Manchester United ‘still ahead’ of Spurs, says Van Gaal
Three goals in six second-half minutes from Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela gave Spurs a clinical 3-0 win on Sunday that took them back to within seven points of Premier League leaders Leicester City and left them 12 points clear of fifth-place United.
Van Gaal turned down the chance to take over at Spurs before joining United in 2014, subsequently describing the White Hart Lane post as “the easier job”, and when reminded of his comments in the post-match press conference he branded the question “pathetic”.
“I think that in the balance we are still ahead,” said Van Gaal, whose team return to London on Wednesday for an FA Cup quarter-final replay against West Ham United.
“And you take one match as something that (means) I have to say the challenge is bigger (at Spurs)? The challenge is always bigger in a bigger club.
“But I liked also to sign in Tottenham Hotspur and (Tottenham chairman) Daniel Levy knows that.
“But the challenge was bigger, for me, in Manchester United and shall always be bigger. I’m sorry for Tottenham, but Manchester United is a bigger club.”
Despite the scoreline, Van Gaal felt that the game had been “more or less equal” until Alli’s 70th-minute opener and blamed the result on “miscommunication” in his team’s defence.
United fans on social media were baffled by Van Gaal’s decision to put winger Ashley Young up front after sending him on for Marcus Rashford at half-time, rather than move striker Anthony Martial infield from the left flank, but the Dutchman stood by the call.
“I want more running in behind. I think we have chances to do that,” he said.
“Ashley Young has done that very good in the second team. Anthony Martial is more a player who wants the ball in his feet.”
On Rashford, he added: “Marcus, (it) was not his best match today. That’s why I changed him.”
– ‘Waiting and fighting’ –
United’s afternoon had started in embarrassing fashion when their team bus got caught up in traffic en route to the ground, resulting in a 30-minute delay to kick-off.
It was to end in similarly chastening circumstances, with just one shot on target registered, but with six games to play, Van Gaal said that there was sufficient time to close the four-point gap to fourth-place Manchester City.
“Six times three points is 18 points, so we still have a chance,” he said.
“But it’s more difficult than before the match against Tottenham, that is for sure.”
Tottenham had not beaten United at home in the league since May 2001 and while Leicester’s advantage remains commanding, manager Mauricio Pochettino was thrilled by his team’s mental resolve.
“Belief is always important in football — believe, be focused and concentrate,” he said.
“I think it was a fantastic performance against a team that was difficult in the history to (beat). After 15 years I think it was important for our fans to enjoy this type of game.”
Leicester had stretched their lead to 10 points prior to kick-off at White Hart Lane by winning 2-0 at Sunderland and Pochettino felt that his players’ response demonstrated their appetite for the fight.
“After the Leicester game, it was important for us to show character, personality and maturity,” said the Argentine, who missed Lamela’s goal, in the 76th minute, because he had visited the toilet.
“I think we move one step forward. It was another experience for this young squad — play with pressure and try to reduce the gap.
“It’s true that we show a message that we are there, waiting and fighting. If they fail, we need to stay there. Seven points is a difficult gap to reduce, but we need to believe.”
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