Louis van Gaal does not enjoy the unwavering support of Manchester United fans. He is generous with his time with supporters but it ultimately boils down to what the team does on the pitch. The football has been too stodgy, too often and there were increasingly audible doubts about the manager before kick off against Liverpool. The terraces were restless.
Whichever way you look at it though, Van Gaal has now masterminded three consecutive victories against the old enemy, plundering several classy goals along the way. Old Trafford was rocking at full time and almost all the ingredients of a classic Manchester United display were there.
Anthony Martial’s debut goal outstripped the most wildly optimistic expectations. Twelve years ago, Roy Keane scored twice on his home debut, but it is hard to remember another more glorious entrance to the red shirt.
The manager is absolutely correct in asserting that expectations should be kept in check with Martial, on account of his age. But that is exactly why his goal was so exhilarating in the first place. People weren’t expecting much, but they got something stupendous.
The same could be said for the second half of the match. The first forty five minutes were dull, flat and typical of United under the new regime. A collection of sideways passes and audible groans as far too few goalscoring opportunities were carved out. Van Gaal does himself no favours by claiming he was happier with that section of the match.
People perhaps expected more of the same after the break and to hope for a nicked winner. Instead, Ashley Young replaced Memphis Depay and glory-charged the renaissance. It was a delightful surprise.
The was further wonderment earlier in the day at the ground of Liverpool’s other football team. Everton crushed Chelsea 3-1 and the champions are now 11 points adrift after just five games. It is remarkable.
Jose Mourniho is one manager who does enjoy the blind following of the fans, but even he must be feeling the pressure now. Does this mean that Chelsea are out of it? Perhaps not, but they are certainly less of a threat than expected. City on the other hand, are an entirely different prospect.
The late, late goal which secured City’s win against Crytsal Palace was a thoroughly depressing statistic to read on the vidiprinter. Perseverance and luck are always crucial in title-winning seasons. Again, it is too early to place their crown, but five wins from five is deeply impressive. Someone needs to beat them soon.
The sense of joy at full time in Manchester was tempered with relief. Far from being the dominance-proving result that a United team of old may have registered, the feeling was more euphoric than accomplished.
Few United fans, on the evidence of the past few weeks, would expect the club to win the league this season. Yet that was the expectation when Van Gaal arrived, to challenge. A result against City in October could alter those expectations but there is a lot of catching up to do in the meantime.
For all of the enjoyment that can be taken from Daley Blind’s glorious opener and Martial’s stupendous debut strike, it should be noted that this is not much of a Liverpool team. The victory is sweet, but others will be more hard won.
Fans of the old enemy learned to lower their expectations years ago when it comes to league titles. Louis van Gaal has a lot of work to do to stop United fans doing the same.
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