Again facing criticism from his club’s supporters and some notable ex-players in the media, Louis van Gaal will have the chance to deliver a powerful response on Saturday. Manchester United visit Premier League leaders Leicester City knowing that a victory will leave them at the summit come the end of the weekend.
That would be the perfect end to what has been a trying week for the Dutchman. On Wednesday, Manchester United left their hopes of progressing to the Champions League knockout phase teetering in the balance heading into the final round of fixtures after a drab goalless draw at home with PSV Eindhoven. A large number of fans at Old Trafford, as well as former United stars Paul Scholes and Roy Keane, not for the first time this season, expressed their displeasure at what they had witnessed, particularly a lack of attacking inspiration. Van Gaal, though, insists that their record in the Premier League and in Europe shows the team are doing plenty of things right.
“The fans have to be happy, you are playing for the fans, you cannot deny that,” he said at his pre-match press conference. “But also you have to see how our opponents are playing against us. And when you see how they play them you know also to disorganize that kind of opponent is very difficult.
“And we are still not lucky with finishing the chances, because we are creating chances. When we are not creating chances then maybe I am very worried. But we are creating he chances and we do not give too much away. So normally the result has to be good them and that is also why we are second in the league and why we are second in our Champions League group.”
While there remain doubts from many about Van Gaal’s leadership of the team, the same can no longer be said for the man he will come up against on Saturday. Many questioned Leicester City’s decision to appoint Claudio Ranieri as Nigel Pearson’s replacement in the summer, yet all those doubters have thus far been proven spectacularly wrong.
Quite improbably, in just their second season back in the Premier League, Leicester sit atop of the table after 13 matches. Striker Jamie Vardy has been the undoubted star of their fairytale run, with the man who was playing in non-league less than five years ago having equaled the Premier League record held by former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy in scoring in 10 successive games.
Yet, despite Van Gaal and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger suggesting Leicester are now genuine contenders for the Premier League title, Ranieri has urged caution, stating that avoiding relegation remains their primary objective.
“It is open, but, it's very strange, our goal is 40 points,” he said. “You all sound very curious these days to watch my team. I am confident, of course. I am the manager but I am very curious how we respond in these big matches from now.
“We know very well sooner or later we will lose but this is not our problem. Our problem is to show our character, our great spirit. The spirit in our group, I think, is strong. Our goal, at the moment, is this: let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal, but at this moment I am very, very focused on our goal.”
Ranieri will have Vardy available, as he looks to break Van Nistelrooy’s record, despite him battling a hip problem. Manchester United will remain without Ander Herrera, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw, while Michael Carrick and Jesse Lingard are doubts.
Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. EST
TV channel: NBC
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra