Louis van Gaal sees not being in the Champions League this season as a mixed blessing. On one hand Manchester United have the luxury of two blank midweeks coming up in which their players can rest and prepare properly for the next Premier League game – not something that Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City can look forward to.
But while the United manager sees the advantage of no Champions League football in the short term, he doesn’t want to miss out for long, and not just because United’s finances demand participation. He also knows the advantages of his players testing themselves against Europe’s best.
“When you can play the Champions League, especially the Champions League but also the Europa League, you can compare yourselves as a team with the better players, with a higher level,” he said.
For now, however, United have one over their big domestic rivals. On Monday night they play West Bromwich Albion then have the best part of a week on the training ground to prepare for the visit of Chelsea next Sunday.
The following week they have another blank midweek diary before their derby against Manchester City thanks to an early exit from the Capital One Cup.
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.
That makes a top-four finish in the Premier League a pre-requisite for United and after three wins in their last four games, they are heading in the right direction. So where can they improve?
Van Gaal said: “We have to learn to kill the game and you can do that not with one or three or eight. All the 11 players have to think the same, otherwise you lose balls unnecessarily and then we are going back instead of forward. That’s what we have to do, but that takes time.”
United should be helped in that by an easing of their injury problems, with only Antonio Valencia, Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair, Jesse Lingard and the suspended Wayne Rooney unavailable tonight.
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