Old Trafford’s injury crisis is no more. Well, at least it is a situation that has now resolved to a manageable level. After three months with Carrington’s medical department stuffed full of Manchester United’s finest, Louis van Gaal is without just four players for the visit to West Bromwich Albion on Monday night. Relief all round.
The international break came at an opportune time for United, although any momentum generated from the Reds’ laboured victory over Everton at fortnight ago is now lost. Still, with Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Ashley Young and Chris Smalling all back in training Van Gaal enjoys a fuller compliment of available players than at any time in his short Old Trafford tenure.
Indeed, the veteran Dutchman now has the tools for a fair assessment of his performance as manager. “Judge me in three months,” said Van Gaal back in July. Time to start racking up victories and performances, some might say, after an inconsistent start to the campaign. Not least because United heads into the match at the Hawthorns seeking a first away victory of the season – a run that has included defeats at both Leicester City and Milton Keynes Dons.
United will be without Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair, Jesse Lingard and Antonio Valencia for the trip south, while Wayne Rooney serves the second of a three match suspension. In the Scouser’s absence Robin van Persie is again likely to play alongside Radamel Falcao, with Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj competing for a place at ‘number 10’.
Falcao scored his first United goal against Everton at Old Trafford, although Van Persie is yet to find any real form this season. Meanwhile, Mata’s passive performances, despite a fine goalscoring record, has already seen the Spaniard dropped in favour of Rooney this season. Januzaj is yet to start a game for the Reds under Van Gaal, but a series of spectacular performances for the Under-21s have caught the eye.
Whether Herrera or Carrick feature in central midfield depends on match fitness, with Van Gaal playing down the Englishman’s chances. The Spaniard, however, could wear a protective “corset” to shield a broken rib sustained against West Ham United in September.
“I am very happy because there are no injuries from the international games,” said Van Gaal on Friday. “The players who are recovering are not able to play and we have to wait and see for the line-up on Monday. But we have only four players injured now. That is good.”
Three months in and Van Gaal says that his players now “understand the philosophy” following a significant tactical overhaul in the post-David Moyes era. It is change not helped by the rash of injuries and ever-shifting formations, with the Dutchman having used a variety of back three and back four systems this season.
“I have confidence in my players and I think that is very important,” insisted Van Gaal. “But it is much more important that the players have confidence in the manager and his staff. Of course, we could have done better because I don’t think that we are in balance now. We have to see if it works at a higher level. I am looking for more balance in the team, not just spectactular, attacking football.”
Meanwhile, Alan Irvine’s Baggies enjoyed three victories on the bounce before suffering defeat to Liverpool a fortnight ago. Chris Brunt should be available after suffering a groin strain while on international duty, but Brown Ideye is out with an ankle problem. Yet, it is young Englishman Saido Berahino that carries the host’s attacking threat, with the 21-year-old having scored five times in the Premier League this season and starred for the England Under-21 side that has qualified for next summer’s European Championship. Little wonder the youngster has been the subject of heated transfer speculation in recent weeks.
“He’s flying at the moment,” said Irvine. “He’s feeling good about himself and in a great place. If he keeps going the way he is he will gather momentum. Saido is going in the right direction. I have had a few conversations with him where it’s been a case of ‘You keep doing what you are doing and everything will happen for you'”.
Van Gaal described West Brom as “dangerous opponents,” while demanding a United victory on Monday. After discarding points at Leicester, Burnley and Sunderland, the Dutchman is seemingly in little mood for his side to slip up again.
“We have to start with a victory after the international break because we have won the last two games, but West Brom did that too so they also want to win the match. It won’t be easy,” said the United manager.
“[Against] Leicester City we played very good, but we gave it away. The other matches we played – two draws and we could have won them. We were the better team: we created chances, but we didn’t score. We have to start on Monday against West Bromwich Albion with a victory.”
It is a sentiment to which many United supporters will concur. After all, with injuries on the wane and Van Gaal’s “philosophy” gaining traction, there are few inhibitors left to improving performances. Victories for Manchester City and Chelsea at the weekend press home the need for three vital points.
United (4-1-2-1-2): de Gea; Rafael, Jones, Rojo, Shaw; Blind; Herrera, Di Maria; Mata; Van Persie, Falcao
West Brom (4-4-2): Foster; Wisdom, Lescott, Dawson, Pocognoli; Morrison, Dorrans, Gardner, Brunt; Sessegnon, Berahino
United: Lindegaard, Blackett, Vermijl, Thorpe, Smalling, Janko, Fletcher, Carrick, Pereira, Fellaini, Anderson, Januzaj, Wilson
West Brom: Myhill, Daniels, Olsson, Ideye, Davidson, Gamboa, O’Neil, Baird, Mulumbu, McAuley, Blanco, Samaras
West Brom 41 – Draw 30 – United 53
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: J Brooks, J Collin
Fourth Official: M Atkinson
West Brom 0-2 United
£1 bet club
Falcao to score a brace @ 4/1
Running total: £(-)8