Wayne Rooney says Louis van Gaal gave Manchester United players “more freedom” against Derby – and that it showed.
The United striker also discussed breaking a second of Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring records this season, as he closed on another memorable tally.
Rooney became England’s all-time leading scorer in September when he tucked away a penalty in a 2-0 win against Switzerland at Wembley – his 50th goal for his country.
And he has begun 2016 with a bang, scoring six goals in United’s six matches so far this year.
His latest came at Derby on Friday night, a sublime curling effort from the right-hand side of the penalty area which settled United’s nerves early on in a tricky FA Cup tie and set Louis van Gaal’s team on their way to an ultimately comfortable 3-1 victory.
The 30-year-old’s strike in the fourth-round tie was his 243rd goal for United and moved him to within six of another of Charlton’s long-standing records.
Charlton’s figure of 249 has stood since 1973 and Rooney said: “Of course I’m aware of it.
“Like the England record, when I was getting closer, it kept getting mentioned every week so that will probably start again with every goal.
“But it’s great to be mentioned again alongside Bobby’s record and hopefully before the end of the season I can go past that and then kick on again.
“I think it’s been a good start to the new year personally. I’ve been scoring goals, I feel good, I feel fit and, although some of the results have been disappointing, I’m enjoying my game at the minute and long may it continue.”
After losing at home to Southampton last weekend, Rooney felt United’s display at Derby was much improved.
Van Gaal’s side recovered from George Thorne’s surprise equaliser to progress into the last 32 with second-half goals from Daley Blind and Juan Mata.
“It was obviously a better performance than last week’s game but I think the manager gave us a lot of freedom to go and play,” said Rooney. “You could see the difference in the team as we seemed to be enjoying it and scored some good goals and fully deserved to win.”
Rooney also says criticism about United’s performances should be aimed at the players rather than the manager, Van Gaal.
“It’s unfair to say it’s down to the manager – we’re on the pitch. So the players have to take a lot of responsibility for performances and results,” Rooney told several national newspapers.
“We have to stand up and take criticism when it’s there. We want to win, of course we always want to win, and we’re trying.
“Even when you’re giving 100 per cent, it doesn’t always come off and thankfully it did in our last match.”