Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal feels his teama s 2-1 victory at Anfield may well be one of the most crucial moments in not only Uniteda s season, but his long, storied career as a whole.

In the middle of a a rat racea for the Champions League spots with Liverpool, United gave a statement of their intent, outclassing the home team with a fabulous display of controlled passing an high pressing.

The Dutchman, whose Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams all played with a similar swagger, was beaming after the win as he hailed Uniteda s first half performance in particular.

“Now the gap is five points ahead of Liverpool and six ahead of Tottenham and Southampton, so the moment to win is one of the most important in my career,” he said in a news conference.

He added: “It was the best first 45 minutes because the second half we were not so good anymore and that is amazing a little bit because we played 11 against 10 and it should be easy or easier than the first half but it was not.

“The first half was very good because I knew in advance that Liverpool should press us and they did and we played them off the pitch in the first half. We scored a fantastic goal and gave nothing away so it was a superb first half.

“We beat them again with their own weapons and with the pressure on the ball.”

Yet, the 63-year-old was gracious enough to admit that Uniteda s fierce rivals will still have a part to play in the race for a top four spot.

“Never, because it is still eight matches to go. Eight [games] is 24 points. They can still be champions, Liverpool.”

Spanish midfielder Juan Mata was outstanding on the day, scoring two wonderful goals from the right hand side of midfield. Mata hadna t played too much football before being included in the team for last Sundaya s game against Tottenham Hotspur, but Van Gaal insisted that the former Chelsea player was always one of his top players.

“Mata is always one of my better players, so that is not the problem, but the composition of the team is not always dependable if you are playing good,” he said.

“Now he is playing as a false right winger and a combination with [Ander] Herrera and [Antonio] Valencia gives him more opportunities so I am very pleased. I am not amazed but I am very happy for him.”