Van Gaal era gets off to winning start

Scapegoat from the Moyes’ time Marouane Fellaini scores decider in added time

Marouanne Fellaini (second left) celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Valencia. Photograph: Reuters

Marouanne Fellaini (second left) celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Valencia. Photograph: Reuters


“I don’t know the word,” said Louis van Gaal, pointing to his forearm. In Amsterdam, it is kippenvel. Translation: goosebumps. Van Gaal put his chin up, marched down the tunnel and when he emerged into the fading light it was with an expression on his face that suggested he liked the look of his new workplace.

They are quickly warming to him, too, judging by the ovation before and after the match, and the clamour to join in the chain of high fives as he made his way along the touchline a few minutes into the second half. David Moyes’s first night as manager at Old Trafford last summer was one to forget, with Sevilla inflicting a 3-1 chasing that was a sign of things to come. Van Gaal has opened his account with six straight wins and, though too much can be read into these fixtures sometimes, it was a nice way to start, courtesy of Marouane Fellaini’s winner, in what they used to know as Fergie Time.

It was the final kick of the match in classic United tradition, and there was a touch of comedy about the fact it came from a player who until that point had been harangued as a scapegoat from the Moyes era. Fellaini, a second-half substitute, had attracted loud, ironic cheers every time he completed a pass. Perhaps this can be a new start for him, too. In that respect, Van Gaal’s first match in Manchester certainly brought an element of surprise.

His first appearance took a large part of the crowd by surprise, given that it was actually 36 minutes before the game kicked off and the stadium was nine-tenths empty. Van Gaal looked like a man who was impatient to get started, striding across the pitch to observe the warm-up from a position in

before the stand they had named after Sir Alex Ferguson and directly beneath the banner heralding the former manager: “The Impossible Dream Made Possible,” complete with montage of his trophy collection.

Van Gaal’s team lined up with three centre-halves and two wing backs in the new-look 3-4-1-2 operation that has been his stamp on the team since arriving from the World Cup.

It is an unorthodox look but, then again, Van Gaal once tried out a 3-3-3-1 system during his early days at Bayern Munich. The new formation also means Juan Mata can play in his best position, with Wayne Rooney pushed further forward into attack, partnered here by Javier Hernandez because Robin van Persie was not fully fit.

The presence of Reece James, as a left wing-back, and Tyler Blackett, as the left-sided centre-half, also reinforced the view that United have appointed a manager in tune with the tradition of bringing through their own.

Valencia were obliging opponents throughout much of the night, ripe to be beaten. The referee, Jon Moss, also seemed to be in charitable mood with the penalty decision that gave Rooney the chance to open the scoring after 34 minutes. Rooney turned his shot against the post, which was probably justice given the decision to punish Antonio Barragan for a non-challenge on the United striker.

United played the crisper football in the first hour and took the lead four minutes into the first half when Darren Fletcher’s shot took a heavy deflection into the net.

Tom Cleverley’s mistake let Rodrigo Moreno flash in a 71st-minute equaliser but then the ball was at Fellaini’s feet and Van Gaal was reminded why Ferguson used to say no other team in the world scores more late winners. Guardian Service

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