Manchester United vs Preston North End: Louis van Gaal admits Wayne Rooney is only playing midfield due to lack of options

The Manchester United captain is known to dislike playing deep

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Louis van Gaal has admitted he is only using Wayne Rooney as a midfielder for want of better alternatives.

The Manchester United captain is known to dislike playing deep but has done so partly because, as his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson pointed out, “he would play centre-half if you asked him” and partly because, after a disastrous season under David Moyes, he is prepared to try most things.

Asked if he was employing Rooney in midfield because nobody else was capable of playing in that position, Van Gaal replied: “Of course, that is the case. I am looking for balance and I need it in midfield.

“But Rooney is happy, otherwise he would come to me and tell me that he is not happy, but he never does. He is always friendly to me and wants to perform but if the whole world is writing that he should be in the striker’s position, he will be thinking: ‘maybe’.”

The Manchester United manager added that he would address the problem of central midfield in the summer.

That would mean Manchester United making another attempt to sign Roma’s Kevin Strootman, although it ought to have been settled when Ander Herrera was brought to Old Trafford from Athletic Bilbao last summer. However, for whatever reason Herrera has not settled in Manchester, amid suggestions he has not responded well to the rigid tactical coaching Van Gaal tends to employ.

Manchester United should be travelling to Preston for Monday's FA Cup fifth-round tie in reasonably buoyant mood. They have been in the Champions League positions for the majority of the season. As Van Gaal likes to remind his audiences, he won a trophy in his first seasons at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and this weekend another five Premier League clubs joined an already considerable scrap heap in the FA Cup.

There is, however, a feeling that, despite the vast outlay in the summer and the hiring of a manager with one of European football’s most glittering CVs, United are not progressing as quickly as most of their supporters would have hoped. Six months into his term of office, Van Gaal confessed he was unsure as to what his best team was.

“But that is always so for any trainer-coach,” he said. “Every week you can pick another team. The credits a player has are dependent on their shape and form. You never have your best team because sometimes in a training session a player shows something.

“I am involved in a three-year process. I signed for three years and our goal this year is to be in the first four places. We are third, have been in the top four for a long time, not just for a single week here or there. We have shown we can get the results required and once in a while we play very well.

“We showed last Wednesday against Burnley that we were no good in the first half but we improved in the second and it is very important not to lose. We are in a process and you have to wait to see how far we can reach together. It is logical that sometimes you don’t play well but I can assure you that it is not only Manchester United who sometimes play badly.

“We have never played [a perfect] 90 minutes. We have played maybe 80 or 70 minutes and we have also played very well and lost – that is the beauty of football, the better team does not always win.”

He would hope his side are the better team on Monday – wherever Rooney plays.