Louis van Gaal has challenged his Manchester United flops to make amends for their Champions League humiliation by mounting a serious push to win the Premier League.
Van Gaal’s side were eliminated from Europe’s elite club competition in midweek after a 3-2 defeat at Wolfsburg saw them fail to qualify from a undemanding group that also included PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow.
The United manager had endured a barrage of abuse from unhappy fans during last Saturday’s 0-0 draw against West Ham.
And, with a host of former United stars including Paul Scholes and Roy Keane queueing up to question van Gaal following the European exit, the pressure is mounting as the Dutchman takes his spluttering side to Bournemouth on Saturday.
United are without a win in their last four matches in all competitions and reports claim van Gaal has lost the support of sections of his squad, with some players said to have been amazed by his decision to replace Juan Mata with the inexperienced Nick Powell against Wolfsburg.
But fourth placed United are still only three points behind leaders Leicester and van Gaal believes they can salvage the campaign with a title challenge.
“I try to (lift their spirits) but of course, the players have to do that also by themselves, they are also the professionals,” Van Gaal told MUTV.
“They need to use their tools to lift them up and we have a lot to fight for, I think. So we are very close in the Premier League to the top.
“We can fight for the FA Cup and fight also for the Europa League, so I think we have enough to fight for.”
United could be facing fourth bottom Bournemouth at the worst possible time as Eddie Howe’s team will be buoyant after their surprise win at Chelsea last weekend.
That loss threatened to bring the curtain down on Jose Mourinho’s second spell at Chelsea after a traumatic season at the Stamford Bridge.
But Mourinho’s players, regularly reported to be disenchanted with their manager this term, responded to claims that the Portuguese coach was on the verge of the sack by beating Porto 2-0 on Wednesday to book their place in the Champions League last 16.
That victory appears to have bought Mourinho breathing space as he tries to lift Chelsea, currently only two points above the relegation zone, back into contention for a top four finish.
– Not to blame -Mourinho still has no margin for error with Chelsea’s next assignment a tricky trip to Leicester and he could do with misfiring striker Diego Costa following up his vote of confidence with a lengthy scoring spree.
“Despite things not going well he is not to blame,” said Costa, who was recalled by Mourinho against Porto after a spell on the bench.
“When four or five players are not playing well it is more difficult. The manager has been fighting and encouraging us to turn this around.”
Leicester’s remarkable rise to the top of the table in their first season under former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri makes them dangerous opponents for the west Londoners.
But Ranieri fears Chelsea are coming back into form just in time for Monday’s trip to the King Power Stadium.
“Their record does not mean anything as Chelsea are Chelsea and Mourinho is Mourinho,” Ranieri said.
“I’m sure at the end of the season they will be in the top four.
“I respect them a lot because I watched the Porto match. They played very well with good concentration.”
Arsenal also reached the Champions League last 16 in midweek thanks to Olivier Giroud’s hat-trick in a 3-0 win at Olympiakos.
Arsene Wenger’s side, two points behind Leicester in second place, return to domestic action at bottom of the table Aston Villa on Sunday and winger Theo Walcott says their spirited success in front of a hostile crowd in Greece bodes well for their title challenge.
“We never give up and you should have seen them buzzing right at the end in the dressing room,” Walcott said.
“That is the spirit we want in this team. It is the spirit that we can push on and improve.”
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Bournemouth v Manchester United (1730 GMT), Crystal Palace v Southampton, Manchester City v Swansea, Norwich v Everton (1245 GMT), Sunderland v Watford, West Ham v Stoke
Aston Villa v Arsenal (1330 GMT), Liverpool v West Brom (1600 GMT), Tottenham v Newcastle (1600 GMT)
Leicester v Chelsea (2000 GMT)