herald

Monday 11 December 2017

van gaaL: united swagger is back

Boss confident his team's getting close to hitting peak level

Manager Louis van Gaal thinks Manchester United are finally starting to get their swagger back.

United face Swansea today for the first time since they ruined Van Gaal's debut in the home dugout at Old Trafford six months ago.

United went into the opening weekend of the season on the back of a perfect pre-season campaign in which they beat the Los Angeles Galaxy, Inter Milan, Roma, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Valencia. But Van Gaal's first competitive match ended in a 2-1 defeat to Gary Monk's side.

Van Gaal said after the match that the confidence of his team would be "smashed" by the defeat, but he feels United are starting to hit their peak again despite some indifferent performances.

"We came from the United States where we had won everything, so that was a big shock (to lose against Swansea)," the United manager said.

"After that we lost a lot of points even though we were the better team, because we couldn't score enough at that time.

"I think that the confidence at this moment is the same as (after the tour). When you see the scores of the last 19 or 20 matches we are the best team in the league, so that is why I think confidence is also high like it was at the beginning.

"The players know and have experience of playing in the system with my philosophy."

Van Gaal has a point. His team have lost just once - to top-four rivals Southampton - since the first week of November.

saved

That has not saved the Dutchman from criticism, though.

United have put in a series of unconvincing displays, with the most recent one coming at Deepdale on Monday when they had to come from behind to beat League One Preston in the FA Cup.

Van Gaal admits some of the criticism that has been aimed at his team recently has been valid and he is looking for an improvement from his squad in the final quarter of the season.

"I am never 100 per cent happy," the 63-year-old said. "We can play better but the main thing is to win your match, not to lose.

"We have shown this year a lot of times team spirit and that is very attractive for the fans but also for the coach, because then you can see a player wants to follow you."

Van Gaal has spent over £150million trying to improve his team's performances since the start of the season, and the club are willing to back him in the transfer market this summer too. The United boss has been linked with a number of players in recent weeks, including Nathaniel Clyne, Kyle Walker, Kevin Strootman and Mats Hummels.

However, the United boss declined an invitation to comment on how many changes he thinks he needs to make to his squad in the summer.

"You will have to see and wait," the Dutchman said.

Van Gaal has been given a selection headache ahead of the trip to the Liberty Stadium after he confirmed Robin van Persie is available.

Van Persie missed the 3-1 win over Preston because of an unspecified injury, but the striker is in the squad for this weekend's game at the Liberty Stadium.

Van Persie's return means Van Gaal will have to decide whether to hand his compatriot a start at the expense of Wayne Rooney or Radamel Falcao -or drop his captain into midfield.

Another option for Van Gaal is to start Marouane Fellaini up front after his impressive showing at Deepdale, where he scored United's second goal.

Van Gaal confirmed defender Phil Jones is back from his knee injury, which leaves Michael Carrick as the only absentee.

Carrick suffered a calf injury last month but Van Gaal hopes the influential midfielder will be back in action soon.

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