After Monday night’s FA Cup victory over Shrewsbury, Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal made the statement that injuries had robbed United of glory this season saying:
‘I think in March a lot of players are coming back and then we’ll have a full selection and with our full selection we were first in the Premier League.’
It was classic Van Gaal, stretching logical argument to the point it becomes simplistic.
But could he be right? Could United’s poor form this season be largely attributable to injuries.
Currently, United are missing 13 players of varying degrees of importance. Clearly, Luke Shaw’s leg break was a big loss as United have not been able to replace his marauding runs down the left this season.
As for other injuries, Van Gaal hopes will come back in March are David de Gea, who should be ready for the Arsenal game on Sunday, Marcos Rojo, Antonio Valencia, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini, and Ashley Young.
Adnan Januzaj and Phil Jones could be back sooner, while Matteo Darmian will need longer following his dislocated shoulder.
Wayne Rooney’s return is expected to be April, while Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Will Keane are yet to be definitively diagnosed.
Clearly, it is an extensive list but most of the injuries have belonged to squad players. When van Gaal talks about being top with his full selection he is referring to late September, seven games in having just beaten Sunderland 3-0.
That starting line-up featured: De Gea, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Antonio Valencia, Darmian, Juan Mata, Michael Carrick, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial, and Rooney. Jones, Young, and Schweinsteiger came off the bench.
The previous Premier League game was a 3-2 win at Southampton, with the same XI except for Rojo in place of Valencia.
So of those two games from the period Van Gaal refers to, only four starters are currently out – one being De Gea who is yet to miss a Premier League match. The difference from then to now is Van Gaal’s ability to make experienced substitutions, with Jones, Young and Schweinsteiger each injured for a number of weeks.
So I am not buying van Gaal’s claim that injuries have derailed United’s season. Yes they have impacted it, as they have for Arsenal and Man City, but other than Shaw no first-choice player has missed significant time. It has been the likes of Jones, Young and Schweinsteiger that have been injured. Injuries that had reduced van Gaal’s option off the bench in games, or injuries that have stopped his rotating his squad as much as possible. But these are not injuries that have robbed United of a title winning season.