Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal declared tonight that his side are “forcing luck” with a fighting spirit which has seen them win four Premier League games on the trot by defeating Stoke City, to cement their place in the top four.
Van Gaal, who said he did not expect scans on Wayne Rooney’s injured knee today to reveal a “heavy” injury”, saw David de Gea make two outstanding late saves to see the side hold out for a 2-1 win, declared that the never-say-die qualities of old were being restored. “Maybe we forced the luck more and that is coming also because of the fighting spirit," he said. "We are coming back from a bad result many times already. It’s fantastic when you see the team and that is why the fans are also excited.”
The manager, who is generally reluctant to single out individuals for praise, paid tribute to De Gea for another match-winning performance. “I think De Gea is one of the team so he is a goalkeeper, so he has to stop [the ball],” Van Gaal said. “I think he has two or three balls on his goal and that is it. It is very difficult for a goalkeeper to keep the concentration and the focus but he improves every week so I am happy with him.”
Van Gaal said he only expected “light at the end of the tunnel” on the injury front at the end of December. Angel di Maria, missing tonight, will also be absent for Monday’s challenging trip to Southampton, while Daley Blind will not be restored before Christmas.
Of Rooney he said: “It is his knee but we have to wait for tomorrow to say anything about it because you never know with a knee. But my opinion it is not so heavy but I am not a doctor. We have to wait a scan and then we will know more and hope that it is not so heavy. Di Maria is not so heavy but of course he shall not play against Southampton but you never know.”
The manager said that his players lacked positional discipline in the first half and therefore failed to create many chances. But he felt they improved in the second. He pointed out that James Wilson, whom he had boldly cast into his first Premier League start of the season with Rooney missing, “could have finished” a second half chance, as could Marouane Fellaini, leaving United with the tense finish. But “you have to see the whole match and say there is one team on the pitch that deserved it and that is Manchester United,” the Dutchman insisted.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes disagreed, arguing that United’s second goal – a Juan Mata free kick that sailed straight in over the defence - should have been ruled out as Marcos Rojo was offside and interfering with play, even though he did not touch it. The Stoke manager, who was let down by two poor pieces of elementary defending from the aerial ball, said his team were “a good side” who had come to Old Trafford in the past and “asked to be beaten” but did so no longer. “There were times when you were under wave after waves of attack here,” Hughes said of United. “They are not at that level.”
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