(Reuters) – Manchester United can still win the Premier League title, despite their stuttering campaign so far, after a 1-0 victory at arch-rivals Liverpool on Sunday moved them within seven points of top spot, manager Louis van Gaal said.
The win moved United within sight of leaders Arsenal, who are level on 44 points with surprise package Leicester City after sharing the points in a 0-0 draw at Stoke City.
Asked if United were still in the title race, the Dutchman told a news conference: “It is seven points and seven points we can overcome that.
“This game shall give a big boost to the players, to the fans, to everybody in the environment of Manchester United and we have to continue of course.
“That’s not so easy, and we have seen that also today, but we can do it because we show every week that we can do it.”
“To beat Liverpool is always important,” he added. “Today it was important because our competitors lost points and when the gap is like this we can overturn that.”
Van Gaal has many critics among United fans but has given them at least four reasons to smile since taking over at Old Trafford — four wins in four league games against Liverpool.
Sunday’s victory in the north-west derby at Anfield, thanks to Wayne Rooney’s 78th-minute volley, completed a second successive league double over Liverpool for Van Gaal following United’s 3-1 win at Old Trafford in September.
Last season United beat Liverpool 3-0 at home and 2-1 away and he was delighted after Sunday’s victory in a drab game lifted United back up to fifth in the table.
“In the second half we played much better and kept the ball better and created chances and Wayne Rooney makes the fantastic goal again,” Van Gaal told Sky Sports.
Rooney’s strike, an athletic hooked volley after Marouane Fellaini’s header bounced back off the crossbar, was the one moment of true class in a game of few scoring chances.
Liverpool were slightly more threatening, but only really tested United keeper David De Gea with two dangerous efforts from Roberto Firmino and Emre Can in the second half.
“I don’t think David De Gea has done very much, two or three balls he has to stop, a goalkeeper has to do that. He is playing very good but you can not say he was a fantastic, marvellous goalkeeper today,” Van Gaal continued.
He was also delighted with Rooney’s winner.
“I asked him to score here and he makes a lot of goals now in a row. I think he is a fantastic Manchester United striker for the media but he was also that in the first half of the season.”
Rooney has now scored in four successive games and took his league tally for United to 176 — the record by one player for one club in the Premier League era, passing Thierry Henry’s previous mark of 175 for Arsenal.
(Reporting by Mike Collett; additional reporting by Ken Ferris; editing by Martyn Herman and Peter Rutherford)