Champs League still within reach: van Gaal

LONDON • Louis van Gaal is convinced that Manchester United are on track to claim a Champions League place from the wreckage of one of the English Premier League side's most difficult seasons in recent memory.

The Dutchman's job as manager, in his second campaign at the club, has been the subject of widespread speculation since United's early exit from the Champions League group stage in December.

That failure was compounded by the side's defeat in the second-tier Europa League by arch-rivals Liverpool last month.

However, van Gaal will lead his team into Sunday's game against Tottenham at White Hart Lane in confident mood following their 1-0 win over Everton at Old Trafford on Sunday.

That was United's fourth win in five domestic league games and left them just a point behind fourth-placed Manchester City, currently occupying the final Champions League spot on offer to English clubs.

"I said in the dressing room after the match that it was very important to win today, otherwise the victory against City (last month) was worthless," said van Gaal. "We keep in touch with City, one point behind, and we keep in touch with Arsenal, five points behind.

"We have to play Tottenham (next), not an easy match... If we continue like that, I am very happy."

Van Gaal has been under fire from critics and fans alike, yet he can make great strides with his young squad in what will be a critical month.

Home matches against doomed Aston Villa and struggling Crystal Palace offer six points to a team who have grown in stature at Old Trafford in recent weeks, while he can steer United into the FA Cup final by winning an admittedly tough replay with West Ham and then a semi-final against Everton.

He now needs to manage his players wisely at the stage of a season when fatigue can creep in, especially with international demands thrown in as well.

Anthony Martial, who scored United's goal against Everton, is a case in point. He has been a willing workhorse in United's cause but appears to be overstretched.

Van Gaal, nevertheless, is keen to press with the forward because he is playing very well.

"I have already said that Anthony Martial, with his age (20) is an exception, because he has also played every match," said the Dutchman. "To play every match then you have to be very strong and consistent, because every week I shall compare every player with his competitor, so it is fantastic what he is doing."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'Champs League still within reach: van Gaal'. Print Edition | Subscribe