MANCHESTER United prevailed in Louis van Gaal’s first home match as manager as substitute Marouane Fellaini’s late goal saw them defeat Valencia 2-1 at Old Trafford.
Fellaini, introduced with just under 15 minutes remaining for his first appearance of pre-season, capitalised on a mix-up in the Valencia defence to turn the ball home in stoppage time.
The Belgium midfielder, not previously involved under Van Gaal this summer having been rested due to his involvement in the latter stages of the World Cup, struggled last term and has been linked with a move to Napoli.
Rodrigo Moreno, making the most of ponderous United defending, had earlier made it 1-1 by firing in from close range in the 71st minute when the ball was inadvertently sent his way from a free-kick by the outstretched leg of Tom Cleverley.
Darren Fletcher’s deflected 49th-minute strike put the Red Devils in front after their captain-for-the-night Wayne Rooney missed a penalty in the first half, hitting the post.
It was a far from vintage display from United, who may well count themselves fortunate not to have been beaten by their Primera Division opponents.
But they head into Saturday’s Barclays Premier League opener against Swansea at the same ground off the back of an impressive pre-season record.
Prior to this game, United had emerged victorious from each of the other five friendlies Van Gaal had been in charge for, beating Los Angeles Galaxy, Roma, Inter Milan (on penalties), Real Madrid and Liverpool.
And in contrast to the gloom of last term, there is a definite sense of renewed optimism growing at United since the Dutchman took charge.
That was certainly apparent in the warm reception a waving Van Gaal received from the stands as he headed for the dugout just prior to kick-off.
Van Gaal wasn’t too impressed with United’s display even if he could take confidence from the final outcome.
“I think it was our worst match,” he said. “We did not play to the capacity that we showed in the United States too much. There were a lot of wrong choices, wrong passes. We didn’t press so good but I think Valencia is a very good team, very comfortable on the ball and not so easy to press against.
“In spite of that, we have dominated the game and only for 15 minutes in the second half were we not dominating. I think at the end we were the winners because we were fighting till the last minute and that is a good signal.
“We are, at this moment, fitter than our opponents and you could see that and also the (substitutions) helped of course. Now Fellaini and (Adnan) Januzaj have only been with us one week, one and a half weeks so they cannot play more minutes.
“They did reasonably well but they can do better I believe, but it is a start for them and also there were four debuts today.”
Van Gaal also enjoyed his first experience on the Old Trafford sidelines.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “On the pitch they are shouting and screaming your name so yeah, but it’s also a big pressure. They expect a lot. You cannot in three or four weeks change everything and the players cannot change either so we have to wait and see and develop. We need time.
“We’ve won every game until now and that’s fantastic when you see our opponents so we have confidence to play against Swansea City.
“But we have a lot of injuries now. We don’t have to forget that (Jonny) Evans was injured, (Luke) Shaw was injured, (Antonio) Valencia was injured and these are three defenders so we have to wait and see if they can play on Saturday.
“But the main thing is we have won in spite of playing our worst game.”