Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal hopes to cock another snook at his critics when his team host PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday needing victory to progress in the Champions League.
Despite ongoing criticism over the quality of their football, United climbed to second place in the Premier League table after edging Watford 2-1 on Saturday and will have an opportunity to take over at the summit this weekend when they visit surprise leaders Leicester City.
A place in the Champions League last 16 will be theirs if they prevail at Old Trafford on Wednesday and for all the brickbats being flung at him by pundits and former United players such as Paul Scholes, Van Gaal knows that he is fulfilling his objectives.
“If we beat PSV, then we will have qualified,” he told MUTV.
“It is very important to win, but it is not easy because every game you have to play you cannot say we will beat them.
“PSV also beat Wolfsburg and I think that they are a very good team. They also beat Manchester United, of course.”
United’s chances of progressing from Group B were jeopardised when they lost 2-1 in Eindhoven in their opening game on September 15, but subsequent home wins over Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow, as well as a 1-1 draw in Moscow, have taken them to the top of the group.
Memphis Depay marked his reunion with PSV by netting United’s opener at the Philips Stadion and like his club, his status has evolved in the two months since.
Depay was dropped following United’s 3-0 loss at Arsenal on October 4 and was a substitute in five of the next six games before making a goal-scoring return to the starting XI at Watford on Saturday, where Troy Deeney’s cruel 90th-minute own goal gave the visitors victory.
Dovetailing with youth-team graduate Jesse Lingard in attack, Depay put United in front with an adroit 11th-minute volley and afterwards credited assistant manager Ryan Giggs with helping him regain confidence.
– Moreno a marked man -“Ryan Giggs has given me good advice and I’ve been working on some things with him,” said the Dutch international winger.
“You need that backing and you need to back yourself and train well, and of course all the help is great to get through difficult times.
“I’m happy to get the help of everyone and happy to play on Saturday to show that I can be important.”
Depay, who joined United from PSV in a reported £25 million ($37.9 million, 35.7 million euros) deal in June, could face renewed competition for a starting role after Van Gaal revealed that Wayne Rooney (illness) and Anthony Martial (foot) could return to the team.
But United’s infirmary remains crowded, with Phil Jones (ankle) and Ander Herrera (hamstring) the latest players to succumb to injury at Vicarage Road, rendering both men doubtful for Wednesday.
Another absentee is left-back Luke Shaw, who sustained a graphic double leg break following a challenge by PSV’s Mexican centre-back Hector Moreno in the reverse fixture.
Moreno was rested for PSV’s 2-2 draw with Willem II at the weekend, which left the Dutch champions four points below leaders Ajax, and he can expect a hostile reception if he returns to the team in Manchester.
PSV, a point below United in second place, have not won away from home in the Champions League since November 2007.
Saturday’s draw at Willem II was the fifth time they had failed to go on to win after taking the lead in the Eredivisie this season and coach Phillip Cocu had strong words for his players after the match.
“It has happened too many times,” said the former central midfielder, who played under Van Gaal with both Barcelona and the Netherlands.
“Against the top teams, we manage to rise above our potential. But these games are equally important. If we want to win any trophies this season, we need to change it.”