NEWCASTLE, January 11 – Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal admits that his side need to play better, but they will go in search of a third successive victory at Newcastle United on Tuesday.
United last managed that in November, when victory over CSKA Moscow in the Champions League followed by Premier League wins over West Bromwich Albion and Watford had everything in the Old Trafford garden looking rosy.
United, briefly, were second in the league, but after that they would not record another win until January 2, during which time they also limped out of the Champions League in the group phase.
United have eased some of the pressure on Van Gaal by recording back-to-back home wins, but Saturday’s FA Cup victory over third-tier Sheffield United, secured by Wayne Rooney’s injury-time penalty, was far from convincing.
“The result is all right, but the performance was not all right,” said Van Gaal, whose side were ironically applauded by their own fans as they toiled to break down their third-tier opponents.
But as long as United keep winning, Van Gaal has a defence and his team are looking to record a fourth successive Premier League win over struggling Newcastle in meetings at St James’ Park.
Victory would take United level on points with Tottenham Hotspur, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League qualification place and host second-place Leicester City on Wednesday.
“As we enter the second half of the season the games come quickly, so we want to build and move up the league as fast as we can,” Van Gaal added.
“This won’t be easy, but I know that we are all determined to do this.”
Only Tottenham have conceded fewer league goals than United this season, but it is in attack where Van Gaal’s side badly need to improve.
Van Gaal hinted that Memphis Depay and Jesse Lingard could come into the team after coming off the bench against Sheffield United.
– ‘Angry and frustrated’ –
“I think that we have to play with wingers, who make the pitch as big as possible,” he said. “And with Memphis and Lingard, I know it is like that.”
Newcastle manager Steve McClaren is under increasing pressure after his side’s poor recent league form transferred to the FA Cup with a third-round defeat at Watford.
It is 412 minutes since they last scored and the reverse at Vicarage Road was their fourth successive 1-0 loss.
They go into the game third from bottom in the Premier League and two points from safety.
McClaren hopes to welcome back midfielder Jack Colback from injury as he attempts to win round supporters who are growing frustrated with the lack of progress made during his eight-month tenure.
There were calls for him to go from some travelling fans at Watford and he must halt a record that has seen his side win just four of their last 20 home games if he is to orchestrate a climb up the table.
“We’re frustrated and angry at being out of the FA Cup, and we have to channel that in a positive way against Manchester United,” said the former Manchester United assistant coach.
“At this stage, I can’t ask for more from the players. We have to get on with it, that’s the nature of football. The players have to be big enough, bold enough and show courage.
“It’s Manchester United next. We’ll have 50,000 people who have to get behind this side and support them.
“We have to stick together. It’s difficult for all of us to show a little bit of patience, but there’s work going on and Tuesday is the next challenge.”
Newcastle remain without long-term injury victims Tim Krul, Gabriel Obertan and Papiss Cisse.