Louis van Gaal has revealed that Manchester United are targeting winning the Champions League this season, although admitted it is vital that they beat Wolfsburg at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Back in Europe’s premier competition after a season’s absence, United began the group stage two weeks ago with a 2-1 defeat at PSV Eindhoven.
Since that loss, though, Van Gaal’s side have moved to the top of the Premier League. And the veteran Dutch coach has revealed that winning both major competitions are realistic aims for this season. Claiming victory when last season’s Bundesliga runners-up visit, though, is the first priority.
“I think in the Champions League, you need to win all your home matches otherwise it shall be very difficult,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “It’s still possible, but very difficult. It is important that we win."
“We still need time to improve because we have to improve to win the championship in the Premier League or a tournament like the Champions League. So we are still improving and I can see that every week. Reaching the final is also an aim and winning the final is also a little bit luck.”
Three-time winners of the European Cup, Manchester United last reached the final of the Champions League when losing to Barcelona in 2011. There has been little to savor from the competition in recent times. Wednesday’s match will be the United’s first home Champions League encounter since a quarterfinal against Bayern Munich 18 months ago.
Wolfsburg’s last Champions League experience came six years ago, when they suffered a 3-1 defeat at home to Manchester United as they bowed out in what was their first ever appearance in the group stage. After a fine season under coach Dieter Hecking last term, the German side are back among Europe’s elite, but have had to recover from the loss of their star performer Kevin de Bruyne.
A recent 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich suggested that they remain a work in progress. Yet they began the Champions League with a 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow, and Hecking is optimistic of strengthening their knockout hopes yet further at Old Trafford.
“Every Champions League game is a challenge,” he said. “But we're in a good position after the first win against CSKA Moscow and we're looking to build on that. To play at Old Trafford will be a great experience but we need to concentrate on our performance to hope for a positive result. We have come here to play football.
“People have been overly critical of us lately after our 5-1 loss to Bayern and 1-1 draw with Hannover. We made some changes to the squad over the summer, signing good players like Max Kruse for example. Of course most people will say United will win but we need to put pressure on them. Yes, they are the more experienced side but let's wait and see what happens on the pitch.”
Wolfsburg will again be missing key midfielder Luiz Gustavo as well as Portugal international Vierinha on Wednesday. Their opponents also have injury concerns. Already with Luke Shaw out for the long term following his broken leg suffered against PSV Eindhoven, Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera all have fitness issues ahead of the encounter with Wolfsburg and Sunday’s heavyweight Premier League clash against Arsenal.
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes