Pleased as punch: Van Gaal says Man Utd in heavyweight bout for second

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has issued a warning to noisy neighbours Manchester City – claiming that Manuel Pellegrini’s side are now in the rat-race for a top four finish, let alone a title fight.

United dispatched UEFA Champions League chasing Tottenham Hotspur in confident fashion at Old Trafford on Sunday to move two points behind City.

First-half goals from Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney – who put embarrassing headlines behind him with a fantastic individual performance – sealed a comfortable 3-0 triumph, and Van Gaal believes that the Reds are capable of overtaking their local rivals.

“Whether they (Man City) want that or not, that is the position. They are in it.

“It is good for us, good for the fans and good for the media because there will be lots of things to write about.”

Van Gaal employed a 4-3-3 formation from the outset against Mauricio Pochettino’s men – who failed to deal with United’s sharp movement and inter-play.

The hosts took a deserved lead early on when Carrick played through Fellaini – the Belgian unleashing a powerful first-time finish.

Carrick nodded in a second soon after then midway through the half Rooney latched onto Nabil Bentaleb’s loose pass and took on two Spurs defenders before firing home his 13th goal of the campaign.

“We have waited a long time for such a victory and it was better because the performance was good against a very good team in Tottenham,” added Van Gaal, clearly thrilled with his side’s response to the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal ahead of a trip to Anfield next weekend.

“To do that in a massively important game against a competitor after such a defeat means I’m very pleased with the players.

“We are looking step by step and our next game is at Liverpool.

“I believe it is not so often that United have won at Anfield recently, so maybe it is the game that gives us a fantastic boost.”

Pre-match build up to Sunday’s clash had been dominated by newspaper headlines featuring United and England skipper Rooney sparring with Stoke City’s Phil Bardsley in the kitchen of his Cheshire home.

Rooney came off second best in that contest after falling to the ground unconscious following a Bardsley jab – with the 29-year-old having been heavily criticised by fans and pundits alike.

But Rooney made little of the negative publicity, mimicking the knockout fall when celebrating his goal, and insisted that United were back to their best during the first half.

“We have played well a few times this season. Particularly in the first half, that was probably the best 45 minutes we’ve had all season,” he said.

“We knew it was a big game, obviously with Manchester City losing on Saturday and Southampton drawing before we came out.

“It was a big game for us to take some points off Tottenham and these are three great points for us.”

Main image courtesy of Hayters Teamwork via YouTube, with thanks.

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