LIVERPOOL: Louis Van Gaal is all about confidence and self-belief. He assured the media, before taking Manchester United to Everton, that he would see through the full three years of his contract even if they do not qualify for the Champions League next season.
He also insisted he was happy now with the team’s potential in attack and all that remained was to sort out the defence. This, in defiance of the convention, that a team is built on the foundation of a solid defence.
United’s 2-1 win at Everton appeared to justify his words. United took attacking command from the outset and seized the lead through Angel Di Maria on an assist from Juan Mata, deputising for suspended captain Wayne Rooney. It was the record signing’s third goal in five games since his £60m arrival from Real Madrid.
Di Maria came close to further goals both before and after his strike but United’s had to thank keeper David De Gea that they held their lead at half-time. In the third minute of stoppage time he managed the rare feat of saving a Leighton Baines penalty after Luke Shaw tripped Tony Hibbert.
That was the first penalty Baines had ever missed in his 16-kick Premier League career.
The England fullback’s consolation was to provide the cross from which Steven Naismith headed Everton level 10 minutes after the restart. But Everton did not really deserve to be on terms. United reclaimed superiority with Radamel Falcao’s first goal for them by pouncing after Di Maria miscued a shot of his own.
Di Maria was named official man of the match but he thought De Gea deserved the award, saying: “David made some very important saves and it was also important for Falcao to score. Not only him but the whole team are on the right road now.”
Victory lifted United up to fourth and into the Champions League slots. More self-justification for Van Gaal.
** Mauricio Pochettino enjoyed the relief of a 1:0 win for Tottenham over his old club Southampton and a first league win since August 24.
Pochettino made 10 changes from the team held at home in midweek by Besiktas in the Europa League. But it was an 11th change – bringing on Emmanuel Adebayor up front as substitute – which proved decisive.
The Togo striker set up the winning goal for man of the match Christian Eriksen and another opening from which Nacer Chadli hit a post.