Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United honeymoon period shows no signs of ending, as his Old Trafford homecoming resulted in a 2-1 win over Valencia in a pre-season friendly on Tuesday.
A hugely successful tour of the United States has raised hope that the Dutchman can restore the Red Devils to the top.
The first home match of the Van Gaal era kept up the momentum, ahead of the opening game of the Premier League season on Saturday, with Darren Fletcher and Marouane Fellaini netting the goals for the Red Devils:
Tougher tests will lie ahead for United, and it is clear that they are short in certain areas—most notably in the centre of defence—but the Dutchman has his side playing with confidence.
Talk of challenging for the Premier League title is probably a shade premature, but confidence is a vital ingredient and United have plenty of it at present.
United enjoyed a decent spell of early possession, but the first chance fell to Valencia on seven minutes. Sofiane Feghouli got in behind the Red Devils’ back three, but his cross was poor and Chris Smalling was able to smuggle the ball away.
The first effort on goal did not arrive until the 22nd minute, which was in keeping with a friendly between two sides on the brink of starting their new campaigns.
The effort was hardly worthy of the name, as Phil Jones’ loopy header from a corner was easily fielded by Diego Alves in the Valencia goal.
Ander Herrera, who was a bright spark for United by always demanding the ball, attempted to inject some life with a volley from 20 yards, but he failed to make crisp contact and the shot flew wide.
Valencia looked sharp on the break and Feghouli got in behind once again on 27 minutes, but his shot lacked punch and was easily fielded by David de Gea.
Referee Jon Moss thrust himself into the spotlight on 32 minutes by awarding United a penalty that looked soft in the extreme. With a cross from Ashley Young flying high over his head, Wayne Rooney threw himself to the floor under minimal contact. Moss felt there was enough contact to award the spot kick:
Referee Jon Moss doing his best to make it a happy start for LVG. Just awarded one of softest penalties I've ever seen.— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) August 12, 2014
There appeared a sense of justice when Rooney stepped up and thudded his effort against the post.
Van Gaal, in charge of his first home game of United at Old Trafford, elected not to make any changes at the half-time break.
Watching on with his right-hand man Ryan Giggs by his side, Van Gaal's decision was vindicated on 49 minutes when Fletcher fired United in front.
Fletcher has had a torrid few years on account of illness, but his career appears on an upward curve once again after firing home from the edge of the box—albeit with the aid of a deflection—for his first goal since November 2012.
Rooney had a chance to double United's lead shortly afterwards, but he turned back into a crowd after galloping clear and then failed to find a team-mate with a pass.
United were ahead for 20 minutes, and the equaliser was not pretty viewing for the home side.
A free-kick was horribly sliced into his own area by Tom Cleverley, and Rodrigo De Paul was on hand to volley home.
Cleverley on the pitch for literally a couple minutes. Sticks out a wayward leg, sets up Valencia equaliser.— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) August 12, 2014
With the likes of Ashley Young and Fletcher making positive impressions during pre-season, Cleverley may now have ground to make up in the race to impress the new boss.
It could have been worse for United, as Pablo Piatti missed from point-blank range and Javier Hernandez was forced to clear in his own six-yard box.
With time running out, and having been barracked mercilessly since his introduction as a second-half substitute, Fellaini seized on a mix-up in the Valencia box to poke the ball into an unguarded net.
It could be that Fellaini will be on his way out of Old Trafford before the window slams shut. If he does, he will leave on a winning note and, for a brief moment at least, silence his critics.
Phil Jones was named Man of the Match and he felt it was a decent test of where United are at ahead of the game with Swansea at the weekend.