Robin van Persie’s return to the Manchester United line-up gives new manager Louis van Gaal some welcome good news ahead of the English Premier League match away to Sunderland on Sunday. Van Gaal, hoping to bounce back from the 2-1 opening weekend defeat by Swansea City, has been beset by injuries in midfield and Ander Herrera is the latest to be absent, with an ankle problem, alongside Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard.
Jonny Evans, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia could also miss the trip to the Stadium of Light but while Van Gaal has concerns in those areas, he has his first-choice attack available. Van Persie was given extra time off after playing for a Netherlands side coached by compatriot van Gaal that reached the semi-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
But this weekend could see the striker make his first appearance in the Premier League since the 3-0 defeat by Liverpool in March. Van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 formation is geared towards getting the best out of a forward three of Juan Mata playing behind Van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
Since Spain midfielder Mata joined from Chelsea for a United record £37.1m in January, the trio have started just six times together in the Premier League. Van Gaal is excited about the prospect of seeing van Persie and England striker Rooney, whom he has made United captain, playing in attack together.
“Robin is ready to play so that’s a big benefit for our team so I’m very happy that he’s now able to play,” said van Gaal. “In theory it should be a very good couple (with Rooney). They can score a lot of goals and I hope it shall show that.”
Sunderland in sight
Meanwhile van Gaal has renewed his call for patience in the wake of the shock defeat by Swansea. The Dutchman joked he had gone from a king to a devil in the space of two weeks.
While he has made light of the reaction to a first defeat since he took over, he accepts that United must get off the mark against Gus Poyet’s Sunderland side. Van Gaal added: “For sportsmen you know that you can lose a game. I think that the players have suffered that last year too and I think they have responded well.
“In pre-season in the United States we beat good opponents but I agree with the media that you have to win a home match against Swansea. I know that we have to win very quickly. Every game in the Premier League is a very difficult game, You have to win and that’s not simple. Sunderland will do everything, with the support of the home crowd, it will be a tough game but we need a victory and we’ll do everything.”
Sunderland manager Poyet has insisted the Black Cats have a psychological edge over United after last season’s success against the former Premier League champions. The north-east club dumped United out of the League Cup at the semi-final stage, in addition to earning their first league win at Old Trafford for 46 years, as they pulled off their great escape to avoid relegation.
Now they will look to build on their opening day draw at West Brom with a victory that would condemn United to back-to-back defeats at the start of a season for the first time in more than a decade.
Poyet, who welcomes back Argentina defender Santiago Vergini to the squad, said: “When I arrived at the club last season, people kept talking about how we couldn’t win against Manchester United, but we showed that we can.
“Those results are a big help going into Sunday’s game. Mentally, we’re in good shape. Maybe it’s about guarding against over-confidence now.”