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Friday 9 December 2016

Van Gaal praises new year saviour Rooney

United boss hopes deft backheel will kick off new scoring run as pressure eases after win

Manchester United’s captain Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring his team’s winner against Swansea City at Old Trafford on Saturday. Pics: Getty Images
Manchester United’s captain Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring his team’s winner against Swansea City at Old Trafford on Saturday. Pics: Getty Images

Louis van Gaal believes the pressure is easing on Manchester United after they recorded their first win in nine matches.

Wayne Rooney secured a welcome 2-1 victory over Swansea on Saturday with a clever backheel in the 77th minute.

The United boss said his players had been left "angry" by their failure to win their previous eight matches - the club's worst run in 26 years.

Now Van Gaal hopes his squad will be able to play with more freedom after ending their rotten run.

"I shall think that now the pressure is lowering, the performance shall be better every week," the United manager said.

"But that it also depends on whether or not we score goals. And when we score goals and we create always chances."

Something of a siege mentality developed at Old Trafford during their slump.

United's players flatly denied they were not playing for their manager, who walked out of a press conference in a huff 11 days ago following reports he was about to be replaced by Jose Mourinho.

And the playing staff were also angered by their own performances on the pitch, Van Gaal revealed.

"They are very angry that we have lost so many games in a row," he said.

"They are not used to that, I'm not used to that, losing four matches in a row. Never, and I have been in this profession for 25 years. So it's unusual and they are angry also and want to change the situation."

It would be wrong to suggest everything is rosy at Old Trafford, of course. Despite a change in formation, United were woefully dull for most of the first half against Swansea.

The hosts did not register a shot on target until the 33rd minute and only two more weak efforts followed before the break.

United have now failed to score in the first half of their last nine home matches.

In a worrying statement for Van Gaal's doubters, the Dutchman insisted his team played better in the first half than the second, when they found the net twice.

And despite scoring 12 goals in 10 home league matches, Van Gaal claimed his players are going on the attack more at Old Trafford.

"Always at home we are playing in a more attacking way, to please the fans also, because that is also the culture of Manchester United," he said. "But you cannot always do that."

The game also helped ease the pressure on Rooney. The 30-year-old's deft flick past Lukasz Fabianski meant he ended his two-and-a-half month goal drought and moved him past Denis Law into second in the club's scoring charts.

"He has played two fantastic games in a row," said Van Gaal of Rooney, who was dropped for the St Stephen's Day defeat at Stoke.

"He does everything we expect from him as a captain but also as a player and in what position he plays.

"I hope that it can give a boost to him, because the goal was fantastic.

"I am very happy for him and I hope it shall give him the boost he needs to continue."

Saturday's game was the first time Anthony Martial had been on the same scoresheet as Rooney in the league.

The Frenchman headed home Ashley Young's cross to put United ahead before Gylfi Sigurdsson equalised with a looping header.

The £36million forward then set up Rooney for the winner and Van Gaal wants the two to start scoring more often.

"I hope (that is the case)," Van Gaal said.

Shape

"Now Martial is playing on the left side again, and we have tried that before also, and Wayne in the striker's position, but today we played also in another shape, so there are so many other aspects.

"I have to say all the players do their utmost best and you can see that, but still there is still space for improvement."

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