Louis van Gaal braced for play-off pressure game
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal admits Tuesday’s Champions League play-off against Club Brugge will be one of the most pressurized games of his tenure so far.
The Red Devils host the Belgian Pro League side in the first leg at Old Trafford on Tuesday seeking a return to European soccer’s elite competition after a one-season hiatus.
Given the extra revenue that participation will generate United’s hierarchy made a place in the group stage a key target for van Gaal, while expectation among the club’s supporters remains high.
And when asked if the tie will represent the most significant matches he has faced since he replaced David Moyes as manager the Dutchman agreed.
Van Gaal said: “Of course. Because the players want to participate, and the board wants to participate, but especially the fans want to participate so the pressure is high.
“There is a lot of pressure because our aim and goal is to reach the Champions League.
“This kind of matches are difficult and because of the draw I think it is much more difficult because we have drawn Brugge and Brugge can defend very well, and they can attack also.
“It will be a difficult match and that is why the pressure is high. Everyone wants to participate in the Champions League but first you have to beat Club Brugge.”
Speaking at a pre-match press conference ahead of the first leg, Van Gaal also addressed questions regarding the subdued start to the season made by United captain Wayne Rooney.
The England international has been deployed in a lone striker role in United’s Premier League matches against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, but struggled to make an impact.
Faith in Rooney
Rooney touched the ball once in the penalty area, in injury time, against Villa and has managed just three shots on target in both fixtures, but Van Gaal’s faith in the 29-year-old has not wavered.
“I think all the media has written for one year and advised me I have to put him (Rooney) in the striker’s position,” Van Gaal said.
“So it is very amazing that after two matches you are doubting your own opinion so I cannot understand that. But I have always confidence in my players.
“We don’t just have only Wayne Rooney in the striker’s position. We have Adnan Januzaj who played in the USA pre-season in the striker’s position.
“I have given him that chance and he has shown he can do that. We have Javier Hernandez and James Wilson, so I don’t think we have a lack of strikers.”
Van Gaal restored Januzaj to the starting line-up against Villa last Friday, but responded to claims that he underused the Belgium international last season following the 20-year-old’s impressive breakthrough under Moyes.
“Adnan has eight starts last season and 13 substitutions so he didn’t have any chances? This is not true, in my opinion,” explained the 64-year-old.
“He has to compete with 23 or 24 other players. The characteristics of a young player is he is not consistent. He has to show that.
“Maybe he can show it this season. It is possible. In a club like Manchester United never you have a guarantee of a position in the top 11.”
Januzaj has been linked with season-long loan moves to Sunderland and Everton, but insists he is happy at Old Trafford and has a good relationship with Van Gaal.
“I am happy at Manchester United and I am happy the way the manager worked with me so I don’t have any issues with that,” added the winger.
“The manager spoke to me a few times and I can feel I am developing myself. I have not had a lot of games but this season maybe I get a few more opportunities to play.”