LONDON • Louis van Gaal refused to look too far ahead in the English Premier League title race despite seeing Manchester United go top for the first time in the post-Alex Ferguson era.
United comfortably beat Sunderland 3-0 on Saturday. Coupled with Manchester City's 4-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur earlier, that enabled the Red Devils to take top spot for the first time in 82 weeks.
However, van Gaal believes it is too early to gauge United's chances of a first title since legendary former manager Ferguson delivered his 13th and final championship in 2013.
"Ask me that question again in May," the Dutchman said after goals from Memphis Depay, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata at Old Trafford left bottom-dwellers Sunderland still looking for a first win of the season.
"To continue is very difficult in this league. Last year, when we had 13 points from 10 or 11 matches, we had to chase and, at the end of the season, we finished fourth," said the United manager. "This year is a big difference. You can start better from the top than the bottom but it shall be very difficult."
He noted that there are tougher challenges ahead, including a trip to Arsenal on Sunday.
United opened the scoring in the fourth minute of first-half injury time when a glorious Daley Blind pass allowed Mata to square for Depay to score his first league goal since signing from PSV Eindhoven.
Rooney then ended an 11-game goal drought in the Premier League as he bundled in his 171st league goal for the club, drawing him level with Denis Law in third place in United's all-time list.
"It doesn't matter who is scoring goals or making goals. I am not interested, although personally for Rooney, Depay and (Anthony) Martial, it's very important," van Gaal added. "I am a happy coach because Rooney and Depay have scored in the Premier League now and that's fantastic for their confidence."
For Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat, he knows his side need to improve if they are to avoid relegation this season.
They have the worst defensive record in the division. Though they produced a disciplined performance, they switched off when Patrick van Aanholt allowed Mata to get in behind him for Depay's opener. And less than 60 seconds into the second half, they conceded again to Rooney before Mata completed the rout in the last minute.
"We can't keep saying we will take the good things out of the game," Advocaat said. "You can say we were well organised against a good team like United but we gave the game away in two minutes.
"I can accept losing sometimes but we made it very easy for them in the second half."