With Manchester United’s return to the champions league just a game away, van Gaal addresses pressing questions over United’s European chances. Marouane Fellaini clarified his role in the team, while the manager touched upon the need of youth development.
Louis van Gaal was upbeat ahead of the second leg of Manchester United’s Champions League qualifier in Belgium. Not taking anything for granted, van Gaal made it abundantly clear that defeating Brugge was the main priority.
In a rare occurrence, van Gaal was not bombarded with repeated questions about transfer business and failed targets, and was instead afforded a rare opportunity to shed light on key aspects of his philosophy.
van Gaal praises defence
In his pre-match press conference, van Gaal lauded the defensive organisation of his team thus far. From shipping 6 goals in the first three games last season, United have conceded none in the same number of matches this time. The Dutchman said, a Until now, our defensive organisation has pleased me most. I divide football in four main moments and we have two moments where the opponent has ball and then we are at our best, I think.”
He did not however forget the shortcomings to his side’s game, commenting further that, “We proved that last year and now we are continuing with a lot of clean sheets, so that is very important. But we have to improve when we have the ball”
“For me it’s not important where I play – The most important thing is to win”: Fellaini
Sitting alongside his manager, Fellaini clarified his position in the team, and where he is likely to be played. Van Gaal had shed light on Fellaini’s role, telling ManchesterUnited.com: “He can play as a no.6 or no.8 but this year he’ll be more a no.9 or no.10 as we have players in the other positions.”
Fellaini has proven to be United’s most lethal weapon in breaking down tough defences over a large period of last season. Whether playing right of central midfield, as a no.10 or a makeshift forward, Fellaini has carried himself with a great amount of respect, as well as instilling fear in the opposition.
The Belgian attacker has come a long way from being the scapegoat of David Moyes’ tenure. Under van Gaal, Fellaini has matured into the marauding attacker that terrorised United in the blue shirt of Everton.
Having purchased more midfielders, van Gaal feels that he can use Fellaini solely for his attacking exploits, thus getting the best out of his abilities. Giving his own take, Fellaini told reporters: “In the past, I have played no.9 and no.10. I have to help the team – I can play there. It’s not important where I play. The most important thing is to win the game, of course. I enjoy all the different positions I can play in.”
“We are starting to make a mixture, from youth players and older players”
Drawing parallels to his time at Ajax, who had the average youngest age of any Champions League winners, van Gaal spoke about his ambitions for Manchester United in Europe. The Dutchman likened the role played by senior players such as Rijkaard and Danny Blind, to that played by Carrick and Schweinsteiger. He also talked about the importance of senior players play in providing the right mixture, and a sense of balance.
United now have a good mix of players under 25, between 25-30 and 30 and over. The problem van Gaal will face, is ensuring they all get an adequate amount of game time. Players such as Wilson, Pereira, Lingard have struggled for playing time and are likely to keep struggling. Though they might get their chances in Cup games against weaker opposition, training with the squad will count for little until they get proper Premier League match experience.
Yet, United have more options for the future than they ever had before. While van Gaal may not produce another Ajax, he certainly has the resources and experience to help the club repair their European reputation.
When asked if United could win the champions league, van Gaal responded with a calm ‘Yes’. Despite being questioned for his every move, van Gaal’s ambitions for the club lie no where but at the very top.
It is going to be a long road back to the helm of Europe for Manchester United, but if Atletico Madrid and Juventus serve as example, it only proves how unpredictable the Champions League really is.