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Sunday 4 December 2016

Van Gaal backs Martial to save the day

As the pressure builds, Manchester Utd manager Louis van Gaal could really do with a win in Germany tonight
As the pressure builds, Manchester Utd manager Louis van Gaal could really do with a win in Germany tonight

Louis van Gaal has backed Anthony Martial to end his goal drought and help Manchester United avoid an embarrassing early Champions League exit.

United are likely to crash out of the Champions League group stages for just the fourth time in history if their patched-up team fails to win in Wolfsburg tonight. If they draw or lose, United will have to rely on PSV Eindhoven slipping up at home to CSKA Moscow - who have already been eliminated - to make it through to the last 16.

It is a situation neither Van Gaal nor the United board thought they would be in when the groups were drawn in August.

And the United boss concedes dropping into the Europa League would be a big blow for the three-time European champions.

"It's very important for the club to continue in the Champions League, and also for the players," Van Gaal said.

Important

"They want to show their qualities at the highest podium. That's why it's important (we qualify)."

Despite having a rich European history and a multi-million pound squad, the odds seem to be stacked against United.

Wolfsburg only need a draw to make the knockout stages for the first time and until Saturday's loss to Borussia Dortmund they had embarked on a 29-match unbeaten home run in the Bundesliga.

When Pep Guardiola brought his all-conquering Bayern Munich team to the Volkswagen Arena last season, they lost 4-1.

A quick look at the Bayern team that day shows what an achievement that was. Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Xabi Alonso and Manuel Neuer were in the starting XI and Mario Gotze, who would go on to score the winning goal in the World Cup final six months later, was only good enough for a place on the bench.

United's squad looks incredibly weak in comparison. Wayne Rooney, Morgan Schneiderlin, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera are injured, so Van Gaal has been forced to bring a threadbare squad to Lower Saxony.

Martial will bear the responsibility of ending United's woeful record in front of goal despite scoring just once in his last 13 matches.

"He is very talented but he is just 20 years old," Van Gaal said of the forward, who scored four goals in his first four matches following a £36million (€50m) transfer from Monaco in September.

"We have to give him time and that's always difficult when you are playing for a team like Manchester United because the expectations are very high.

"But I am very convinced that he will continue with his performances, and that he shall score at the right moment again.

"You cannot expect of a 20-year-old player coming to the Premier League that he scores every week.

Meanwhile, Bastian Schweinsteiger was charged with violent conduct by the Football Association yesterday for an alleged elbow on Winston Reid in Manchester United's goalless draw against West Ham. The 31-year-old is facing a three-match ban if found guilty.

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