Louis van Gaal has hailed Manchester United’s recent form and believes his players have now fully adapted to his philosophy. United sit third in the Premier League table and on Monday moved into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, following a run of just one defeat in their last 19 matches.
It is some ways from the start of Van Gaal’s reign, which began with a 2-1 home defeat to Swansea City on the opening day of the Premier League season. Ahead of the return match with the Welsh club at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, he believes morale is sky high, although cautioned that they were also riding a crest of a wave back in August after a enjoying a perfect record on their pre-season tour of the U.S.
“Now I believe every player knows the philosophy of me and my staff,” he said at his press conference on Friday. “Everyone wants to follow that philosophy. You can see that the team spirit is unbelievable. I think that the confidence at this moment is the same as then, because we had won everything in the U.S. against big clubs.
“When you see the scores of the last 15 or 20 matches we are the best team in the premier league. So I think the confidence is also high like at the beginning but that doesn’t say anything about the match, because you have to play the match and we have seen that against Swansea in the first match.”
United are indeed top of the form table in the last 15 Premier League matches. Yet even Van Gaal has conceded of late that not all of the performances have been on a par with the results. However, he also pointed out that his adjustments to the team’s setup during the last three matches have been followed by an improvement from his team.
Van Gaal’s squad has changed considerably since that opening loss to Swansea. A massive overhaul saw the likes of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Daley Blind arrive, while Javier Hernandez, Shinji Kagawa, Nani and Jesse Lingard, all of whom were on the squad that day, are now playing elsewhere.
While United will believe they are now significantly stronger, Swansea are still coming to terms with the loss of star man Wilfried Bony in January. The Ivorian striker scored nine Premier League goals before his big-money transfer to Manchester City and Swansea have won just one of five matches in all competitions since. Swansea will have had a 10-day break since a 2-0 loss at West Brom and manager Garry Monk feels they have used it wisely.
“It’s a long period after you’ve lost a game,” he said. “You can use it one of two ways, you can either feel sorry for yourselves or refocus and regroup and work on some things that you need to improve on and that’s what we did with that period.
“The last four or five weeks we haven’t performed to the exact levels that we’ve been accustomed to. But every team goes through patches of not winning or not performing to their levels. And then you come through it. Possibly that’s our patch we’re looking to now come through it. The most important bit is that we finish the last 13 games strongly."
While Bony is now gone, Swansea will welcome back another major influence on their side and a man who scored one goal and assisted the other at Old Trafford earlier in the season, Gylfi Sigurdsson. The midfielder has now served a three-match suspension picked up for a red card against Blackburn last month. Wayne Routledge and Marvin Emnes are also available again after injury.
Prediction: Swansea have failed to win in their last three home matches and if they perform in the same lackluster manner as in a 5-0 defeat to Chelsea last month then they will struggle to pick up any points. The loss of Bony leading the line was always going to sizable, although the return of Sigurdsson and a break to recharge and reflect should encourage a better display. And with Manchester United still failing to put together a complete, convincing performance, a draw could be in the cards.
Swansea 1-1 Manchester United
Kickoff time: 10 a.m. EST
TV channel: NBC Sports Premier League Extra Time
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra