After last week’s 0-1 away win at Liverpool, United will be looking to continue 2016’s improved run of form. Before our next game against Southampton, some big topics were covered by Van Gaal in his weekly press conference.
The first news to break early this afternoon was that Ashley Young has sustained a serious groin injury after the match with Liverpool, and will need to undergo major surgery that will keep him out for “a very long time”. During this season, Young featured early on at left and right wing, but, more importantly for us right now, has also featured at left back and right back, leaving us with only one first team player to play there – Darmian.
Van Gaal also confirmed that Phil Jones and Bastian Schweinsteiger are also set to miss our upcoming game against Southampton, while more positively, Adnan Januzaj is back to full fitness and is eligible to play.
As a result of Young’s injury, which leaves very few options at full back, Van Gaal was questioned whether he had left his squad too small this season. “No, that is not true, I think when you see how unlucky we have been in the full-back position. I have started with Valencia, Shaw, Rojo, Darmian and Young, sometimes, and they are all injured – only Darmian is now back.”
With only Darmian as a first team regular at full back, Van Gaal was subsequently asked about youth players filling that position comfortably for the rest of the season, to which he responded, “you have seen how I have used youngsters like Borthwick-Jackson and Varela who are doing great but the level of Manchester United is high. To give a high performance every week normally is very difficult for youngsters, which is why we have to look always in this transfer period for replacements.”
Our full back positions need strengthening, and Van Gaal was asked about his likelihood of dipping into the transfer market in what remains of this month. “The difficulty is that we ask for a level and the clubs do not want to sell in this period and that is our problem. We are looking, but it is not so easy. Nobody can understand that because [they think] it is easy and it is not so.” From both these comments and the ones around our young full backs, it would not be surprising to see us exploring the market for another full back, but the question is whether we would be panic buying, overspending, or generally not getting the level of quality the summer transfer window offers.
After Wayne Rooney’s recent form, Van Gaal was questioned on his influence on the team’s performances. “It is a fact that since Rooney is scoring we have won our games, or at least we draw against Newcastle United away. There is a parallel and I have said that always that he is not only important as a player but as a captain, so I am very happy with him.”
At half time during our 0-1 win over Liverpool, reports began to emerge of a very heated debate in the changing room in order to raise performance levels. Asked on Rooney’s part in that, Van Gaal said “not only Wayne Rooney is doing that, there are several players doing that and that is what I want because the players are self responsible and it is not only the manager which is why I have made this approach to the players. Responsibility for the result and commitment for the result is very important and that they are showing.”
December 2015 culminated in one of our worst runs of form for 40 years and set new unwanted records for the club. Since the turn of the New Year, we have seen improvements in our record. Asked on whether the difficult period had come to an end, Van Gaal responded, “it is not interesting for me, it is only interesting for the players. The players play the game and have the resistance in the game, so I think the pressure is a little bit gone, but it would return if we lost against Southampton. It is always the same pressure for Manchester United – we have to win. Our fans are always expecting us to win, especially at home.”
Let’s hope we can do exactly that against Southampton, which you can catch at 3:00pm on Saturday 23rd January.