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Press Conference: Louis van Gaal on Liverpool “you have to win”, injuries and passion

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal sat with the media ahead of the UEFA Europa League round of 16 clash with Liverpool at Anfield on Thursday evening. The Dutchman will need to make a few changes to his side after the 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Sunday afternoon in a week which will again make or break United’s season with an Emirates FA Cup sixth round clash on Sunday, followed by the return leg against Liverpool at Old Trafford a week on Thursday. Injuries are something that are coming to an end with experienced players making their returns with Antonio Valencia likely to be involved in the match day squad against Liverpool with Bastian Schweinsteiger also close to returning. Here are the main points from the press conference.

Louis van Gaal on injuries and the fact that Antonio Valencia is ready to return with Bastian Schweinsteiger not far off:

“Antonio Valencia is coming back and Bastian Schweinsteiger is coming back. I think a lot of players shall come back in the month of March. When they come back it’s not so easy to decide if they can cope with the rhythm of the matches though. Bastian has had only one training session with us, Valencia has had a week – he is closer to being on the bench for example but not to play a match, that’s different.”

Van Gaal on the fact that Manchester United must win against Liverpool:

“You have to win – there is no difference [with it being a cup competition]. United and Liverpool is always a big game. It’s historical and even bigger now because both teams are fighting for a Champions League place.”

Van Gaal on the passion for football running deep:

“I think football in England is very deep in the life of the people, of course I have noticed that also in Spain and Germany but that was less deep than here. It’s fantastic to see that, that’s also one aspect why I wanted to come here, to have that experience. It is also sometimes what I can see too much, but I like to see it because you can see the heart of the club and also the feeling that they are with you every game. It’s nice for the players and for the manager.”

Chris Smalling on how he and his team-mates cannot wait for this fixture:

“It’s a game we all look forward to and one in which we need to stand up and be counted. When you step over that white line, emotion drives you on and hopefully brings out a performance in you. The opening 20 minutes in these games are often quite frantic.”

Van Gaal on the importance of the UEFA Europa League this season as it could unlock a place in the UEFA Champions League, should United win of course:

“I noticed that you have a negative view [of the Europa League in England], but against teams like Midtjylland there were how many fans? 58,000. The fans of Manchester United are appreciating it. How many fans do you think we’ll have against Liverpool [at Old Trafford]? I think maybe 75,000. I think also Anfield is sold out, so that’s what I have to say, it’s very important for both teams and the fans want to see the duel between us.”

Manchester United have found themselves back in a precarious position after the defeat to West Bromwich Albion in the Barclays Premier League at the weekend. The signs were there in the 1-0 victory over Watford a week ago, which was lacklustre and showed signs of United’s good form ending prematurely, which could be for several reasons, fatigue being one of them. The defeat saw the discontent return with many taking to social media calling for the manager to be sacked, which is reactionary as when United were winning, you never heard much from the fickle supporters who were lapping up the victories against Shrewsbury Town, Midtjylland, Arsenal and Watford, United’s longest winning streak for months. It is funny how when United lose, the discontent immediately returns as the supporters who are expecting nothing but glory have seen something they dislike, losing. If you cannot support Manchester United when they lose, you do not deserve to call yourself a supporter when they win, but that is modern football for you.

Injuries are something that have caused problems for United in recent months, with Antonio Valencia set to return, probably form the bench and Bastian Schweinsteiger not far away from full fitness, that should strengthen the squad, but the youth that have been introduced in recent months, and have performed well for their club, also need to retain their places. Guillermo Varela was suffering from fatigue which is why he was benched for the West Brom defeat, but many decided to discount the players comments about feeling tiredness in his legs, instead blaming Van Gaal for the defeat and for dropping the Uruguayan. Fickle eh? Jesse Lingered will miss this match after receiving a booking in the last round of the competition, which could see both Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay play as the wide men behind the striker, or it could be different with Martial leading the line, with Memphis, Mata and possibly Valencia playing in a more advanced role. We will see them the team news have been announced an hour before kick off on Thursday.

The Dutchman spoke about United having to beat Liverpool, which is important considering the record Van Gaal has against United bitter rivals; five victories, one of which was in a pre-season tournament. This is the first time the two clubs have faced each other in a European competition, with will add more to the already intense rivalry between the two clubs. Chris Smalling and his team-mates are looking forward to the fixture, which could see United head to Old Trafford in just over a weeks time to finalise a place in the quarter finals, which will be the furthest they have reached in the Europa League, after being knocked out in the same stage during the 2011/12 season when United were schooled by Athletic Bilbao under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson. Louis van Gaal’s side could get rid of the ghosts that surround that fixture, which could also see United beat Liverpool four times in one season, which will be a good morale booster, even though the Scouse side have been much better at this stage of the season, even if they did have to dive to win their last league match. United’s wall of white could be something is a lead balloon at Anfield, with the Scouse club good at knocking down walls in Europe.

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