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Van Gaal admits Man Utd have lost their fear factor

Man Utd players in need of a lift on Monday night

Man Utd players in need of a lift on Monday night

Louis van Gaal has stressed the need for Manchester United to regain their fear factor.

The Red Devils' 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 on Monday night 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.

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 leg two of the European tie, then have a Premier League home clash against Arsenal three days later.

Winning all three fixtures – with the Europa League result sufficient to send 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.

And the performance in Denmark on Thursday is likely to have only increased Shrewsbury's belief they can make it another miserable night for United on Monday.

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."

Arsene Wenger picks his Barca man to watch…and it’s not Lionel Messi

Arsenal need to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar

Arsenal need to stop Messi, Suarez and Neymar

Arsene Wenger believes it is Luis Suarez who is making Barcelona tick as he prepares his Arsenal team to face the reigning European champions on Tuesday night.

The Uruguay forward scored his 41st goal of the season in Barcelona's 2-1 win over Las Palmas on Saturday and is part of a formidable attacking trio at the Nou Camp, alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar.

But, if things had worked out differently, the 29-year-old could have been running out for the Gunners on Tuesday after the club failed in a bid to sign Suarez from Premier League rivals Liverpool in 2013 before he moved to Spain 12 months later.

While Messi, the world player of the year, and Neymar will again command attention at the Emirates Stadium – arguably more eyes will be on Suarez following his stint in England and the history of the failed £40million plus £1 bid lodged by Arsenal.

And Wenger, too, feels Suarez has brought something new to Barcelona which has helped them to reach new heights under Luis Enrique.

Asked if he ever thinks 'what if' he had signed Suarez, Wenger replied: "Not now. It happened to me before, but not now. He's a player there and we have to keep him quiet on Tuesday night. 

We have to analyse what we do and do it well and together. Individually all their players are difficult to stop. We have to find a way to do it collectively.

"Camaraderie. I believe Suarez gives that to a team. He did it at Liverpool, he did it playing with Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan (for Uruguay) and did it well.

"Suarez is the kind of guy who manages to create that spirit in teams. I believe that apart from the individual talent the three have, they have a good understanding and cohesion.

"They have a great solidarity. I have seen that Messi gave the ball to Suarez (from a penalty) because he wanted him to be the best goalscorer.

"When you see someone like Messi, who could score his 300th goal, give the ball to Suarez when he had the opportunity to score goal 300, that means there's really something in there."

While Suarez slipped through Wenger's grasp, the Arsenal boss did manage to get his man from Barcelona as he signed Alexis Sanchez in 2014.

The Chile international has been one of Wenger's key men since his arrival but has struggled to rediscover his form of late after missing the festive schedule with a hamstring injury.

Wenger admits the 27-year-old is still feeling his way back but insists he will be ready to show his former club what they are missing over the upcoming tie after another lacklustre display off the bench in Saturday's 0-0 FA Cup draw at home to Hull.

"Don't worry about Tuesday, he'll be tuned in," he said.

"I think it's more focus. Sanchez – I don't think he was completely ready to come on. It looked like that but he grows with the game.

"He has a game based on risk and so when he's not completely, completely highly tuned in it becomes dangerous."

Sanchez is likely to start the game on Tuesday while the likes of Petr Cech, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are also set to return having been rested completely at the weekend.

Louis van Gaal still being backed by Man Utd chiefs

Clinging on - Van Gaal

Clinging on – Van Gaal

Under-fire Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal may not be on the brink of being sacked and could even survive a negative result against League One strugglers Shrewsbury in the FA Cup on Monday night, according to Old Trafford sources.

The United hierarchy are being tipped to stick with the Dutchman – at least until they see that qualification for next season’s Champions League becomes an impossibility. 

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the Glazers know Jose Mourinho is desperate to take over, but are uncertain whether the Special One would be all that special as a replacement for the disastrous Dutchman.

They would prefer to wait for as long as possible before making a final decision on Mourinho over fears that by bringing him in they would be stepping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

There was a chorus of calls for Van Gaal’s head after last Thursday’s dreadful defeat by European minnows FC Midtjylland and yet even if Micky Mellon’s Shrewsbury were to knock United out of the FA Cup at the fifth round stage, Woodward may opt to stand by his manager.

Woodward, having already appointed one failed manager in David Moyes, remains anxious not to have to another on his hands.

Life is liable to get even more complicated for Woodward as it is understood that Ryan Giggs, were LVG to be sacked, would not want to become caretaker manager for a second time – as he did when Moyes went after just ten months.

Woodward, who retains an interest in hiring Mourinho, believes that Van Gaal has had no luck because of the number of injuries the squad has sustained. He privately argues that despite spending £250m, he has had little opportunity to bed down a settled team.

United’s head honcho also maintains that the drab style of performance this season especially is more about lack of numbers than a lack of an understanding of the Old Trafford way by Van Gaal.

The Dutchman has insisted on a number of occasions that he would not quit although defeat in the Football League outpost of Shrewsbury would surely force his hand, yet as United’s power brokers continue to consider their options, it is understood that no one from above has suggested to Van Gaal that he should call it quits.

Woodward is believed to still have sympathy for Van Gaal even if few within Old Trafford would go along with him. David De Gea’s knee injury in Denmark only added to a staggering list of players in the Old Trafford casualty department.

The Spanish goalkeeper joins Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and Adnan Januzaj on the sidelines.

Skipper Wayne Rooney was also ruled out for six weeks with a knee injury before United set off for that dismal 2–1 defeat in Denmark.