Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal admitted that playmaker Juan Mata’s contentious free-kick was stolen from Europa League conquerors FC Midtjylland after the 11-time FA Cup winners cruised past League One strugglers Shrewsbury Town.
A second-half strike from Jesse Lingard complemented goals in the opening period by Chris Smalling and Mata as United set up a last-eight clash against West Ham at Old Trafford next month.
Mata’s free-kick saw three United players stand in the goalkeeper’s eye-line as the Spaniard approached the set-piece before they retreated, but remained in an offside position — a concept for which Van Gaal credited the Danish champions.
“We have learnt because we have analysed Midtjylland and then we have seen that they are doing that,” said Van Gaal. “We think that it is always offside so we have asked the referees and they are saying ‘no, no, it’s not offside, you can do that’ so that’s why we have learned off Midtjylland the taking of the free-kicks.”
Despite enduring an embattling campaign in the United hotseat, which has resulted in constant speculation over the Dutchman’s future, Van Gaal reiterated his belief that the season is far from a write off.
“We are in all the competitions, just six points behind Manchester City [fourth in the Premier League],” he added. “We have a lot of chances, a lot of titles to fight for. It isn’t easy because we have to win a lot of games but it is still possible.”
United opened their account in the 37th minute as full-back Scott Borthwick-Jackson’s forward ball was headed on by Morgan Schneiderlin and Smalling, who was lurking in the attacking third, fired beyond Shrewsbury goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler.
Mata doubled United’s lead on the stroke of half-time before a sliding Lingard completed the scoring on 65 minutes as he side-footed home Ander Herrera’s cross. United have now won on the last seven occasions they have reached the FA Cup fifth round and their victory could have been more emphatic as substitute Will Keane struck a post late on.