Saturday 21 April 2018

Van Gaal: 'It's the first time we are talking about my opponents and not my sacking. Thank you for that'

United’s players face huge test of nerve in Upton Park’s last game

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal

Jim White and James Ducker

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal fears the emotion of playing at Upton Park for the last time could make West Ham United a more dangerous force when the two sides meet tonight.

Manchester City's draw with Arsenal last Sunday means that Van Gaal's men will qualify for the Champions League ahead of their city rivals if they win both tonight and against Bournemouth on Sunday - a task which has been hampered by the fact that Anthony Martial has failed to recover from a hamstring injury suffered in the warm-up before last Saturday's match against Norwich City.

There are other difficulties to overcome, too - principally the fact that United are the last visitors to the Boleyn Ground and the Dutchman admits that could work against his side.

"We don't want to spoil the party, but we need three points," said Van Gaal. "Yeah it is a big night. I think the players will feel that also. It's a tough match.

The stage is set for Upton Park to host its last match tonight when Manchester United are the visitors. Photo: Getty
The stage is set for Upton Park to host its last match tonight when Manchester United are the visitors. Photo: Getty

"We have to play against an opponent who says goodbye to their stadium. They don't want to lose their last game in their home. It is not good for us. Also West Ham United is a very good team."

Martial's absence is a further blow to Van Gaal, with the Frenchman facing a race against time to recover for the Bournemouth game. Martial is not, however, considered a doubt for the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace on May 21.

Van Gaal is only too well aware of the emotional strain that leaving a stadium can place on all involved in a football club.

"There is always emotion in a stadium," he said. "I was in charge when Ajax moved to the Amsterdam Arena, we lose the first few games. A stadium is always important."

Van Gaal is not alone among the United contingent in having experience of the emotional effects of a stadium change.

Ander Herrera was at Athletic Bilbao when they moved home and he recalled: "I played in Spain the last time at (the old) San Mames in their history so I know it is going to be very special for them and their fans," said the midfielder of the game at West Ham.

"But we have to show them we are playing for something very important. They have had big games there which they have enjoyed a lot. Hopefully they won't enjoy the last game because we are playing for the top four."

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With Daley Blind and Marcus Rashford likely to be recalled after their weekend's rest, Van Gaal's only absentee apart from Martial will be the suspended Marouane Fellaini. His aerial ability will be missed against Andy Carroll.

"We are normally the smallest team of the Premier League, we have problems with set plays," admitted Van Gaal, before breaking into a broad grin at the direction of the press conference questions.

"Ah, but now you are asking me about our opponents. It is the first time we are talking about our opponents and not about my sacking. Thank you very much for that."

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