Ahead of Manchester United’s UEFA Champions League Group B game against Wolfsburg on Wednesday, manager Louis van Gaal said his side could get to the UCL final and then it was down to luck.
[ RECAP: United 2-1 Wolfsburg ]
With his side securing a 2-1 comeback win at home to Wolfsburg, the Red Devils looked far from being European champs but they did react well to Daniel Caligiuri’s goal in the fourth minute which gave the Bundesliga side a shock lead. A penalty kick from Juan Mata and a tap-in from Chris Smalling in either half sealed the comeback victory for United but Wolfsburg always looked dangerous in a stern test for the Premier League outfit.
United created numerous clear-cut chances throughout, as both Wayne Rooney and Memphis Depay were guilty of wasting great opportunities to score. In total United had 15 shots, with six on target as Wolfsburg piled on the pressure late on and made the home fans nervous.
[ MORE: Champions League standings ]
Speaking to BT Sport after the game, van Gaal admitted he wanted to see his “tired” side be more clinical with the chances they created.
“It was very difficult because after just a few minutes we went behind,” van Gaal said. “We created a lot of chances but we didn’t finish it. It was a lucky penalty I think. Of course it is a penalty but there are also referees who aren’t whistling against that… We have created many more chances. (Wayne) Rooney and (Memphis) Depay, they could have also scored in the first half and then you finish the game. But we continued and we scored at once [in the second half ] but after that it was suffering. A lot of players are very tired because of the accumulation of a lot of matches.”
Van Gaal also praised his side for a resolute defensive display as Wolfsburg’s only big chance of the second half fell to Andre Schurrle and the German international dragged his effort wide of David De Gea‘s far post. United’s manager was disappointed his team didn’t “keep the ball better in the second half” but all in all, he will be pleased with a professional display as the Red Devils are up and running in the UCL campaign as Group B is now perfectly poised with all four teams on three points after two games.
[ VIDEO: Mata’s magic assist creates game-winner ]
Juan Mata was at the heart of United’s win, as the Spaniard’s shot struck Caligiuri’s arm to win the spot kick and he pulled rank over Rooney to dispatch the penalty to make it 1-1 in the first half. Mata’s outrageous back heel then set up Smalling for the game-winner and speaking to BT after the game, he was happy to contribute.
“It was a very tough game because we were physically tired at the end. But we did what we had to do,” Mata said. “The manager made a list of penalty takers and I am the first right now and I have confidence. We knew we had to win today. We are happy today.”
[ VIDEO: Wolfsburg carve open United’s defense ]
Mata shone, as the Spaniard has now been involved in 13 goals (eight scored, five assisted) in his last 21 games for United. He is fast becoming a hero at Old Trafford and with Anthony Martial putting in another strong performance full of dangerous runs and clever set up play, the Red Devils always look like scoring at least twice in every game they play in. United have now scored two or more goals in five of their last six games, but van Gaal still wants them to be more clinical.
If, as van Gaal believes, United can win the UEFA Champions League this season, becoming more clinical in front of goal is not a bad trait to try and improve on as United’s win helped ease the fears that PL clubs are lagging behind their European counterparts following defeats for both Arsenal and Chelsea on Tuesday.
Slowly but surely, van Gaal is turning United into one of his ruthless winning machines.