Louis van Gaal has reaffirmed his faith in Wayne Rooney, insisting that he has full confidence in the Manchester United captain's ability to occupy an advanced role for the club despite a disappointing start to the 2015/16 season.
United have produced two relatively dour yet effective winning performances to begin the new top-flight campaign, and currently sit third in the Premier League behind rivals Manchester City and Leicester City on goal difference.
Rooney, who spent much of Van Gaal's first season in charge in a withdrawn midfield berth, has led the line in both of those opening fixtures against Tottenham and Aston Villa, but has attracted criticism for an obvious lack of impact.
His hugely underwhelming performance at Villa Park in particular drew the ire of supporters across social media, leading many to bemoan United's lack of plentiful striking options following the decision not to retain Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie's move to Fenerbahce.
Van Gaal has come to the defence of the man he appointed as skipper soon after his arrival in English football last summer, appearing incredulous that his role in the attack can already be subject to such questioning following the controversy that surrounded the decision to deploy him in midfield.
"All the media has written for one year that I have to put him in the striker's position, so it's amazing that after two games you're doubting your own opinions, I cannot understand that," he told a press conference prior to the Champions League play-off round first-leg tie against Club Brugge, as relayed by The Mirror. "I have always confidence in my players."
United welcome Michel Preud'homme's Brugge to Old Trafford on 18 August as they bid to reach the group stages of Europe's elite club competition following the one-year absence that resulted from David Moyes' disastrous 10-month spell in charge of the side.
Van Gaal is expecting a strong test from a side who finished runners-up to Gent in the Belgian Pro League last season and acknowledges that there is pressure on his team to deliver Champions League football once more.
"It is a lot of pressure because our aim and goal is to reach the Champions League and that is what Arsene Wenger already mentioned last year," he added. "These kind of matches, it's difficult and, because of the draw, it is much more difficult, because we have drawn Brugge , who can defend very good, they can attack also, so it shall be a difficult match, that is why the pressure is high.
"The players, fans and board all want to participate in the Champions League, but first we have to beat Brugge."
Eyebrows were initially raised when United named David de Gea in the squad for the two matches against Club Brugge despite the Spaniard having been omitted from league duty amid ongoing speculation linking him with a move to Real Madrid, although it seems likely that Sergio Romero will continue to deputise until his future is fully resolved.
Asked if De Gea could feature in the first leg, Van Gaal said: "The question is not a good question. I don't answer that any more. I have said before what my view is."
United will be without Phil Jones against Brugge as he continues to recover from mild thrombosis. Marouane Fellaini could feature as a three-match suspension earned with a dismissal against relegated Hull on the final day of last season does not apply in European competition.