Van Gaal looking to pip City
Published 03/04/2015 | 12:41
Louis van Gaal is confident of pipping Manchester City to second place in the Barclays Premier League.
Manchester United were in danger of slipping out of the top four after defeats to Southampton and Swansea, but Van Gaal's team are now five points inside the top four following back-to-back wins over Tottenham and Liverpool.
If Arsenal fail to beat Brendan Rodgers' side and United beat Aston Villa on Saturday, the Red Devils will move up to second in the table, leapfrogging City, who play Crystal Palace on Monday.
United then have a chance to put pressure on their 'noisy neighbours' when they host City in the Manchester derby the following weekend.
When asked whether second was a realistic target for United, manager Van Gaal said: "Of course. I cannot deny that because we have Manchester City at home.
"We have the strongest record at home at home so it's possible, but Manchester City is a top team so it shall not be easy."
Finishing above City for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson's departure would be a big coup for the red half of Manchester, and the club would, of course, receive more prize money.
But, most importantly, United would not have to go through a playoff to qualify for the Champions League - although that prize is also afforded to the team that finishes third.
"It's better to be second or third," Van Gaal said.
"I would be pleased with fourth, but I want to be first. And my players want to be first. And when it's not first, it's second."
Such has been the form of Juan Mata, Marouane Fellaini, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Young, that Robin van Persie's absence over the last six weeks has hardly had an impact.
Van Persie remains sidelined with the ankle injury he suffered in the 2-1 defeat to Swansea.
He will miss Saturday's home match against Aston Villa and is also a doubt for the derby.
"I don't think so," Van Gaal said when asked if Van Persie would be fit for the City game.
"The process has to give me signals he is ready for that. But I know that from my experience it is not like that.
"And everybody is fit. So I have to compare players also."
When it was put to him that he could try to improve his fitness by playing for the Under-21 team against West Ham on Tuesday, Van Gaal replied: "That is possible, like others (have)."
Van Gaal says Fellaini, who scored three times for Belgium during the international break, is undroppable on current form.
Many tipped Fellaini to be one of the first players to leave United when Van Gaal took over, but his manager has been pleased with the Belgian's efforts since day one.
''From the first training session he did what I asked,'' Van Gaal said.
''He had an unlucky season (last year) because he was injured and ill a lot and because of that he didn't play so much but when he was fit he has always played for me, more or less.
"He can give a lot of balance in the team.
''I can change him also. It is dependable of the qualities of the opponent, but when he plays like he is playing now I cannot change him.''
Many pundits have been forced to review their position on Van Gaal after he recorded successive wins against two top-four rivals.
Gary Neville, who branded United a pub team earlier this season, hailed the 2-1 win at Anfield as one of the best he had seen by his former club on Merseyside.
Van Gaal acknowledged the importance of Neville's praise, but he would prefer to hear such words from Sir Alex Ferguson too.
"The comments of legends are always important because they have a lot of fans," he said.
"If Ferguson says that then I am more proud because he can judge as a manager much better than ex-players what is the achievement in such a game."
Van Gaal has set up a dinner date with Ferguson and he is hoping the former United boss picks up the bill.
"He is always away so it's difficult to speak with him. But we have made an appointment and he shall pay - that is very important," Van Gaal said with a smile.