Belfast Telegraph

Louis Van Gaal has been lucky so far and needs his players to step it up... just ask Neville

By Steven Beacom

It was one month ago that Manchester United great Gary Neville likened his old side to a pub team.

In a cracking piece of television, Neville, alongside Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports' excellent Monday Night Football, said it would be like watching "the Dog and Duck versus the Red Lion" when referring to United's weekend fixture with Liverpool.

He was only half joking!

The cutting comment did not go down well with United boss Louis van Gaal, who said the player turned pundit "has to pay attention to his words".

Also on that broadcast, as Neville analysed United's performance at Southampton, he insisted: "It was awful at times, United's passing was laughable... United got away with murder."

As is normally the case, Gary was right.

They were awful. They were also awfully lucky because despite what was a horrendous performance in just about every area of the pitch, they actually won the game 2-1.

Robin van Persie took advantage of the home side's slip ups at the back to score twice on a night when the Saints squandered chance after chance, giving the Red Devils one of the most fortunate victories in their history.

Southampton fans are still wondering how they came away from it with nothing.

That game came in the middle of what has turned into an 11-match unbeaten run for United, yet for most of that period they have been far from impressive.

Contrast that to the Saints, who bar a dodgy spell in the first half of December, have excelled this season.

Currently there is one point between the sides with United in third and Southampton fourth in the Premier League. They play again on Sunday at Old Trafford.

The meeting of Van Gaal and Saints boss Ronald Koeman, who get on about as well as Itchy and Scratchy, is an intriguing sub plot, but it is the match itself which is most compelling because of what happened last time.

United won't win the title, but they can't keep getting away with what they are producing if Van Gaal is to realise his aim of a top three place come May.

At St Mary's, Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair was taken off by Van Gaal after just 38 minutes with the Dutchman claiming the teenager had 'no confidence'. Since then McNair has returned to the side and played well. Whether he features on Sunday remains to be seen.

What's certain is that Neville's take on the match on Sky will be interesting.

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