CAMBRIDGE, January 24 – Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal declared that he was not concerned by his side’s performance after their 0-0 draw at fourth-tier minnows Cambridge United in the FA Cup.
Van Gaal selected a strong team for the trip to the Abbey Stadium, but despite the presence of Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie, United could not prevent the fourth-round tie going to a replay.
Although the visitors were 76 places above their opponents in the English league system, Van Gaal claimed that it was actually 11-time cup-winners United who had been playing against the odds in Friday’s game.
“Every aspect of the match is against us,” said the Dutchman, whose team had overcome third-division Yeovil Town 2-0 in the third round.
“We have to come here, the pitch is not so good, but that can influence also that you play in another playing style.
“The opponents are always giving a lot more than normally and defending is always easier (than) attacking, and then you have seen the referee.
“It’s always the same. Everywhere I have coached these games and I have coached them also with other clubs. It’s always the same.”
Asked to elaborate on his remarks about referee Chris Foy, he replied: “You can give your own opinion. I cannot give.”
Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata were omitted from United’s match-day squad, but Van Gaal said that both players had simply been rested and were not carrying injuries.
Van Gaal reverted to a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield — after United’s fans had protested against his preferred 3-5-2 system during last weekend’s 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers — but he said that tactics alone could not explain his side’s failure to click.
“When I know the statistics of our former performances, then you could see that we create more chances (with a 4-4-2),” he said.
“But it’s not only the system. It’s also the performance of the system and what you see now in the first half is more or less the same as what we did with the other system (3-5-2).
“So it’s not so easy to change the system. That is not the solution, I’m sorry.”
– ‘Dream come true’ –
United’s best chances arrived in the second half, but Cambridge goalkeeper Chris Dunn produced two excellent saves to thwart first Falcao and then Di Maria.
Cambridge only returned to the Football League last season after nine years in non-league football, while the club sailed perilously close to bankruptcy in 2005.
“It’s difficult to put into words really, just how proud we are,” said head coach Richard Money.
“When you get back in the dressing room and recover, you suddenly start to think about what it means to so many people.
“This club has been in the doldrums for 10 years, out of the Football League, and and suddenly here we are, taking everybody back to Old Trafford. It’s incredible.”
He played down his side’s chances of creating a sensation at Old Trafford in the replay, however.
Asked if he thought Cambridge were capable of pulling off an upset, he replied: “No. I don’t.” Before adding with a smile: “But you never know.”
Cambridge made two trips to Wembley last season, winning the Football Conference play-off final and triumphing in the non-league FA Trophy, and winger Ryan Donaldson said those experiences would stand his side in good stead.
“It’s going to be surreal at Old Trafford, but we have been to Wembley twice last year,” said the 23-year-old. “Not bad, is it?”
Reflecting on his stoppage-time save from Di Maria, after he had punched away a cross from in front of Van Persie, Dunn said: “To be honest, you don’t think — you just go and hope for the best.
“This is the sort of thing you dream of, though — to take Manchester United back to Old Trafford is a dream come true. The lads are buzzing.”