game for the first time.
Leading from the front, United's captain has responded well to being left out of the starting line-up for the St Stephen's Day defeat at Stoke City as he moved to 188 Premier League goals - second only to the seemingly untouchable Alan Shearer, and past Denis Law to within 11 of Bobby Charlton's club record of 249.
"I liked him also against Chelsea - that's why I said after the game that he had played two fantastic games in a row," said Van Gaal, who has retained the support of United's board but whose position still looks a lot more secure than it did just over a week ago.
"Wayne does everything we expect from him as a captain, but also as a player. I hope that it can give a boost to him, because the goal was fantastic."
United were far from brilliant and Rooney is not yet back to his best. But both parties responded to the more attacking outlook adopted by Van Gaal, even if the manager admitted an earlier goal would have made life easier as a number of late first-half chances, invariably created by Young, were not taken.
"Always at home we are playing in a more attacking way to please the fans but also because that is also the culture of Manchester United. But you cannot always do that," he said.
"I shall think that now the pressure is lowering, the performance shall be better every week. But that it also dependable on whether or not we score goals.
"And when we score goals and we create always chances, then it is a big difference because a lot of journalists are saying the second half was better. I can say that it was not better."
Van Gaal may have preferred a more controlled first-half showing but the second half was far more enjoyable to watch with Swansea, missing the dropped midfielder Jonjo Shelvey but seeking a fourth straight win over United, fully playing their part once they had fallen behind, with attacking substitute Modou Barrow the spark for a fightback.
Andre Ayew headed the ball against a post before Sigurdsson glanced in the equaliser.
Then, with the final touch of the game, goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was only inches wide with a header from a corner that would have taken United almost back to square one and earned a point that would have further helped caretaker-manager Alan Curtis in his efforts to keep Swansea away from the relegation zone.
"OK, we didn't get a result but the performances have given everybody a little bit more time to think about it and make sure that whoever comes in is the right man," said Curtis, who could yet be that man until the end of the season.