Van Gaal dares to dream af­ter United pass City ‘sur­vival’ test

Rash­ford earns the derby brag­ging rights and fans hopes of Cham­pi­ons League


THE Manch­ester United man­ager Louis van Gaal be­lieves Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball is within reach af­ter com­ing through a “test of sur­vival” in the derby visit to City.

Thurs­day’s Europa League exit to Liverpool means only a top-four fin­ish will do if the red half of the city are to re­turn to Euro­pean foot­ball’s top ta­ble. The Dutch­man ad­mit­ted in the build-up to Sun­day’s match that de­feat would all but ex­tin­guish their hopes, but his side pro­duced a man­ful dis­play to close the gap on mis­fir­ing City.

Mar­cus Rash­ford’s first-half strike at the Eti­had Sta­dium saw his first Manch­ester derby end in a 1-0 win. “I have said in ad­vance that we must win this game and we have done it, so I am very happy be­cause oth­er­wise the gap was too big if they won,” van Gaal said.

“Or a draw would have meant it was still four points, with eight matches to go, so then it would also have been very dif­fi­cult. Now it is in our own hands, I think. We have to win our games, we have more home matches than away matches. We don’t lose so much at Old Traf­ford so we have a big chance.”

Van Gaal says that the be­lief was pal­pa­ble in the dress­ing room af­ter a match which left him proud given Thurs­day’s Europa League ex­er­tions. “I think that we have played a fan­tas­tic first half,” the Dutch­man in­sisted.

“We also started the se­cond half very well and had the first chances – af­ter that it was a test of sur­vival be­cause we were very tired. We have to re­cover within two days – that is nearly not pos­si­ble and es­pe­cially not when you play a game against Liverpool like we have done.

“We have and have given ev­ery­thing to beat Liverpool and then you have to play City. You have seen, for ex­am­ple, their re­sult at Southamp­ton – half-time 0-2, full time 3-2. I have not seen the match but I can only con­clude that it is be­cause of the tired­ness. That is what we have done to them.

“My play­ers have fought to the end with cramp – Mar­cus Rash­ford could still run with cramp. I have never seen that!”

Van Gaal’s com­ments came in re­sponse to a ques­tion about United tar­get­ing City’s in­jury-hit de­fence. “Rash­ford is very quick and Martin Demiche­lis looked like the years are catch­ing up with him,” he added.

“He was a very good de­fender, he was my cen­tre-back at Bay­ern Mu­nich but that is the life of foot­ball.”

Demiche­lis had a tor­rid af­ter­noon at the Eti­had Sta­dium, not only be­ing em­bar­rassed by Rash­ford but pro­vid­ing the woe­ful back­pass that led Joe Hart to sus­tain a calf in­jury.

City boss Manuel Pel­le­grini de­nied that Rash­ford was too good for Demiche­lis but ad­mit­ted: “Martin was ner­vous, he was not hav­ing a good day.”

Pel­le­grini, who walked out of his TV in­ter­view, struck an un­der­stand­ably frus­trated fig­ure in the post-match press con­fer­ence, hav­ing seen City’s ti­tle hopes ex­tin­guished as United moved to within a point of them in fourth.

The Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nals may await the Cap­i­tal One Cup win­ners, but they have now only won one of six league matches, rais­ing ques­tions of whether Pep Guardi­ola’s im­pend­ing ar­rival has neg­a­tively im­pacted the squad.

“I don’t think that I lose any con­trol,” Pel­le­grini said. “If you see the at­ti­tude of the team to­day, it re­flects that we are in­volved in what we want to do. The play­ers are fo­cused.”

HELP­ING HAND: Mar­cus Rash­ford’s first-half strike kept Louis van Gaal’s Cham­pi­ons League hopes alive

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