Louis van Gaal has claimed that finishing in the top four in the Premier League will be “like a title” to his Manchester United side. After clinically dispatching a submissive Tottenham team 3-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday, his players have shown they are ready for that particular challenge at the end of a difficult week.Given the criticism that Van Gaal’s side has faced in the wake of the defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup last Monday, the Dutchman and indeed his supporters needed something to cling on to – something to indicate that while being a team in transition United is on an upward trajectory. The team in turn produced a result and, to a degree, a performance that will renew confidence that a Champions League berth is United’s to claim.
Wayne Rooney in particular was at the forefront of the club’s positive play. His energy and industry was evident as he led from the front and ensured that Spurs remained trapped in their own territory for much of the opening 45 minutes. He rounded off the win before halftime and if there was ever any doubt where his best position lies, surely his finishes in the last three home games end the argument.
The intensity from the club’s captain proved contagious. Once Marouane Fellaini had drilled home the opening goal after 10 minutes, a team that had previously been bereft of confidence had renewed vigor and desire.
Another seasoned member of the side, Michael Carrick, also made a significant difference. His well-placed header made it 2-0 and there’s no denying that United is far better when he is the metronome in the center rather than Daley Blind.
Furthermore his link up and understanding with Ander Herrera and Juan Mata provided the kind of polish United hasn’t come close to showcasing since the turn of the year. Ashley Young and Chris Smalling also featured with distinction but Mata, enjoying a rare start of late because of Angel Di Maria’s suspension, gave United clear balance in the center.
It was no coincidence that upon being replaced he was given a rousing reception from every corner of the ground. It’s not that the fans believe he is superior to Di Maria, but rather they are questioning why Van Gaal chooses not to accommodate both of them in the same XI. It seems clear, however, that Mata is too accomplished a player to be considered an alternate.