Football: Van Gaal wary of being out-foxed

Jamie Vardy, celebrating with Algerian Riyad Mahrez after scoring against Newcastle last Saturday, gave United plenty of grief when the Red Devils last visited Leicester's King Power Stadium in September last year.
Jamie Vardy, celebrating with Algerian Riyad Mahrez after scoring against Newcastle last Saturday, gave United plenty of grief when the Red Devils last visited Leicester's King Power Stadium in September last year.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

United boss says Leicester are title contenders, in-form Vardy poses 'nasty' threat

LONDON • Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has backed Arsene Wenger's claims that Leicester are a title threat ahead of their top-of-the-table clash today.

Few would have expected the Foxes to be topping the Premier League table in end-November.

This time last year, they were bottom. But van Gaal conceded that Claudio Ranieri's men are worthy of their lofty position.

"I don't think anybody has expected that, even Leicester themselves," he said.

"But they are deserved at No. 1 because points are the most important thing; goals are important but winning points is more important."

Leicester have scored the most goals (28), the joint-fewest losses (one, as do Tottenham Hotspur), and are the only side in the top flight who have netted in every league game.

"Normally, these kind of clubs can be a long time competing but normally, at the end, it's more difficult," added van Gaal ahead of round No. 14.

"But in England, because of the quality of the teams, because every team has money to buy players - and they have bought players - the difference in Premier League between the clubs in level is not so high, so it is possible, I think."

Arsenal manager Wenger had earlier stated that the Foxes "cannot be ruled out" as contenders but Ranieri has insisted that survival is the immediate aim.

The Leicester manager also labelled Wenger "a joker" as he downplayed his side's chances of lifting the Premier League trophy in May.

"Thank you to Arsene but he's a joker. He knows the truth very well," said the Italian.

"The league is very strange and open but our goal is 40 points.

"Our goal at the moment is this but let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal.

"Like everybody else, I am also curious in these days to watch my team, and to see how we respond in these big matches."

The last time United travelled to the King Power Stadium in September 2014, Leicester striker Jamie Vardy was the star in the home side's 5-3 comeback win.

He was involved in all five of the Foxes' goals, scoring one, assisting in two and earning two penalties.

Fourteen months on, the 28-year-old Vardy is still the man to mark.

The England international has scored in a record-equalling 10 consecutive Premier League games, and van Gaal believes he deserves to be called a "great".

"He was already last season a very nasty player for us. He scored and provoked a penalty and now he is scoring 10 games in a row.

"Then, you are a great player. I only know Dennis Bergkamp as a player at home who did the same with Ajax. It's not so easy to do that."

Collectively, United have scored just six more league goals than Vardy (13) this season.

But despite mounting criticism over United's patient style and lack of goals, van Gaal insisted that he is not concerned.

"If we weren't creating chances, I'd be worried but we are and we don't give too much away - normally, our results are good," said the Dutch manager, who has allowed striker James Wilson to join Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion on loan for the rest of the season.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LEICESTER V MANCHESTER UNITED
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'VAN GAAL WARY OF BEING OUT-FOXED'. Print Edition | Subscribe