Manchester United wins vs. Liverpool the highlight of Louis van Gaal’s tenure

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images /

In the absence of silverware, four consecutive wins against bitter rivals Liverpool have proven to be the highlight of the Dutchman’s tenure at Manchester United.

While it would be an enormous error on the club’s part to allow Louis van Gaal to see out the third season of his three-year contract – and he may yet be sacked before the end of the second season – a record of played four won four against Liverpool is excellent for any Manchester United manager.

The latest victory, a 1-0 win that came on the back of an entirely unconvincing showing at Anfield, will buy Van Gaal a little extra time at the very least. Liverpool away is the one game where the performance doesn’t matter one bit.

That was reflected perfectly by Wayne Rooney’s display. United’s captain struggled for long spells, looked isolated in attack and in the end stopped challenging for the aimless long balls that were pumped his way. But he struck an awkward ball cleanly into the net near the end of the game and instantly the preceding 77 minutes were forgotten.

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There’s no other sport – and no other fixture within the sport – wherein emotions can change so quickly. At half-time, United fans were bemoaning the team’s decline under Van Gaal this season. However, a goal from the first shot on target in the match immediately changed things.

Suddenly, jubilant fans’ limbs were flailing in the away end, spectator Phil Jones was being mobbed by those around him and, importantly, the attention was on everyone but Van Gaal.

Against any other team, there would have been some focus on the Dutchman and United’s meek performance after the game. At home against a mid-table team, it would have been unacceptable. Against Liverpool, though, any win will do, regardless of how it comes about. It’s ultimately a thin line between success and failure – the fact that United scored four goals from four shots on target against Liverpool this season evidences the point.

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In truth, both games in the 2015/16 campaign between the country’s two most successful clubs were poor. But United finished their chances much better, and so it was no surprise that the win at Anfield came on the back of Rooney converting the one clear-cut chance of the match.

After a series of poor corners from Daley Blind, United changed tact and worked a short ball to Juan Mata, whose excellent cross was nodded onto the crossbar by Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian drew the attention of four defenders and, although it was fortunate that the rebound fell to Rooney, the 30-year-old’s strike was unerring and well taken.

It was a passage of play that demonstrated the value of a good delivery into the penalty area. United hadn’t posed a threat all game, but one precise cross – to borrow Van Gaal’s term – ‘disorganised’ the opponent’s defence and yielded a goal.

Fellaini, who had been dreadful for most of the match, used his size to great effect to cause Liverpool problems in the box. The point is that, in one moment, United won the game. A full 90-minute match boiled down to one incident, the implications of which are huge. Liverpool are ninth, while United – despite only a third victory in 10 games – are two points off fourth and seven points off first.

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In any other year, Van Gaal’s side would be adrift of the Champions League spots already. As it is, an unconvincing 1-0 win over Liverpool means that United have the chance to remedy a dreadful December by ending January back in the top four.

Against Liverpool, United were unimaginative, ponderous and mediocre – and yet none of it matters because they won one of the most important games of the season.