Louis van Gaal is savoring the easing of Manchester United’s injury problems as he goes in search of a third-straight victory when visiting the Hawthorns to take on West Brom on Monday. The start of the experienced Dutchman’s reign has been blighted by fitness problems, with as many as nine players unavailable at times. But, the international break has provided some much-needed respite and recovery time, with Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young all returning to fitness and back into contention. The improvement in the situation is such that Van Gaal no longer needed to bolster his training session on Friday with players from the reserve squad.
“This morning, we didn't need any players from the second team and that is a plus,” Van Gaal said at his press conference. “I am very happy because there were no injuries from the international games. I think we're in a good way. The players who are recovering are not able to play because they also need the playing rhythm. We will have to wait and see for the lineup on Monday. But we have only four players injured now. That is good.”
Those still out injured are Jonny Evans, Antonio Valencia, Paddy McNair and Jesse Lingard, while captain Wayne Rooney will serve the second of a three-match suspension. Despite a difficult start to the season, in which they failed to win any of their first three Premier League matches and then threw away a 2-1 lead to lose 5-3 at newly promoted Leicester City, United went into the weekend sitting fourth in the table and with a decent platform on which to build. Monday’s match also marks three months in charge for Van Gaal, the point at which he has always said he can begin to be judged. He is under no illusions, though, that a rebuilt team is very much still a work in progress.
“I think they do understand the philosophy but they have to perform that philosophy,” he said. “We need more balance in the team. I said that after the match against Everton. Not only spectacular attacking football, but also when you lose the ball that you have a shape as a team and that you can defend and kill the game better.”
But asked if the team was moving in the right direction, Van Gaal was typically self-confident.
“Yes,” he replied. “How can I respond? When I respond I’m arrogant. Normally I’m always moving in the right direction, that I have showed already. I have confidence in myself, in my players. Much more important is that the players have confidence in the manager and the staff.”
It is also almost exactly three months since Alan Irvine took charge of Manchester United’s next opponents. West Brom’s decision to appoint a man whose previous two management jobs had seen him sacked by lower-league sides Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday didn’t exactly thrill the club’s fans. He didn’t enjoy the most encouraging start, either, taking just two points from the team’s first four matches. But two wins on the bounce provided some optimism before losing narrowly to Liverpool prior to the international break. Like his counterpart at Old Trafford, Irvine has also received positive news on the injury front. Chris Brunt has a good chance of being fit after picking up a knock while away with Scotland, while strikers Brown Ideye and Victor Anichebe could also have in contention. The only confirmed absentee is Silvestre Varela.
Prediction: It is no surprise to hear Van Gaal stressing the need for his team to find balance. Going forward, led by the dynamism of Angel di Maria, Manchester United have been scintillating. With Radamel Falcao having got off the mark against Everton and scoring for Colombia during the break, there is little to suggest United won’t continue that form against West Brom. The problems have been going the other way, where United have often been undermanned in midfield and making costly errors at the back. That situation should be helped on Sunday, though, with the return of Jones and Smalling as well as going up against opponents that, despite the form of Saido Berahino, don’t offer a whole lot in an attacking sense. A trip to the Hawthorns provides Van Gaal with a good chance to get his first away win in charge.
West Brom 1-2 Manchester United
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra