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Manchester United are starting to move up the gears


In the groove: Wayne Rooney celebrates hitting his goal against Hull at the weekend

In the groove: Wayne Rooney celebrates hitting his goal against Hull at the weekend


In the groove: Wayne Rooney celebrates hitting his goal against Hull at the weekend

Louis van Gaal should have been happy. Manchester United had beaten Hull City 3-0 without breaking sweat. It was, he said, the first time since his appointment as manager that United had played precisely the kind of football he had demanded.

Van Gaal was not happy. Christmas is coming and with it the Premier League's flood of fixtures.

"I am not happy and I don't agree with it," he said. "I don't think it's good that you play a game every two days in the month of December.

"We also have families. I have a wife and kids and grandchildren and I cannot see them this Christmas but I want to work in the Premier League so I shall adapt, but I don't think it is good for either the players or their families."

Logically, the heavy December programme should suit United more than their rivals.

Given that they have no European football and were knocked out of the League Cup at the first available opportunity, they should go into each battle fresher than those fighting on several fronts.

This stage of last season was when Liverpool's challenge for the title took flight. Having failed to win four of their previous six fixtures, Brendan Rodgers' side won the next four in December, scoring 17 times. They were unencumbered then by European football, as Manchester United are now.

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Van Gaal, however, was more cautious, mainly because of the sheer number of injured players he has to deal with.

Angel di Maria, who suffered a hamstring injury in the opening exchanges against Hull on Saturday, will miss at least the next two weeks while Wayne Rooney is a doubt for tomorrow's game against Stoke City.

Radamel Falcao, who came on for the final 20 minutes in his first appearance in more than a month, would be in no real shape to start.

It is, however, the defence that has been laid bare by injuries, although Hull failed to muster the kind of attacks that would have stretched a side employing Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young as full-backs.

Van Gaal also wondered whether it was realistic to expect Chelsea, even a side that dropped points at Sunderland on Saturday evening, to stumble through the Christmas programme.

"They are used to playing in the Champions League," he said. "You cannot say Chelsea are not used to playing in the Champions League, the Premier League, the League Cup and the FA Cup. They are used to it and they have the team for it."

Whatever team he can put out at Old Trafford tomorrow, the Van Gaal ethos is starting to take shape there.

For the first time this season Manchester United have strung three straight wins together. This is not a particularly impressive achievement - David Moyes once won five straight games - but it is a start.

"The manager told us after the Arsenal game that it was a performance that we had really ground out," said Chris Smalling, who opened the scoring on Saturday.

"We didn't play particularly well at the Emirates. But against Hull we did. He asked us for six points as a must and we are going to deliver that on Tuesday."

Van Gaal, arguing that no Premier League victory was a given, remarked how Arsenal and Liverpool had both laboured to wins on Saturday and, compared to those displays, Hull at home was a stroll.

Stoke have taken one point from their last 14 visits to Old Trafford, a sequence that stretches back to 1977. This is as near to a home banker as football gets.

Robin van Persie is back in goalscoring form, after a blank four weeks, and the Dutch striker felt he was back in business after scoring a superb effort against Hull.

Van Persie's displays had been the subject of heavy scrutiny ahead of the game and it was thought the 31-year-old could even lose his place.

But manager Van Gaal kept faith with his compatriot and was rewarded as Van Persie wrong-footed James Chester and rifled a left-footed shot into the roof of the net after 66 minutes.

"If you score a goal like that it gives you confidence as well as the team, and if I'm being honest I needed that," said Van Persie, who also teed up United's second goal for captain Rooney.

"You just have to keep working and those goals, or any goals, will eventually come."

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