Manchester United end two-year absence from top spot
Van Gaal's side leapfrog rivals City after a 3-0 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford
Memphis Depay celebrates scoring Manchester United’s first goal Photograph: Andrew YatesReuters
Manchester City’s defeat at Tottenham at lunchtime opened the door for United to move to the summit and they grasped the opportunity, winning 3-0 at Old Trafford.
After an admirably stubborn effort in the opening stages, Sunderland buckled in first-half injury time when Memphis Depay scored his first Premier League goal. Rooney bundled home Anthony Martial’s cross to end a barren run in the Premier League that had stretched to 999 minutes, before Juan Mata added a third at the death.
Louis van Gaal has had his doubters during his 14-month spell in charge, but United are now top of the table for the first time since they beat Swansea 4-1 in David Moyes’ first game in charge on August 18 2013. United’s stay at the top of the pile then, just like Moyes’ tenure, was a brief one — they were knocked off the top the following day — but Van Gaal will be hoping his team can remain there for the rest of the season.
Van Gaal’s old friend Dick Advocaat can only dream of climbing so high in the standings. Sunderland are bottom of the table after seven matches. Advocaat made his intentions clear from the start. Ola Toivonen came in for Jermain Defoe and Sunderland lined up in a defensive 4-5-1 formation.
As has been the case for the majority of the season, United had plenty of possession but initially struggled to do anything with it. Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia bombed on down the left and right flanks respectively while Martial’s trickery and strength caused the visitors problems, but Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon saw little of the ball.
The only time Sunderland came under any real threat was when Pantilimon booted the ball up in the air and caught it outside the penalty area. Luckily for the goalkeeper, he was spared a card and Mata drove the free-kick into the wall. John O’Shea headed into David de Gea’s arms and the Spaniard then saved with his legs from Yann M’Vila during a rare promising spell for the visitors.
The home fans became anxious as Mata, Rooney, Martial and Michael Carrick were guilty of wasteful passing in the final third. But there was no need to worry. In the fourth minute of first-half injury time Daley Blind found Mata, who squared to Depay and he finished from close range. Sunderland brought on Steven Fletcher for Adam Johnson, but 38 seconds into the second half they conceded again. Martial bundled his way into the box and squared for Rooney. Lee Cattermole tried pushing the United captain out of the way, but the ball struck the striker’s knee and went in.
The strike meant Rooney became United’s joint third-highest league goalscorer, moving alongside Denis Law. De Gea saved at his near post from Toivonen and Patrick van Aanholt, but Sunderland never looked like getting back into the game. Depay wasted a chance for a third, but Mata fared better, driving home Ashley Young’s cross in the final minute to spark chants of “We are top of the league” from the Stretford End.