Van Gaal sees way forward with Januzaj
Manchester Utd 3 Leicester City 1
For many Manchester United observers, the functional start to life under Louis van Gaal this season has been a tale of two Belgians and the Dutch manager’s preference for the roundhead over the cavalier.
While Marouane Fellaini has thrived after being rebooted by Van Gaal, Adnan Januzaj’s nascent Old Trafford career has taken a detour around the backwaters of the reserve-team fixture list – a meandering journey which prompted Paris Saint-Germain to make an unsuccessful attempt to lure him away.
Yet, as he tormented Leicester City right-back Danny Simpson for 90 minutes at Old Trafford on Saturday, there was a sense that Januzaj’s star is finally beginning to shine for Van Gaal.
The 19-year-old, starting a second successive game for the first time since October, injected the pace, creativity and exuberance that have been missing for much of this season at United.
The way he glides across the pitch, his head held high looking for a shooting chance or killer pass, emphasises his prodigious talent, but his lack of – until recently – defensive discipline has led to Van Gaal overlooking the youngster.
But with Januzaj making a difference against Leicester, Van Gaal hinted that the penny may have dropped for a player who is in line to make his 50th senior appearance for United against Cambridge tomorrow .
“He (Januzaj) has a lot of talent, but you have to perform that talent in the matches,” Van Gaal said. “And also in the training sessions because I am not making the line-up – the players themselves are making the line-up (by their performances). At the moment, I think: ‘OK, he is now ready to play.’ ”
The United boss revealed that Darren Fletcher’s proposed transfer to West Ham United had collapsed.
Although the 31-year-old Scot had been granted a free transfer, West Ham wanted him only on loan – a proposal Fletcher rejected.
The Dutchman said he would welcome Fletcher back to the training ground but, given the level of competition in central midfield, it was hard to imagine what he could offer him in terms of first-team football.
“I have to compare him to Michael Carrick and Daley Blind, who are both playing in that position,” Van Gaal said after a match in which Blind created two of United’s goals.
“It is like Januzaj. I have to compare him with Juan Mata because in the next press conference you shall ask: ‘Why is Mata not playing?’ I look at the players every day of the week and the players have to show it. I have said that to Radamel Falcao, I have said that to Mata and I have said it to Januzaj.”
The teenager will probably keep his place for Tuesday night’s FA Cup replay with Cambridge United.
That, like the fixture with Leicester, the Premier League’s bottom side, is a game Manchester United should win comfortably.
However much commitment Januzaj displays, the question for Van Gaal must be whether he is good enough to face Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea in the spring.
Against Leicester, with Januzaj on the left flank alongside Angel di Maria, United launched wave after wave of attacks. Robin van Persie (clearly offside when Blind released him to score), Falcao and a Wes Morgan own goal secured a three-goal advantage for the home side by half-time.
Leicester’s only reply came late on through Marcin Wasilewski, leaving them three points from safety heading into a home fixture against fellow strugglers Crystal Palace next weekend.
Saturday’s victory lifted United to within five points of second-placed Manchester City and also went some way to appeasing the fans who watched their team play out that uninspiring 0-0 draw away to League Two outfit Cambridge last week.
There was a further boost for the Reds when Southampton were unable to leapfrog them into third place after losing out to Swansea yesterday.
But the United manager reminded his players that they have achieved nothing yet.
“No, because (only) at the end of the league matches we divide the titles and not at this moment,” he said when asked if he could sense Champions League qualification was getting closer for his men.
United have a winnable set of fixtures coming up against West Ham, Burnley, Swansea, Sunderland and Newcastle.
However, Van Gaal is only too well aware that they still have to travel to Liverpool and Chelsea in the last third of the season and he believes the fight for a top-four finish will go right down to the wire. (© Daily Telegraph, London)