Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has said that he expects his team to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title next season. United go into Saturday’s visit with West Brom sitting fourth in the table, a full 15 points behind a Chelsea team that can clinch the championship with a victory the following day. While accepting Chelsea have been comfortably the best team this campaign, Van Gaal is adamant that his side will be able to challenge next season with an improved squad and a better pre-season than the United States tour he heavily criticized last summer.
“I think Chelsea is far above the other clubs, but that can be different next year,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “Because next year we shall have another squad but not only us -- Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and all the clubs fighting for those positions will too.
“We have started very badly this year. When you cut out the start we shall equal Chelsea, but now we have to start better. We shall have a better preparation. We shall have two base camps in the United States so we are not flying, we are going by bus, which is better. The temperature will be lower because we will be on the other coast compared to year.”
The key objective for Van Gaal’s first season in charge was always to return the club to the Champions League. And that looks set to be achieved, with United holding a seven point advantage over fifth placed Liverpool with four matches remaining. Still Van Gaal will want to see an improvement after back-to-back defeats to Chelsea and Everton. The Dutchman was especially critical of his side’s lack of intensity when going down to a 3-0 defeat at Everton last time out.
There is good news for United, with Wayne Rooney declared fit to play on Saturday after suffering a knee injury in the closing stages at Goodison Park. Van Gaal also declared Robin van Persie and Phil Jones in contention after injury, although Michael Carrick, Jonny Evans and Luke Shaw are ruled out.
Van Gaal’s counterpart on Saturday, Tony Pulis, also has injury problems ahead of the fixture. Former Manchester United goalkeeper Ben Foster is already ruled out with a long-term knee injury, while Victor Anichebe was forced off during a goalless draw with Liverpool last weekend. And Pulis suggested that there were yet more casualties, which could necessitate him fielding a much-changed lineup at Old Trafford.
“We have had a few injuries this week,” he said, according to the Birmingham Mail. “It’s been disappointing in respect that we’ve not been able to do the work as early in the week as we usually like to do. I’m not going to say who is injured and who is not injured but a couple of them are still not 100 per cent, so we might have to make a few changes on Saturday.”
Currently seven points clear of the relegation zone, West Brom have effectively secured safety with four games to spare. And they will have positive memories from their last visit to Old Trafford, when beating David Moyes’ beleaguered Manchester United side 2-1 last season.
Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: CNBC
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra