Rooney can save Man Utd, and van Gaal
Van Gaal's job probably saved by skipper's sudden spark
(George Thorne 37)
MAN UNITED 3
(Wayne Rooney 16, Daley Blind 65, Juan Mata 83)
As recently as a month ago, Wayne Rooney was the man whom many felt would cost Louis van Gaal his job.
Now, the Red Devils captain is the only reason the Dutchman is still on the Manchester United payroll.
How quickly it turns around.
Rooney's rejuvenation is holding the team together.
The one-time scapegoat now bears the look of a saviour.
With another goal - this time in the 3-1 win over Derby in an FA Cup fourth-round clash - yesterday morning (Singapore time), Rooney continues on his mission to silence his doubters, and try and save his club's season.
His was the opening goal that calmed teammates' nerves against a Championship outfit determined to impress in front of their own fans at the Pride Park Stadium.
Derby equalised through George Thorne in the 37th minute, before Daley Blind and Juan Mata scored one apiece after the break to put it out of the Rams' reach.
But it was Rooney who landed the blow that shattered the hosts' belief that they could keep out a United side not quite at their best this season.
It was his sixth goal in his last six appearances in all competitions.
The cherry on the cake was the grace with which he took the chance. Such ability used to be second nature to him, such goals he once struck with nonchalant regularity.
From the edge of the penalty box, he curled a beauty into the far corner, well out of the goalkeeper's reach.
Not so long ago, that effort would have landed either in Row Z or gone out for a throw-in.
There was an 11-game period between October and December when Rooney netted just once.
It coincided with United's elimination in the Champions League and League Cup, the club's longest winless streak (eight games) since 1989, and four consecutive losses (in a single season) for the first time since 1961.
Unlike in the past when the scoring responsibilities were shared around with the likes of Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez or Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney has found himself in a lonely corner this season, answerable for the team's woes in front of goal
It culminated in his omission from the starting line-up for the 2-0 Boxing Day defeat at Stoke.
Van Gaal, meanwhile, bore the brunt of the criticism from the media and fans, not just for the poor results but also for taking the joy and attacking edge out of United's play.
A team that scored so few (28 goals in 23 league matches) does not belong at the Theatre of Dreams.
There were several occasions when the Dutchman looked on his way out.
Rooney's inability to lift himself out of the doldrums undeniably played a big part in van Gaal's suffering.
His dramatic dip in form was seen as a manifestation of van Gaal's obsession with caution.
The calls for van Gaal's sacking grew to deafening levels.
Then came 2016.
Rooney has started the new year with a vengeance.
This month alone, he has already scored winning goals against Swansea, Sheffield United and Liverpool, a brace in the draw with Newcastle, and now the opening goal in yesterday's win over Derby.
Van Gaal expressed his delight at a "very good performance" after the victory.
"The team performance, after the lack of confidence from the Southampton game last Saturday, showed that the confidence is back," he said.
Alas, the bravado, after fielding arguably his strongest 11 to defeat a second-division side, was unwarranted and premature.
What he should have done instead was to slip Rooney a thank-you note for saving his job.
It is not a question of one match. It is difficult to understand, but it is a process. It is a period of three years. This board is very intelligent to understand that.
— Louis van Gaal confident that he still has the faith of the United hierarchy
LVG: My players have freedom
Louis van Gaal says there has been no change of approach or philosophy at Manchester United and insists he always gives his men "freedom" to play.
Speaking after a 3-1 FA Cup fourth-round win at Derby yesterday morning (Singapore time), van Gaal said: "They didn't have more freedom, they have always freedom from me.
"You want to write that but then don't ask (a) rhetorical question. For you (it is) obvious (there is) more freedom?
"No. Same philosophy, same training session the past three days. I give my players always freedom, building up attack is more freedom than defending.
"Defending I have a game plan. I am not pleased with how you are twisting my words."
Van Gaal said earlier in the week that defeat at Derby could cost him his job, but a routine win over the Rams means the under-fire United boss will spend the weekend opening up a celebratory bottle of wine instead of packing away his desk.
Goals from Wayne Rooney, Daley Blind and Juan Mata earned the Red Devils a fully deserved 3-1 win over Derby, who had equalised in the first half through George Thorne.
And van Gaal will now celebrate by opening an expensive bottle of wine - a gift from chief executive Ed Woodward after van Gaal led United to a 1-0 win over Liverpool earlier in the month.
"I come back and my wife is at home, and the wine is already open," he said.
"We drink a nice bottle of wine, probably the most expensive wine, because I have received that from Ed Woodward.
"Because I get always expensive wine when we beat an opponent of the top six. I don't want to mention the name (of the wine) because it is a little bit extravagant."
Despite the toasting of his side's success, van Gaal stopped short of heaping praise on his players, who had dominated the encounter.
Anthony Martial enjoyed one of his best performances in recent weeks, but even the France international was not immune to van Gaal's post-match analysis.
"The first 20 minutes he was very bad," he said of his summer signing from Monaco.
"Maybe you have noticed that because everyone is saying how fantastic he played, (he should be) man of the match.
"But you have to play 90 minutes good. I have said that already to him, otherwise I could not say it to you. But after that first 20 minutes, he was fantastic."
Meanwhile, Paul Clement admitted Derby were beaten by the better side on the night, but was pleased with how they offered a test to United.
"I don't think we were unlucky," the Rams boss said.
"United deserved to win the game and played well for a team that are supposed to be in disarray and lacking confidence.
"They controlled the game in terms of possession and were clinical with their movement and finishing and overall deserved it.
"But I felt our team gave them a good game. It wasn't all one-way traffic and we scored a good goal in the first half.
"I would have just liked it to have stayed at that scoreline for longer and let the belief grow and take it into the final 15 minutes and then you never know." - PA Sport.