After seeing Sergio Aguero open the scoring after ten minutes, many Manchester United fans were forgiven for thinking they were suffering from Déjà vu. United’s record against City in recent times has been nothing short of shambolic. With Pellegrini’s side visibly struggling for form and self-motivation many felt this was the idyllic time for Van Gaal’s men to continue their revitalization and end their Derby drought. United seemed star struck by City’s start and struggled to gain a stranglehold on the game in the opening 15 minutes. However after Ashley Young capitalized on a lucky break, United managed to respond swiftly to City’s early onslaught. With City’s confidence evidently brittle, United seized the initiative and never looked back after getting the equaliser.
United’s relentless attacks took its toll on City’s ageing crop, for the Old Trafford faithful there was a belief that the glory days are close to returning. With Carrick being United’s guardian angel, Spanish duo Herrera and Mata were able to free roam and stamp their own authority on the game. Wayne Rooney was discreet but it was Rooney’s positional discipline which allowed his team mates to thrive. With Rooney focusing his energy on hassling City’s centre backs, Rooney’s discipline allowed space for the likes of Mata, Herrera, Fellaini and Young to punish a bland Manchester City side. With United crushing City 4-1 with ten minutes remaining, Van Gaal laid down a marker of the talent he has at his disposal, record signing Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao were both introduced late on. For City fans it would have been a bitter pill to swallow seeing the embarrassment of riches their fierce rivals possess.
One common dominator in Manchester United’s displays this season under Van Gaal has been the ability to churn out results. Earlier on in the season when United’s performances were getting heavily scrutinised, Van Gaal still managed to salvage points. Unlike his predecessor Moyes, Van Gaal seems to have reinstalled Mr Ferguson’s never say die attitude. At 1-0 down, United showed tremendous togetherness and team spirit, City simply couldn’t live with United’s desire, passion and tempo. United’s football this season at times has been labelled as woeful, disjointed and dull. In recent weeks where United’s revival has gained serious momentum, the football has had tempo, the Old Trafford’s faithful chant of ‘Attack, Attack’ is being met with wave after wave of attacks. Van Gaal arguably fell on his feet with the current starting line-up, due to injuries and suspensions, Van Gaal conjured up this current side which now looks a formidable team and heads to league leaders Chelsea on Saturday fearing no one.
After a year to forget last year, United fans will be confident that their beloved club is back on track and that last year’s blip remains a distant memory. After a year in the wilderness and a poor start to Van Gaal’s tenure, rival teams worldwide will be taking note of United’s renaissance. With only two of Van Gaal’s summer signings starting the Derby at the weekend, Van Gaal is yet to have fully stamped his own imprint on the current crop. With a return to the Champions League looking a formality, Van Gaal could well go even bigger in the transfer market this forthcoming summer.
Arguably Van Gaal’s biggest success this season has been the ability to get the best out of a group of players whose futures at Old Trafford were significantly written off. The likes of Smalling, Fellaini and Young played pivotal roles in Manchester United’s dismantling of their noisy neighbours. There is no questioning that Van Gaal is arrogant and stubborn but his man management and ability to get the maximum out of his players is what makes him a serial winner. City simply couldn’t deal with Fellaini, the Belgian was dropping into the pockets of spaces and causing havoc. Fellaini’s physical presence had City’s defenders all at sea, Yaya Toure was the man prized with the formidable task of taming the in form Belgian. Toure seemed perplexed by Fellaini’s movement and the Ivorian didn’t seem to have the desire to encounter a physical battle with United’s current prized asset.
Ashley Young’s rebirth under Van Gaal continued with a mesmerizing display against City, Pablo Zabaleta the league’s best full back in recent years simply couldn’t contain Young. Young and Daley Blind added Manchester City to an ever growing list of victims, City succumbed to United’s left hand side. Blind and Young were marauding down City’s right hand side at will.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling started the game apprehensively, in the opening stages City capitalized on both Smalling and Jones’s naivety in possession. Nevertheless once United got back on level terms, the English centre backs game’s elevated significantly and both did an admirable job of nullifying the Premier Leagues most deadly finisher. Apart from Aguero’s two goals, Smalling and Jones dealt with the Argentine commendably, Van Gaal has seen Smalling and Jones as his go to defensive partnership in the recent big games against Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City. In those games the English duo have come up against the likes of Kane, Sturridge and Aguero. With Chelsea and Arsenal on the horizon, Jones and Smalling may be winning Van Gaal and the Old Trafford faithful over, the biggest obstacle for them both may be ensuring they maintain fitness.
The biggest cause for optimism for Manchester United fans is that Van Gaal’s revolution has only just arisen, United are only going to get stronger. With Van Gaal’s philosophy seemingly taking shape, this summer has the potential to be a blockbuster at Old Trafford. Household names continue to be linked with The Red Devils and with the lucrative Adidas kit deal being activated, United’s financial muscle could well be flexed on numerous occasions in the months ahead. One thing is for sure the fear factor at Old Trafford is back.