Vindication for Van Gaal

Finally United win. Louis van Gaal can feel mildly vindicated after seeing his tactical switches pay off as his team registered a desperately needed victory at home after a calamitous December. There is still a long way to go though, even if things have started moving in the right direction.

Context is everything of course and any win would do. How welcome this was, not only a victory but a winning goal for the captain and something for the home fans to cheer. The string of 0-0 draws in the great citadel of Old Trafford had begun to drain the enthusiasm from even the most ardent fans.

There were many in the congregation who had come to approach games with nervousness not becoming of a Manchester United fan. The home side’s last victory had come before the Bataclan attacks in Paris and they had last convinced when Brendan Rodgers was manager of Liverpool. The fall has been swift.

Nobody will look at this and see it as the dawn of a new era yet. This was simply the match where United’s players and manager managed to stop the haemorrhage. Whether or not Van Gaal’s side will become a carcass or a masterpiece remains to be seen. It is not at either end of that extreme scale today though.

There were flashes of verve and skill amongst the ranks against Swansea and Rooney can be particularly pleased with his goal. A back-heeled flick that rolled back the years and was in line with the panache we are taught to expect at Old Trafford. It also brought cheer to see him set up by the incredible talent that is Martial. Surely if those two click then there are more goals to come.

The Premier League in general remains a melange of entertainment and calamity. Liverpool and Leicester City spent their Saturdays dropping points and Arsenal and Manchester City won their matches by only the slimmest of margins.

Nobody is grabbing this title race by the scruff of the neck and Van Gaal is right in his assertion that United are still in it. Ludicrous as it seems, this season could still end in glory.

Nonetheless, the football has been painfully stodgy for a long time and people are rightly fed up with it. Victory over a Swansea team in free-fall is not necessarily the watermark of high quality.

The hope remains though and the narrative continues to compel. If anything, Van Gaal deserves credit for emerging from this period still in position. The calls for his head over December have been long and loud.

He has not shrunk under the pressure, despite all the rubbish that has been written. He has faced it down and continued with his work. I particularly like his insistence on continuing to work as the way out of the slump.

The idea that parachuting Jose Mourinho in from the moon would be the solution always seemed a little fanciful. The jury is still out of course, but another victory or two over the next couple of games will go a long way to putting things back on track.

Next up United play Sheffield United in the cup followed by Newcastle at St. James’ Park. A good cup run is sorely needed. For the club and the manager. It is a New Year now and resolutions need to be seen on the pitch.

Let’s hope United have started as they mean to go on.

Mark is the author of Fergie’s Last Stand, just £3 this January

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