Football: Van Gaal rewarded for Christmas Day off by United

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (right) celebrates after scoring a goal with team-mate Radamel Falcao during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England Dec 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (right) celebrates after scoring a goal with team-mate Radamel Falcao during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester, northern England Dec 26, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MANCHESTER (REUTERS) - Louis van Gaal's carrot and stick approach worked wonders on Friday as his rapidly-improving Manchester United beat Newcastle United 3-1 to cement third spot in the Premier League.

A double from Wayne Rooney before halftime and another goal by Robin van Persie after the break earned a confortable three points and fully justified Van Gaal's decision to give his players the day off with their families on Christmas Day.

"It's a fantastic Christmas because we dominated for 90 minutes, we didn't give away many chances and we created plenty," the Dutch coach told the BBC.

"I don't think giving the players the day off was strange. It's a very important day for families in England and it's only one training session. Anyway, the substitutes are all doing a training session now."

United's seventh win in eight league games, the other was drawn, underlined their improvement since a sticky start to the season which often left Van Gaal looking grumpy.

He had lots to smile about on Friday although, just like Scrooge, he was not handing out too many Christmas presents.

"No. Because we also did a lot of bad things, I have to say that," the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach said with almost a smile.

"You saw their penalty. It was a throw for us. That's not possible. We gave that goal away again so we can improve."

Papiss Cisse's consolation from the spot failed to take the shine off an impressive United display though.

Rooney, revelling in a roaming midfield role, put United in front from Radamel Falcao's cross and added a second after good work by Juan Mata.

England marksman Rooney could not complete his hat-trick but did set up Van Persie after the break.

"Against Aston Villa (on Saturday) Rooney was a little bit too defensive and I asked for him to be more attacking," Van Gaal said.

"He then scores two goals and gets an assist. What more can you demand as a manager?

"We are improving every match and that's the most important thing. It's a process and the process is not for one day, the process is for a year and we are seeing that Manchester is better every week."

United next visit sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.