Louis van Gaal’s reign as manager of Manchester United may have ended, but his time at Old Trafford certainly won’t be forgotten in a hurry – at least in terms of his off-field antics.
Despite the largely dull style of football deployed by Van Gaal during his time at United, the Dutchman still managed to pull off some memorable results as the Reds’ manager, and occasionally some quality performances, too.
There are, therefore, plenty of fond memories which Van Gaal can take with him as a manager in the Premier League.
Mata’s masterclass at Anfield
Amongst those was a fantastic away victory at Liverpool, at a time when United really couldn’t afford to lose as their opponents began to put pressure on the Reds’ top-four place.
Fortunately, Van Gaal had finally found a team which was working well together and playing with some style, as showcased in the previous week in an emphatic 3-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur.
Playing in the classic Dutch 4-3-3 formation, United continued their good form at Anfield as Juan Mata scored 14 minutes in after good build-up play from Ander Herrera in front of the Kop end.
The Spaniard added a sensational second just before the hour, as he acrobatically volleyed Angel di Maria’s chipped pass into the bottom corner, this time in front of the joyous travelling United crowd.
Daniel Sturridge pulled a goal back for Liverpool but United were almost always in control during the match, as they got a result which kick-started a run of form which proved vital in claiming a top-four place at the end of the season.
Reds end City hoodoo
That run of form saw Van Gaal’s United claim six consecutive wins in the League, culminating in another memorable win against another local rival – this time Manchester City.
Having failed to beat City at Old Trafford in the previous three encounters, United seemed even more determined than usual to overcome their rivals. However, that feat seemed unlikely when the visitors took the lead after just eight minutes through Sergio Aguero.
United haven’t always responded well to going behind under Van Gaal, but that wasn’t the case here as goals from Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini scored soon after to put the Reds into the lead before 30 minutes had passed.
Juan Mata and Chris Smalling added further goals in the second half as United made the scoreline reflect their dominance in the match. Aguero got a consolation with minutes remaining, but it didn’t change the fact the Reds had deservedly won the match in entertaining fashion – something for which Van Gaal will no doubt be remembered.
The source of most of United’s attacking intent in Van Gaal’s second season, though, would come through young Frenchman Anthony Martial.
Signed from AS Monaco on transfer deadline day for an initial £36million fee, some had suspected that Martial’s signing was overly expensive and possibly a ‘panic buy’.
The Reds welcomed Liverpool to Old Trafford in the first game after Martial signed, and although the Frenchman did not come off the bench until the 65th minute with United 1-0 ahead, he still made a massive impact on the match.
Ander Herrera scored a penalty moments after his arrival before Christian Benteke replied with a stunning overhead kick on 84 minutes, but Martial still finished the match having scored the best goal of the match. Just two minutes after the visitors’ goal, the Frenchman skipped around Martin Skrtel on the left and slid the ball into the bottom corner in front of a beaming Stretford End.
Van Gaal’s faith proved to be well placed as his new signing made an immediate impact, scoring four goals in his first four games for the club along with that particularly impressive debut.
The week of Rashford’s debut
It was not only Martial that enjoyed a particularly impressive debut for United under Van Gaal, though, as Marcus Rashford was thrown into the deep end for the Reds’ Europa League round of 32-second leg tie against FC Midtjylland in February.
Martial was injured in the warm-up as United looked for victory in this match, having lost the first leg 2-1, meaning Rashford was forced to be the side’s lone striker for the game on his senior debut. However, the forward impressed as he scored twice in a 5-1 win, and kept his place in the line-up for the following game against Arsenal.
Again at Old Trafford, Rashford even more impressively scored another brace against the Premier League giants on the way to a 3-2 win over Arsene Wenger’s men. The striker’s rise to prominence extended Van Gaal’s respected reputation for introducing young players into the first team.
Before the match was over, though, Van Gaal reminded everyone of what an intriguing character he is, by diving on the touchline to imitate Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez. The Dutchman had rarely left his seat in the dugout prior to that moment, so seeing this kind of passion on the sideline was not only a welcome sight, but highly amusing and truly emblematic of the charismatic manager he is.
FA Cup win
All of Van Gaal’s work on the field, though, culminated in an FA Cup victory against Crystal Palace on Saturday. His side showed the kind of fighting spirit typically associated with United as they responded to Jason Puncheon’s 78th-minute opener, as Juan Mata equalised only three minutes later with a close-range volley.
His team then responded to further adversity as Chris Smalling was sent off in extra time, and only moments later Jesse Lingard scored a stunning winner with his reaction volley soaring into the top left corner of the goal.
The FA Cup win meant Van Gaal continued his record of winning a trophy at every club he managed and, as the Dutchman pointed out, ensured the fact he had won trophies in four different countries.
Van Gaal might not have achieved what he wanted to at Old Trafford, but he did at least go out on a high by winning his only piece of silverware at United, and the club’s first FA Cup for 12 years.