Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has his back to the wall once again ahead of his side’s FA Cup fourth-round tie at second-tier Derby County on Friday.
Saturday’s woeful 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton prompted press reports that Van Gaal had offered to resign and although those claims were rebutted by figures within the club, defeat at Derby will see the speculation ramp up all over again.
United needed a stoppage-time Wayne Rooney penalty to overcome third-tier Sheffield United in round three and the United captain is anticipating another testing evening at the iPro Stadium, where United won 4-1 in the fifth round in 2009.
“We know, as we’ve played there before, that it will be a difficult game with a good atmosphere on Friday night,” Rooney told MUTV.
“I’m sure they will be really up for it with their crowd and we will be up for it as we’ve experienced these games. The players who joined us last year and played against Cambridge and Yeovil will have seen that an FA Cup tie like this is more of a battle than a football game.
“We have to be ready for that and be ready for a tough game as the cup is full of surprises. Derby have nothing to lose. No-one is expecting them to win and they will try to cause an upset. We know that and have to be ready for that.
“It will be a difficult night for us. Sheffield United at home was a tough game, so we have to be ready to battle and win the battle. Hopefully then our qualities will show through.”
Derby, managed by former Real Madrid assistant coach Paul Clements, go into the game on the back of a heavy 4-1 loss to Championship promotion rivals Burnley, which left them fifth in England’s second division.
But Clements is relishing the chance to lead his players out against United, who Derby last overcame in the FA Cup in 1897.
“What a challenge, to play one of arguably the biggest clubs in world football,” he told the Derby website.
“It’s clear they’re not having the best time themselves at the moment, but it’s an opportunity for two teams to come together and put in a performance.
“It’s going to be nice to put ourselves up against a very good side with world-class players, and a fantastic coach in Van Gaal.”
– Arsenal seek Burnley reaction –
Van Gaal’s defensive injury problems continue to mount, with right-back Matteo Darmian, who sustained a rib injury against Southampton, joining Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo and auxiliary full-back Ashley Young on the sidelines.
Central midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is also unavailable with a knee injury.
Derby could award a debut to Swedish international left-back Marcus Olsson, who signed from Blackburn Rovers this week.
Holders Arsenal continue their quest for a third successive FA Cup trophy — a feat last achieved by Blackburn between 1884 and 1886 — at home to Burnley on Saturday.
Arsenal squandered an opportunity to regain top spot in the Premier League last Sunday when they lost 1-0 at home to Chelsea, which left them without a win in three games, and right-back Hector Bellerin has urged his teammates to put the disappointment behind them.
“We need to focus on the next game and it does not matter about the trend,” the Spaniard told the club website.
“We are not thinking about that. We are just thinking about winning and getting ahead.”
Liverpool host West Ham United on Saturday, while Manchester City visit the Premier League’s bottom club, Aston Villa.
Liverpool and Manchester City both reached the League Cup final in midweek.
Guus Hiddink’s quest to repeat his 2009 FA Cup triumph with Chelsea continues on Sunday when his side visit second-tier Milton Keynes Dons, who famously humiliated Manchester United — and Van Gaal — 4-0 in last season’s League Cup.
Friday (1945 GMT):
Derby County v Manchester United
Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):
Arsenal v Burnley, Aston Villa v Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers v Leeds United, Bury v Hull City, Colchester United v Tottenham Hotspur (1245 GMT), Crystal Palace v Stoke City, Liverpool v West Ham United (1730 GMT), Nottingham Forest v Watford, Oxford United v Blackburn Rovers, Portsmouth v Bournemouth, Reading v Walsall, Shrewsbury Town v Sheffield Wednesday, West Bromwich Albion v Peterborough United
Carlisle United v Everton (1330 GMT), Milton Keynes Dons v Chelsea (1600 GMT)
Photo Credits : AFP