Manchester United show signs of vintage form as Louis van Gaal lives to fight another day

The Dutchman insisted he had not given his players special dispensation to turn on the style

Louis van Gaal could breathe a sigh of relief after Manchester United made comfortable progress into the FA Cup fifth round with a 3-1 win at Derby County on Friday night.

After a string of poor results in the Premier League, vitriolic reactions from the Old Trafford crowd and widespread criticism of the team’s style and lack of attacking flair, he had conceded before the tie that another defeat – and another piece of silverware disappearing over the horizon – might see him sacked.

But Wayne Rooney, Daley Blind and Juan Mata all found the net and the visitors showed more creativity up front, playing with pace and flair which had rarely been seen from them so far in this campaign.

Afterwards, the 64-year-old Dutchman was in combative mood, insisting he had not given his players special dispensation to turn on the style, but that it has always been his philosophy. “They didn’t have more freedom, they have always freedom from me,” Van Gaal said. “You want to write that but then don’t ask a rhetorical question. For you, obvious [there is] more freedom? No.

“It is the same philosophy, same training session for the past three days,” he continued. “I give my players always freedom, building up attack is more freedom than defending. Defending, I have a gameplan. I am not pleased with how you are twisting my words.”

Rooney, who opened the scoring on the quarter-hour with a curling effort from 20 yards out, appeared to contradict what his manager said, however. “It was obviously a better performance than last week’s game but the manager gave us a lot of freedom to go and play, and I think you can see the difference in the team,” said the striker, who has scored six goals in six games this year. “You can see we were enjoying it, scoring some good goals, and thoroughly deserved to win, so hopefully we can put in another performance like this on Tuesday and take this into the game against Stoke.”

Regarding the team’s poor form, Rooney tried to deflect the attention away from Van Gaal: “It’s unfair to say it’s the manager – we’re on the pitch. So the players have to take a lot of responsibility for performances and results. We have to stand up and take criticism when it’s there. 

“We want to win, of course we always want to win, and we’re trying. Even when you’re giving 100 per cent it doesn’t always come off, and thankfully tonight it has.”

United may not yet be in vintage form but Van Gaal could at least contemplate relaxing over a celebratory glass of wine or two – in the grand tradition of his illustrious predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson. 

Van Gaal revealed that he had struck a deal with United’s chief executive, Ed Woodward, who will give him a bottle of presumably decent plonk each time they beat a side in the top six – which they did at Liverpool earlier in the month.

“I come back and my wife is at home, because she was in the Netherlands, and the wine is already open,” said Van Gaal. “We drink a nice bottle of wine, probably the most expensive wine, because I have received that from Ed Woodward.”

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