REUTERS - Manchester United are expecting a host of injured players to make their returns this month but will not rush them back into the first-team, manager Louis van Gaal said ahead of Thursday’s last-16 Europa League tie against bitter rivals Liverpool.
Despite having nine players currently out, including captain Wayne Rooney and defender Phil Jones, United won four games in a row prior to their shock Premier League defeat at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
“(Antonio) Valencia is coming back, Basti (Bastian Schweinsteiger) is coming back, a lot of players shall come back in March,” Van Gaal told reporters on Wednesday.
”... it is hard to see whether they can cope with the rhythm of the match... Basti, for example, has only one training session under his belt.
“Valencia is much more closer to being on the bench, but not to play a match.”
Winning Europe’s second tier club tournament appears to be both clubs’ best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season and Van Gaal, who has completed back-to-back league doubles over Liverpool, has labelled the tie a must-win.
“You have to win - there is no difference (with it being a Cup competition). United and Liverpool is always a big game. It’s historical and even bigger now because both teams are fighting for a Champions League place,” Van Gaal said.
Central defender Chris Smalling has banked on emotions to spur United to victory on Thursday.
“It’s a game we all look forward to and one in which we need to stand up and be counted. When you step over that white line, emotion drives you on and hopefully brings out a performance in you,” Smalling said.
Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Chopra