Thursday 12 December 2019

Van Gaal faces 'toughest battle' over defensive crisis

Van Gaal could be forced to deploy midfielder Darren Fletcher
Van Gaal could be forced to deploy midfielder Darren Fletcher

Mark Ogden

Louis VAN GAAL has admitted he is battling the toughest challenge of his career after being left with just one fit centre-half for tomorrow's game against West Ham United at Old Trafford.

The Manchester United manager could be forced to deploy midfielder Darren Fletcher, or untried youngsters Paddy McNair or Tom Thorpe, alongside new signing Marcos Rojo in a makeshift defence after losing Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling to injury and Tyler Blackett to suspension.

The prolonged defensive injury crisis, which began with Luke Shaw suffering a pre-season hamstring problem, has coincided with United making their worst start to a Premier League season - a statistical confirmed by last Sunday's 5-3 defeat by Leicester City.

Failure to defeat West Ham would intensify the pressure on Van Gaal to arrest United's slump following his £153m summer spending spree, and the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach admits this is now the toughest period of his career. "At this moment, maybe," Van Gaal said, when asked if he was in the midst of his most demanding time as a manager. "I have to admit that I have never been in this situation before, so it is strange.

"As a manager, you already know in advance that this is a big challenge and this club is in a transition. You don't know in advance what the difficult moments will be, but we overcame difficult circumstances to win in pre-season and we are in very difficult circumstances again, we can win again."

With Shaw expected to make his debut at left-back against West Ham following his £28m summer arrival from Southampton, Rojo will move to centre-half, with Fletcher, rather than midfielder Daley Blind, likely to play alongside the £16m signing from Sporting Lisbon. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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