Football Football

Van Gaal on back foot as Watford looms

Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal. PHOTO/File
Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal. PHOTO/File

WATFORD, November 20- Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has been forced onto the defensive following repeated criticism of his team’s lack of attacking spark.

Van Gaal’s side travel to Watford as the Premier League resumes on Saturday knowing victory will take them top of the table before their main rivals take to the field.

But their patient style of play has frustrated some, with former United midfielder Paul Scholes among those to have questioned the approach employed by the Dutchman.

Van Gaal acknowledged the former England midfielder’s comments while he discussed the attacking philosophy of his great Ajax team at a management conference this week, quipping: “I don’t say it too much because otherwise Mr Scholes will be very angry!”

Scholes has called on his old club to become less focused on possession football and concentrate more on playing in an exciting way, leaving Van Gaal to argue that he has always built attacking teams.

With striker Anthony Martial having left Wembley on crutches following Tuesday’s friendly between England and France, Van Gaal’s attacking options may be further limited at Vicarage Road.

But France coach Didier Deschamps played down the extent of the injury after his side’s 2-0 defeat, saying that it was “just a knock”.

Speaking after the game, England goal-scorer and United captain Wayne Rooney said: “From a personal point of view, and from Manchester United’s point of view, I hope he is OK. I will try to ring him.”

In any case, fourth-place United’s most impressive statistics at the moment are defensive.

They have conceded just eight goals in 12 Premier League matches — the best record in the division — and kept eight clean sheets along the way.

There was little doubt that Van Gaal’s team finished October in dire need of inspiration, with goalless draws against Manchester City and Crystal Palace sandwiching a League Cup exit at the hands of second-tier Middlesbrough.

– Not afraid –

November has offered a little more brightness, with a 1-0 Champions League victory over CSKA Moscow followed by a 2-0 league win over West Bromwich Albion ahead of the recent international break.

However, with only 17 league goals to their name this season, United still lag behind the top flight’s leading lights when it comes to putting the ball in the net.

Van Gaal has at least received some words of encouragement from midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, a player who has won the Champions League with Bayern Munich and the World Cup with Germany.

Schweinsteiger, who moved to Old Trafford from Bayern during the close season, thinks his manager is building a team capable of winning trophies.

“We have experience in our team and we have young players with quality in the team, so if we all do our job well in the group then I think we can achieve a lot,” he said.

“I want to win titles and I think Manchester United are also used to winning titles, so that is definitely my goal.”

Watford, 11th, will be without defender Sebastien Proedl, who has been ruled out for two weeks with a calf injury sustained on international duty with Austria.

It is 29 years since a Watford team last beat United, but with the current vintage having overcome in-form West Ham United 2-0 in their last home game, manager Quique Sanchez Flores is in confident mood.

“The expectation is good for Watford. It means what we are doing is important for the rest of the people,” said the Spaniard. “I don’t want to change the perspective. We try to create a philosophy.

“It is important that nothing changes between Vicarage Road or Newcastle or Stoke’s stadium. We are not afraid of anyone.”