Louis van Gaal has expressed his amazement at the “unbelievable” way Manchester United supporters stuck by him despite the club making their worst start to a season in Premier League history.
The veteran Dutch coach, who takes United to Stoke on New Years Day, admitted that at his former clubs the personal abuse would have been pouring down from the terraces.
The opening 10 games of Van Gaal’s debut English season brought just 13 points and also featured a humiliating 4-0 Capital One Cup defeat at League One MK Dons.
Although United are now well on course for a return to the Champions League next season and refusing to rule out an unlikely assault on the title race this year, Van Gaal was surpised by the support he received in the bad times.
When asked what had surprised him most in his first six months in the job, Van Gaal said: “The fans. I have never had the experience that when you lose or draw at home that the fans are still applauding for you, showing their belief in you. Never.
“In Barcelona, the white handkerchiefs. In Bayern, they whistle. In Amsterdam, Ajax, they are shouting for my friend Cruyff. Here, they are applauding – stand up, and applaud. Unbelievable. That’s why I’m thanking the fans because they were very important in my first six months.”
A 10-point deficit behind leaders Chelsea does look insurmountable at first glance, especially after United ended a six-game winning streak by limping to draws at Aston Villa and Tottenham over the past three outings.
But Van Gaal points to the increasingly unpredictable nature of the Premier League as reasons for him refusing to rule out a title bid this year.
“That is dependent on Chelsea and Manchester City,” he said. “They are the only teams who are above. But I could not predict that Manchester City, at home, allows Burnley – last, or one of the last in the table – to come back. I could not imagine. But when I read it, it was true.”
The pragmatic Dutchman, predictably, remains grounded despite the remarkable turnaround in his club’s fortunes that has seen them lose just once – in the Manchester derby – over the last 14 league games.
“You can never say in advance that we are the next champion or something like that because it’s not so easy,” he said. “For me, it’s more important the way we play and perform than what the others do. Of course, in sport you shall always be compared and in 2015 we shall know more than in 2014.”
Manchester United injury list
Manchester United injury list
1/5 Wayne Rooney
There is uncertainty over the extent of the Manchester United captain's injury, with fears he may have suffered ligament damage to his knee during the 3-0 defeat to Everton. Unlikely to feature against West Brom and could miss the rest of the season.
2/5 Michael Carrick
Having limped off in the 4-2 derby victory over Manchester City, it's uncertain if the England midfielder will fit for this weekend. Was unable to even make the bench for the defeat to Everton.
The right-back's return to action has suffered a set-back. After making a short appearance in the 3-0 win over Tottenham in March, the Brazilian has been pushing for full fitness. However he suffered a blow to the ribs in an Under-21 match against Leicester and could miss the rest of the season.
4/5 Marcos Rojo
Having missed the games against Chelsea and Everton due to a groin injury, the Argentina international is pushing for a return and could feature this weekend.
5/5 Phil Jones
Fellow defender Phil Jones also missed the defeats to Chelsea and Evertton but the England international has returned to training after a foot complaint and could play at against West Brom.
But while it may not be in his nature to make extravagant predictions about where his club will stand 12 months from now, he clearly expects a far more successful 2015 than 2014 for United.
Angel Di Maria is back in training after a pelvic problem while fellow midfielders Ander Herrera, Adnan Januzaj and Marouane Fellaini are all progressing from injuries and may have a chance of places on the bench today.
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