Louis van Gaal has stressed the need for Manchester United to regain their fear factor.
United’s troubled campaign has taken further turns for the worse in their last two outings, with them being beaten 2-1 at Sunderland in the Barclays Premier League and then losing their Europa League last-32 first leg at FC Midtjylland by the same score.
The latter game in particular highlighted how United – for so long seen both domestically and abroad as among the most daunting opponents a club could face – no longer seem to be perceived by anyone as an intimidating prospect.
Van Gaal’s men travel to Shrewsbury this evening for an FA Cup fifth-round game marking the start of a week that looks potentially vital for their season – as well as for the increasingly under-scrutiny Dutchman’s future.
And when asked ahead of the contest if teams do not fear United anymore, Van Gaal said: “When you see the last two games it is maybe like that. But then we have to make them fear again.
“It is a question of winning matches in a row.”
After the match at Shrewsbury, United host Midtjylland on Thursday in the second leg of the European tie, then have a home league clash against Arsenal three days later.
Winning all three fixtures – with the Europa League result sending them through – would be a major boost, some momentum having been built up again and the club remaining in the hunt for two trophies as well as a top-four finish.
But with talk having surged once more over the last few days of his tenure nearing an end and Jose Mourinho being set to replace him, a bad week results-wise will surely leave Van Gaal’s position looking precarious.
The performance in Denmark on Thursday is likely to have only increased Shrewsbury’s belief they can make it another miserable night for United tonight.
Van Gaal says he would welcome the League One side thinking, on the evidence of Thursday, that the task ahead may be easier for them than they had previously suspected. “I hope so because then it’s a benefit for us,” he said.
The 64-year-old, who has a lengthy list of players unavailable for the tie, has emphasised the importance of his side being mentally prepared to raise their performance level significantly after the poor showing at Midtjylland, against opponents he feels could pose them similar problems.
He said: “You cannot continue with losing and the question is how we are lifting ourselves for this game because Shrewsbury shall also fight [like Midtjylland] for the second balls and play direct and that kind of thing, and you have to cope with that.
“You have to keep the ball better and not give unnecessary losses away.”
While stressing winning the Europa League is a more important target for United given the route it provides into next season’s Champions League, Van Gaal has also expressed his particular “personal wish” to win the FA Cup, given his CV already features a Uefa Cup triumph but no English trophy.
United have not lifted the FA Cup since 2004. And when asked if they should be viewed among the favourites to win it this season, Van Gaal said: “It’s not a question of being a favourite. It is a question of you having to see every match as a match that you have to win.”
Shrewsbury only lost 2-1 to Chelsea in last season’s League Cup after giving them a scare, the Stamford Bridge club progressing after a late Jermaine Grandison own goal.
Their manager, Micky Mellon, says his team will try to execute a similar plan this evening in order to pile some more misery on Van Gaal.
“If I said we are going to go toe-to-toe with Manchester United, match them right up, hit possession in the final third and pin them right back, they’ll think I’m bananas,” said Mellon.
“We have to be realistic and say in every game you have a chance. We have to work hard on making that chance bigger.
“We did it against Chelsea. In certain areas of the pitch we knew we had to be good, certain personnel we had to stop service to. We also knew certain times in the game we had to get through – first 20 minutes, half-time – then we knew our chance had increased.”