After two brilliant wins against fellow top four contenders Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, Manchester United seem to be the form team at the moment. Uniteda s manager Louis van Gaal faced the media today ahead of his sidea s home clash with Aston Villa on Saturday and was beaming with confidence.
The Dutchman, who has come under some severe scrutiny over the last few months, has finally found a way to make this assembled United team tick and one of the main reasons, Van Gaal admitted, was Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini.
a When he plays as he does now I cannot change him,a said Van Gaal, who was asked what had been done to revive Fellainia s fortunes. a The first time I met him he was late [returning for pre-season] because of the World Cup. I didna t know him. I knew him as a coach, that he played for Man United and Everton and national team, but the first time I saw him was in Manchester.
a I have heard a lot of stories about him but from the first training session he did what I asked. He was open and he wants to perform so I am not surprised. He had an unlucky season because he was injured and ill [this year], but when fit he has always played for me because I was looking for a balance and he can give a lot of balance.a
The Belgian, who was of course bought during David Moyesa ill-fated regime last season, scored three goals in two games in the international break and has been one of the most consistent performers for the Red Devils this season.
Another player who has been in good form over the last two games is English center half Chris Smalling. The 25-year-old was substituted inside the first half in Englanda s friendly with Italy this week due to an illness and when asked about Smallinga s condition, Van Gaal said he wasna t sure yet.
a Chris Smalling is ill. Not sure if available. He is not feeling wella , the Dutchman said.
Yet, when he was asked about compatriot Robin van Persie and Luke Shaw, Van Gaal had a more definitive answer.
“Robin is coming back on the (training) pitch and Luke Shaw has already had a week on there, but match rhythm is very important. You cannot compare a player who has been out for four or five weeks to those that have sufficient match rhythm.”
“We have a process for injured players in the medical department, they then go to a football coach for tests and then to me. Robin still isn’t with the football coach. He’s still not in my group. Luke Shaw is in my group, that’s different, but van Persie isn’t available.”
With only eight games in the season to go, United find themselves in fourth place just a point behind third place Arsenal and two behind champions Manchester City who are in second place at the moment. Nevertheless, the Red Devils are eight points adrift of runaway leaders Chelsea who also have a game in hand.
There is only a mathematical chance for United to win an unforeseen 21st league title and the 63-year-old admitted the same.
“You never know we shall be fighting for prizes. When we had 16 points out of out 11 games there was a lot of criticism I said we will be fighting to the end of the season.
“It’s still a rat race. Tottenham and Liverpool are still in it, but we have given them a blow. But we have to play against the first three, still so a lot can happen.”
He added, “Still we can win the title, mathematically we can do that.”
The United manager was confident that his side will be up for the game against Aston Villa on Saturday.
“I have seen the performances of all of our players in training and that gave a very good signal for the game against Villa.”
Van Gaal credited Uniteda s recent improvement in performances to the work the players have put in, on the training ground to perfect his a philosophya .
“We are working day in day out and we have to see how players respond of course the way I train is not so easy and it is a whole a process and we start at the bottom – unconscious and uncapable.
“The next step is conscious and capable, then unconscious andcapable. I think we are there.”