The Premier League giants contrived to fail with three of their four attempts in Wednesday’s 3-1 shoot-out loss, with England internationals Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young all unsuccessful. That followed a goalless tie, including extra time, which extended United’s run without a goal in domestic football to 238 minutes following a drab stalemate with Manchester City in last weekend’s Manchester derby.
“Yes, of course,” said Van Gaal when asked if he was worried about the statistics. “Because in football all that matters is a goal and we have played two matches zero-zero. In my opinion, we could have scored also against Manchester City, but now, again, we did not score. It’s a concern, but I do know also it can easily turn around in the next game.”
That next game comes at Crystal Palace on Saturday, with Van Gaal adamant that United’s recent run of troubles in front of goal will have no adverse effect on his players.
“We are top sportsmen and you know that in any sport, there is not only winning, you lose also and you have to lift yourself,” he said. “It’s disappointing. It’s also disappointing for me, but tomorrow (Thursday) is another day and the day after tomorrow is already more about preparation for Crystal Palace.”
Despite the desperate showing from the penalty spot against Middlesbrough – with only youngster Andreas Pereira successful in four attempts – Van Gaal refused to be critical of the players who fluffed their lines in what the Dutch veteran described as the “casino” of a penalty shoot-out.
“In the goal was a goalkeeper (Tomas Mejias) and he was very quick and he gambled,” he said. “And he’s 195 centimetres (6’4″) also, so that’s not easy to do. When the goalkeeper is gambling for the right corner, you need players who look at the goalkeeper and put it in the other (side). But you have already played 120 minutes, so you’re not so sharp any more. That’s why these things happen.”
Van Gaal made nine changes to his starting line-up and handed a first start of the season to James Wilson, although the youngster limped off at half-time to be replaced by Rooney. While the Dutchman claimed United should have had a late penalty for handball and were generally unfortunate, he also expressed pride in their efforts.
“You can say it’s unlucky, but I said that after the City match also,” he added. “You have to force the luck, but we didn’t do that because we didn’t score. That’s why I’m disappointed. But my players have given everything. That’s why I’m also proud of them because they have done it until the end.”