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Louis van Gaal proud as Manchester United seize opportunity to go top of Premier League


Crest of a wave: Juan Mata salutes the crowd after hitting the third goal in United’s 3-0 victory over Sunderland

Crest of a wave: Juan Mata salutes the crowd after hitting the third goal in United’s 3-0 victory over Sunderland

AFP/Getty Images

Crest of a wave: Juan Mata salutes the crowd after hitting the third goal in United’s 3-0 victory over Sunderland

Louis van Gaal was spreading a message of joy and pride to the rank and file at Old Trafford after Manchester United climbed to the top of the table on Saturday.

Manchester City's 4-1 defeat to Tottenham left the door open for the Red Devils and they did not pass up the chance to leapfrog their rivals.

United ran out 3-0 winners over Sunderland thanks to goals from Memphis Depay, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata.

It is the first time United have topped the table under Van Gaal and he made sure he was not the only one with a beaming smile as he left Old Trafford on Saturday night.

"I am proud, of course," the United manager said.

"I said to the security guy, 'You are now a security guy of a club that are top of the league' and that makes a huge difference. Also for him. He is proud and I am proud. Last week it was the first time I was second. He was smiling."

Once Depay had broken Sunderland's admirable resistance in the fourth minute of first-half injury-time, United looked certain to grab all three points.

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Just 38 seconds after the restart, Rooney bundled in his first Premier League goal in 999 minutes and Mata converted Ashley Young's cross in the dying stages to round off the win.

Sterner tests lie around the corner. United travel to Arsenal on Sunday and after the international break they face tough tests against Everton and City.

But Van Gaal does not think October will define whether his team are genuine title challengers.

"I know exactly where I stand," the Dutchman said. "We have a good team but we can win and lose. You need luck but the balance is better than last season.

"I don't have to wait until October. We shall improve every week."

Few predicted United would be top of the pile following a summer of upheaval.

Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Javier Hernandez and Angel di Maria left the club while David de Gea's contract situation proved to be a real distraction in pre-season.

Van Gaal believes the addition of six new faces was key to United's good start.

"It's because the players you select (buy). The manager has influence but the players have much more," Van Gaal said. "They have to build up a structure in the dressing room and that's really important.

"They have to accept that structure. That is why I do that every season - because I think we need that new stimulus."

For the first time since he moved to United, Anthony Martial failed to score in a Premier League game, but he did set up Rooney.

The United captain had some strong words of praise for the £36million Frenchman

"He's been incredible," Rooney said.

"He's a 19-year-old lad who doesn't speak English and has moved over from France with a young family, so we have to understand that.

"He'll be a big player for us throughout the season and in the future, but we need to let him enjoy his football, and I'm sure he'll bring magic moments for us."

Bottom club Sunderland are yet to win in seven matches, but Steven Fletcher insists the squad's resolve remains strong.

"There is a great bunch of lads here so we will keep upbeat and hopefully the win will come sooner or later," the striker said.

"We will work hard on the training field and the gaffer is working hard for us. He is the same, the way he always is. He is not going to change no matter what has gone on. He is a strong man as you can tell by looking at him."

Fletcher insists the Sunderland players still support manager Dick Advocaat.

"We do (back him), not that he needs it," Fletcher said.

"He is a very experienced manager. He knows what he is doing. I am sure we will get the result we need."

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