Heading into their game on Saturday against Sunderland at Old Trafford, Louis Van Gaal and Manchester United knew a win would send them to the top of the Premier League standings.
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Earlier on Saturday their crosstown rivals Manchester City lost 4-1 at Tottenham Hotspur, meaning a win for the Red Devils would send them one-point clear at the summit.
Van Gaal’s boys stayed focused and beat bottom side Sunderland 3-0 in a comfortable home win, and although the Dutch manager revealed there is some pressure knowing the earlier results, he admitted that in the age of “iPhones, iPads and TVs” he was powerless to stop his players knowing what the situation was before they kicked off.
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Speaking to the BBC after the game, Van Gaal revealed his delight that United have risen to the top of the table for the first time in his 14 months in charge.
“It’s a nice feeling to be top of the table, it’s the first time in my period so I’m happy. It’s always difficult when you play against a team who is only defending and counting on the counter-attack. You have to be aware and I have to admit my defense was very good today.
“I was very happy with the goal in extra-time because they punished themselves. They were always wasting time and the referee was not reacting to that.
“A goal is the biggest influence in a game and I changed my approach at half-time because of that. It became another game but they didn’t come at us very much.”
Van Gaal also declared himself a “very happy coach” as he could rotate his players and pointed to his side having the best goal difference as another positive.
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Another big plus was Anthony Martial‘s performance and although the French striker couldn’t add to his four goals in his first four games for United, he set up Wayne Rooney for the pivotal second goal just after the break.
“He [Martial] was one of the main keys why we have won this game,” Van Gaal said. “He is not only a goalscorer. He is also an attacking point and he can also prepare goals. I am a very happy with him.”
Captain Rooney ended his goal drought of 11 PL games without a strike and although that will be important to the England star, LVG has always backed Rooney and insisted he is only concerned about his team scoring goals from all over the pitch and not just from one individual.
“For himself it is very important but for me it is not very important,” Van Gaal added. “I don’t care who is making the goals. We have to make goals as a team. Who it is isn’t important for me. Personally, I am very happy for him [Rooney].”