Manchester United are feeling the pressure ahead of their Champions League qualifier against Club Brugge on 18 August, manager Louis van Gaal admitted on the eve of the match. The Dutchman, who has guided his team to two successive Premier League wins at the start of the season, is expecting a difficult first leg against the Belgians at Old Trafford, as United try to return to the group stages of the competition.
"It is a lot of pressure because our aim is to reach the Champions League. This kind of match is difficult because we have drawn Brugge, and Brugge with [their] splendid coach can defend very well, I think, and they can attack also," van Gaal said. "So it shall be a difficult match and that is why the pressure is high. The players, the fans and the board all want us to participate in the Champions League, but first [we]ave to beat Club Brugge."
United have been European Cup champions three times, but were not involved last season, having failed to qualify when they finished seventh in the Premier League in 2013-14. Van Gaal praised Bruges manager Michel Preud'homme, saying they were opponents as players, too, but he could not remember who won then.
"I think his teams are always organised, very good structure and you can see his view and philosophy and I think that's fantastic when you can see that. So I have a high respect for him. But of course, now we are opponents. I believe that we were already opponents when I played for Antwerp and he played for Standard [Liege]. So I don't know the results at that time but, maybe you can control that" – to which he was told he had lost.
"I lost? OK", which prompted laughter. "That's why I ask you that. I do not remember that. But when I lost then, we have to make it equal and then I am very happy," said van Gaal.
Belgian international Marouane Fellaini, who is serving a suspension in the Premier League, is set to return to boost an attack in which England captain Wayne Rooney has struggled as a lone striker in 1-0 wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, although van Gaal said the captain is not the only striker, indicating Adnan Januzaj alongside him at the news conference.
"We don't only have Wayne Rooney in the striker position. We have Adnan Januzaj. He played in the USA in the striker position. I have given him that chance and he showed that he can do that. But we have Chicharito [Javier Hernandez] and we have [James] Wilson. So I don't think that we have a lack of strikers."
Asked about the mental state of Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea, who has not been selected yet this season, the Dutch boss declined to answer.