Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal tonight admitted that the struggle to turn the Old Trafford club around is his toughest challenge of a 23-year managerial career.
United have only five points from five Premier League games, have still won only once, conceded four goals in the space of 21 second half minutes at Leicester City last Sunday and now face the aerial threat of West Ham with only one fit centre half.
“At this moment it is maybe yes [my toughest job],” Van Gaal said. “But we have to see us in a year and not in a week where we have nine injuries and a [tenth player suspended.] I don’t think you can judge that effect, no. As a manager you know already in advance that it's a big challenge. This club is in a transition. What you don't know in advance are what the difficult moments will be. You have to see. When we started we won everything in very difficult circumstances. Now we are again in difficult circumstances and we can win.”
Van Gaal did not conceal his exasperation with a run of injury problems which have left him with a crisis in central defence ahead of Sam Allardyce’s team arriving at Old Trafford on Saturday. Chris Smalling “ran out of training” on Wednesday with complaints about having “stiff legs”, the Dutchman said. “So we have to see what that means.” Jonny Evans has a badly bruised bone and Van Gaal can only wait for that to heal.
Leicester City 5 Manchester United 3 player ratings
Leicester City 5 Manchester United 3 player ratings
1/22 Leicester: Kasper Schmeichel
Couldn’t be faulted for the goals, and didn’t have too many saves to make. 5
2/22 Ritchie De Laet
Never stopped working up and down the right flank and set up Jamie Vardy’s goal with a superb through ball after dispossessing Juan Mata. 7
3/22 Liam Moore
Grew into the game after an uncertain start and was a threat at set-pieces. 6
4/22 Wes Morgan 6
A commanding performance from the centre back that helped to keep Robin van Persie quiet for the most part.
5/22 Paul Konchesky
Typically industrious display, with plenty of bursts forward and crunching tackles.
6/22 Esteban Cambiasso
Thundered in the equaliser to make it 3-3, and kept things ticking over in midfield with his accurate passing.
7/22 Danny Drinkwater
Former Manchester United player showed some fantastic vision. 7
8/22 Dean Hammond
Steady in the middle for the Foxes. 6
9/22 David Nugent
Great link-up play with Vardy and Ulloa, and made no mistake from the spot. 8
10/22 Jamie Vardy
Constant source of anguish for the United defence. 9
11/22 Leonardo Ulloa
£8m striker is already up to five goals this season after his impressive double. 8
12/22 Manchester United: David De Gea
Couldn’t have done much for any of the goals, and offered no protection by his threadbare defence. 5
13/22 Marcos Rojo
Struggled against Vardy all afternoon and couldn’t get forward as much as he would have liked. Good pass into Falcao in the build-up to United’s first goal. 5
14/22 Tyler Blackett
Gave the ball away in dangerous areas, and sent off when he conceded a penalty for bringing down Vardy. A nightmare afternoon for the youngster.
15/22 Jonny Evans
Looked reasonably assured before going off injured after half an hour. 5
Lost his head when he unnecessarily fouled Jamie Vardy for the penalty that got Leicester back in the game. Often caught out of position. 5
17/22 Ander Herrera
Took his goal beautifully, but on the back foot for much of the afternoon. 5
18/22 Wayne Rooney
Beautifully weighted pass for Di Maria’s goal, but peripheral for much of the game. Booked for dissent after the Blackett sending off. 5
19/22 Angel Di Maria
Scored stunning goal, and always a threat with his pace and direct running. Taken off for the final quarter of an hour. 6
20/22 Daley Blind
Very comfortable in possession but ultimately couldn’t match the Leicester midfield's intensity. 5
21/22 Robin van Persie
Scored deflected goal early on, but did little else thereafter. 5
22/22 Radamel Falcao
Did superbly to create Robin van Persie’s goal, and so unlucky not to score with volley that hit the bar. Taken off for the final 20 minutes. 6
With Tyler Blackett unavailable as a left-sided centre half, because of his red card at Leicester, Van Gaal said he will have to turn to the under-21 squad to reinforce his squad to face West Ham. The Dutchman may call on 19-year-old Paddy McNair.
The glut of defensive injuries flies in the face of the assurances from the club’s training complex received by United chief executive Ed Woodward in pre-season, that the defenders were not likely to break down as they had in previous seasons. Van Gaal is baffled that United’s seem unable to deal physically with the new training regime. “I have to admit that I have never been in this situation before [with injuries],” Van Gaal said. “It is strange. You have to train on a certain level because otherwise you can't play a game. I have already said I have adapted to a certain level but you cannot train lower because you then can't perform in the right way.”
The football world is rushing to judgement faster than ever - and Van Gaal was prickly when asked if any panic was setting in. “No [panic] is not happening,” he declared. “It is overcoming [it]. [Last Sunday is] not a regular occurrence. When you see our figures in the Premier League except this match we are defending well. The average is less than one I think and we’ve scored a lot of goals. I think we are fifth or sixth, I don’t know. I see that differently to, more or less, as a lot of journalists.”
He laughed when asked if he had been angry with the players after events at Leicester. “I don’t think so, no. Angry? I don’t think my players are robots. They are human beings and I think human beings make errors. Faults. And I am a manager who always wants to evaluate, discuss and so on and that’s always the way I do it and I have done it this week also. There is no difference.”
Van Gaal and Woodward have not discussed targets. It is only United’s financial projections which are based on a third placed finish, as they were last season. But the Dutchman said United could finish around that position in the table. “When you are 3-1 ahead after 60 minutes [at Leicester] you have to win,” he said. “Then we are two points off second in the table. Because of the loss we are sitting here and you are talking like that and questioning me like that. But if we had won this game it was a different story. We [can] overcome and the season lasts more than one day.”
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