MANCHESTER, December 27 – Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has bemoaned the lack of time at his disposal as he attempts to nurse an injury-plagued squad through his first Christmas in English football.
United have just 43 hours between their 3-1 victory over Newcastle United on Boxing Day and their Sunday visit to Tottenham Hotspur, which kicks off at lunchtime.
It is a piece of fixture scheduling that clearly has not impressed the former Dutch national team manager, who said: “I can’t prepare my team like I have to prepare.
“We have unit meetings, we have team meetings, we have a training session, 11 against 11, simulating the opponents. We can’t do that now. We have to play within 48 hours.
“In UEFA and in FIFA it is forbidden to play within 48 hours, but it is England, so it’s different!
“I changed (Radamel) Falcao and I changed (Michael) Carrick for that reason, so we will have to wait and see how they recover because all the players now have to go to recover and eat properly.
“Then your body can recover better. Tomorrow (Saturday) morning, they have free time and rest because recovery is much more important than a training session now.”
To add to Van Gaal’s problems, a virus has swept through the United dressing room and ruled Belgian international midfielders Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj out of the trip to Spurs.
“All the injured players are coming back, but it is a little bit late for us now because we have to play a lot of games in one week,” he added.
“Januzaj is ill with a virus that is running in the air. The virus has approached a lot of my players, but for him it is too much. Fellaini is also ill so I think it is the Belgian virus!”
A new, if familiar, name on the United injury list is Angel di Maria, who was meant to be in contention for the Newcastle game but suffered a pelvic injury in training on Christmas Eve that ruled him out.
– Rooney in midfield –
Van Gaal is now awaiting tests that will reveal how long he will be without the Argentina international, but at least United are showing no ill-effects on the field.
They took their unbeaten run to eight games thanks to two goals from Wayne Rooney, who also set up Robin van Persie for United’s third before Papiss Cisse claimed a late consolation for Newcastle from the penalty spot.
Rooney has been used in a midfield role by Van Gaal of late and it is a tactic that is paying dividends.
“He has the lung capacity to run for 90 minutes as a midfielder,” Van Gaal explained.
“So that’s why I also use him as a midfielder, but I can also use him a striker. But for the team at this moment, it’s better he plays in midfield.
“When you score two goals and give an assist for the third goal, then you are happy as a manager, but he is also very happy, I assume.”
The victory kept United in third place and just about in touch with leaders Chelsea and Manchester City, although Van Gaal admits it will be difficult to overhaul the pair in the new year.
“If we win and they shall lose, then it’s easy,” he joked. “But Chelsea will not lose so easily. It will be very difficult.”
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, who handed a debut to 17-year-old forward Adam Armstrong, reserved his praise for 21-year-old Spanish striker Ayoze Perez, who proved a handful for the home defence.
“Perez has been a real highlight for us, and going into the second half of the season, with Siem de Jong to return in January to pair up with Perez, that’s a mouth-watering prospect,” said Pardew.
“I’m looking forward to seeing those two as a pair.”