Belfast Telegraph

Man United face fight for Mané as Rooney ends winless streak putting Saints under no pressure to sell star man

Man United 2 - Swansea City 1

By Ian Herbert

The conversations which took place when Louis van Gaal's spirits were on the floor two weeks ago - increasingly convinced that the Manchester United project was beyond him - included an insistence from the club that they would help out in this month's transfer market if he could just tough it out.

Now comes the test of whether the club can make good on that offer. Privately, United have been wholly unconvinced for the past three months that Southampton would sell them Sadio Mané, whom they are still interested in adding to their strike force, in the January transfer window because the value of next season's television deal does not create a requirement to let anyone leave.

Mané's failure to make a team meeting before Saturday's defeat at Norwich and poor attitude in training last week offers encouragement to a club for whom a striker and left-back are priorities. But United face a number of substantial obstacles.

The Southampton manager, Ronald Koeman, has always been very strong on the point of no players leaving this month, with his board ready to back him with an agreement not to sell in January but only do business in the summer.

Neither is Mané a player who has shown great desire to join United. He did not agitate to go last summer and the weekend episode, which angered Koeman, could simply be the latest example of his scatterbrained personality.

The policy of the club's executive director of football, Les Reed, will be the same with Mané as it has been for those other Southampton players who have been adamant about leaving in the past 18 months: ask the maximum possible sum and see what happens. A £30m fee for the player, signed from Red Bull Salzburg for £11.8m, is likely to be the negotiating position.

Van Gaal said after the 2-1 win over Swansea City on Saturday that his side wanted to attack more because to do so was "the culture of Manchester United" and important "to please the fans".

It was an acknowledgement which suggested he knows he must do things United's way, as well as following his own methods, if he is to succeed.

The problem is, when we see more attacking intent from United, whose three-man first-half defence on Saturday allowed a greater number of players to get forward, the defence's frailty is exposed. Van Gaal is caught between a rock and a hard place: preferring more anaemic, defensive play, yet knowing he must ask his players to abandon caution, which is anathema to him.

Van Gaal's defender Chris Smalling, meanwhile, has told his team-mates that Saturday's win over Swansea must not prove a false dawn.

United's eight-match winless run came to an end with that 2-1 victory over the Swans at Old Trafford.

Anthony Martial scored his eighth goal of the season when he converted Ashley Young's cross, but Swansea looked to have stolen a point after Gylfi Sigurdsson looped a header over David de Gea.

Luckily for Van Gaal, Wayne Rooney came to the rescue 13 minutes from time when he cleverly flicked Martial's cross into the net to ensure the hosts began the year on a high.

Smalling admits the haphazard nature of the Premier League is the only reason United are still in with a shout of the title, and he believes the Red Devils must now go on a prolonged run to ensure themselves a place in the top four at the very least.

"December was a poor month but it's a great feeling to get that win and I think we've shown that we've fought hard and we need to kick on," the England international admitted.

"We knew we had to snap out of that run and get on the front foot and I think we did that. It's a great start to the year and we can't afford any more slip-ups now so we need to make sure we play every game like this.

"It definitely does (need to be the start of something). We've dropped far too many points for our liking. Luckily this league's so up in the air and there's everything to play for. If we can get on a run then we can start looking up that table."

Rooney moved above Denis Law into second place in United's all-time scorers list with his second-half flick.

His 238th goal for United came at a good time for his manager, whose position has come under scrutiny of late, and the player himself.

It was Rooney's first league goal in eight league matches and it was also the first time he and Martial had scored in the same Premier League game.

Belfast Telegraph


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