Louis van Gaal heads into December boosted by three-straight victories but already voicing his concern about the hectic festive fixture list. Having previously worked in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany -- all of which have winter breaks -- the new Manchester United manager will be experiencing one of English soccer’s most cherished traditions for the first time. United host Stoke City on Tuesday for the first of their six matches in December, with the possibility -- depending on the schedule for the FA Cup third round -- that they could play four matches in nine days over Christmas and New Year. While not a fan of the schedule, the experienced Dutch coach is ready to adapt to its demands.
“I’m not happy but I cannot change it. I don’t think it is good for the players that they play within two days of a match,” he said. “In the December month, it shall be like that. We also have families, I also have a wife, and kids and grandchildren and I cannot see them at Christmas. But, I want to work in the Premier League so I have to adapt and I shall adapt, but I don’t think it’s good for the players and neither their families.”
After beating Crystal Palace and Arsenal by a single goal, Manchester United cruised past Hull City on Saturday thanks to what Van Gaal hailed as his team’s “best” performance of the season. They now face a Stoke side that have lost back-to-back matches, including in agonizing fashion at Liverpool on Saturday after a late Glen Johnson goal. Van Gaal insists he will be taking nothing for granted on Tuesday, and, while skeptical of the fixture list, is relishing the competitive nature of England’s top flight.
“In the Premier League, nothing is easy and when you see Liverpool struggling against Stoke City for 85 minutes, it shows,” he explained. “Every game is difficult, and that’s why the Premier League is exciting because you never know. There is also an atmosphere in the stadiums, the fans are always supporting their club until the end and that’s fantastic. That’s why I want to work in the Premier League.”
United’s win over Hull kept them in fourth position in the Premier League and the final Champions League berth. But it came at the expense of yet another in a frustrating and barely believable lengthy line of injuries since Van Gall took the reins. Angel di Maria was forced off early on with a hamstring problem and is set to sit out the visit of Stoke. Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Phil Jones and Rafael will remain on the sidelines, but Wayne Rooney is expected to recover from a knock suffered in injury time on Saturday. Jonny Evans could also be involved.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes now returns to the club for which he scored 163 goals on the back of what he deemed an undeserved loss at Anfield. Despite just one win in their last five Premier League outings, Stoke remain in 12th position, but are just four points above the relegation zone. Hughes remains without Victor Moses, Steve Sidwell, Glenn Whelan, Robert Huth and Peter Odemwingie.
Prediction: In contrast to the shaky defensive displays offered up so far this season, Manchester United never looked troubled by Hull. Given that Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young were the full-backs that says much about Van Gaal’s coaching and his squad’s willingness to take his instructions on board. A Stoke side that have scored just 13 goals in as many games in the Premier League this season should provide United with another opportunity for a clean sheet. Going forward United will miss the dynamism and skill of Di Maria, but Ander Herrera proved a more than able replacement against Stoke. And, with Robin van Persie sure to be buoyed by his fine goal at the weekend, United have a good chance to make it four wins on the bounce.
Manchester United 2-0 Stoke City
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra