Tag Injuries

Tag Injuries

Blind injury forces another Van Gaal rethink

November 16, 2014 Tags: , Opinion 9 comments
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Is it something in the water? The knee injury suffered by Daley Blind on international duty this week is the 39th such setback Manchester United’s squad has faced since Louis van Gaal officially took charge on 15 July. From Michael Carrick’s damaged ankle two days into pre-season, to David De Gea’s finger, popped out of position during Spain’s training session last week, it has been a campaign of injury misfortune and, perhaps, mismanagement.

Blind limped off 20 minutes of Netherland’s 6-0 victory over Latvia on Friday night, with Dutch coach Guus Hiddink claiming that the 24-year-old may have “twisted and ruptured” a medial ligament. It is an injury that could keep the £14 million signing on the sidelines for months not weeks if confirmed in the coming days. The former Ajax midfielder revealed little in the aftermath, although speculation is running from four weeks in the physio room to a premature end to the Dutchman’s season.

It is just one more stroke of bad luck in what is becoming a disastrous pattern for United.

United’s veteran coach could have done with far better luck this season – up to 10 Reds have been absent at any one time. Joining De Gea and Blind out of next weekend’s fixture with Arsenal will be Carrick – who has a “minor groin injury” – Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young, and Jesse Lingard. There is no guarantee that any of Jonny Evans, Phil Jones, Rafael da Silva or Radamel Falcao will be match fit by Saturday.

Carrick’s latest problem comes after a season of fitness problems for the Geordie, while De Gea will receive intensive treatment on a dislocated finger in a bid to negate the ‘worst case scenario’ of four weeks on the sidelines. Either way former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdés, who is training with the club, is yet to be offered or accept a contract with United and cannot play at the Emirates.

The latest setback leaves Van Gaal with a choice between Tyler Blackett, Patrick McNair and Chris Smalling in the centre of defence in north London. There is little in the way of defensive midfield alternatives either. Indeed, United’s back five at the Emirates could well read: Anders Lindegaard, Antonio Valencia, Blackett, McNair and Luke Shaw.

In midfield United enjoys a raft of attacking talent, even if Van Gaal is yet to find the right balance between defensive shape and attacking fluidity. On Saturday the Reds may have little choice but to go for broke with Carrick and Blind out.

Further absences are hardly the news Van Gaal needs with United desperate to pick up some momentum after what has been anything but a consistent opening 11 Premier League games. It is fortunate, some might add, that neither Liverpool, Everton nor Tottenham Hotspur have been able to find a level of consistency either or United may have slipped behind in the quest for European qualification next season.

Damning the Gods of misfortune is only part of the story though. Of United’s 39 recorded injuries this season, around half have been impact-related, with another tranche of muscular, hamstring and ligament damage. It leaves an obvious question: whether Van Gaal’s intensive training methods have contributed to a packed medical centre at Carrington?

Rent-a-quote Dutch fitness trainer Raymond Verheijen was quick to blame his countryman for United’s early season injury list.

“Encouraging to see so many people noticing this year’s ‘pre-season incompetence’,” said the 42-year-old in August.

“Hopefully, one day players will be prepared professionally. LVG is tactically superior to most other coaches but planning and periodisation is not his strongest point. During the World Cup preparation, the Dutch players had to do frequent double sessions, so not surprisingly the muscle injuries accumulated. At United, in the first few weeks, LVG has applied the same approach and, as expected, with the same result.”

Many will dismiss the criticism – after all Verheijen is seldom reticent to berate the methods of others. Yet, Van Gaal moved to question his own approach in September, asking whether he needs to “evaluate how we train” in order to reduced the number of player absences. Whether Van Gaal identified a cause has not been further illuminated; neither, though, has a path to a fully fit squad.

Manchester United injuries

Elsewhere the Dutchman has moved to strengthen United’s response. While the club has spent millions on high-tech medical equipment at Carrington, Van Gaal has already recalled United physios Rod Thornley and Tony Strudwick from part-time assignments with the English national team. The pair will end their involvement following Tuesday’s friendly with Scotland. Strudwick has worked with England since the World Cup, while the Scotland fixture will be Thornley’s 161st with the national team.

It is on the pitch, of course, where United needs a positive news story the most. On Saturday Van Gaal is faced with yet another decision: whether to persist with the 4-4-1-1 formation used to mixed affect in recent weeks, or to tinker once again with United’s tactical makeup.

Van Gaal may yet switch back to deploying three players in the centre of the park at Emirates, with no genuine defensive midfielder in United’s squad and an absence of in-form or experienced central defenders. Marouanne Fellaini, Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria may comprise a new three, while Juan Mata, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj may compete for three attacking roles.

Whatever the approach in north London the Dutchman will keenly watch the final round of international fixtures in the coming days. England, with Rooney in tow, faces Scotland in Glasgow, while Argentina – including Di Maria – takes on Portugal at Old Trafford. United can ill afford further unwelcome injury news.

Then there is the longer-term problem – to find a solution to pattern that, superficially at least, has been season-long.

Injury data from Physioroom.com

Injury-free reds return to domestic priorities

October 15, 2009 Tags: , Matches 3 comments

Manchester United’s players return from the international break today with a full complement greeting manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Minor training knocks to Wayne Rooney and Jonny Evans pending, Ferguson will have a full squad available to him for the visit of Bolton Wanderers this weekend. It’s the first time this season that the Old Trafford chief can call upon the full weight of his resources.

Ferguson himself enjoyed a short break to the United States, leaving Mike Phelan in charge of first team members without international commitments and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Warren Joyce looking after a crucial reserve team fixture for some returning players.

Indeed, United’s 3-0 Manchester Senior Cup win against Oldham Athletic on Monday enabled both Rafael da Silva and Gabriel Obertan to have their first run-outs of the season. Each played 45 minutes and came through without reaction.

Obertan, who signed for around £3 million in the summer, suffered a long-term spinal injury that has delayed his introduction to the first team. But Ferguson added the former Bordeaux winger to his Champions League squad in the expectation that the signing would return to fitness. The Frenchman showed some neat touches and bags of pace in United’s comfortable reserve team victory. In theory he will be available for the weekend match against Bolton, although a first team début is more likely in United’s Carling Cup fixture away at Barnsley next week.

Rafael’s return also adds to Ferguson’s options, with the Brazilian full-back offering an alternative to John O’Shea on the right side of defence. The teenager, who played 28 times for the club last season, is yet to feature this term after an operation on a dislocated shoulder. Ironically, this is the exact injury that his brother Fabio suffered last season.

“Rafa’s worked really hard to get his fitness levels back. He’s an enthusiastic, bubbly character and I thought his fitness levels looked good tonight,” Joyce told MUTV.

“Obertan, some of the quality touches and his movement were excellent, and his fitness levels looked really good as well.

“He was inventive, he received it well and his movement off the ball was good as well, so he can be very pleased.”

Meanwhile, Owen Hargreaves, who did not play in the reserve team fixture, continued his rehabilitation efforts at Carrington this week. The England international returned to Manchester on 23 September but is not expected to feature in the first team before November.

United’s internationals had mixed fortunes during the break, although few actually played two games. While Rooney missed out on England’s 3-0 win over Belarus on Wednesday night, Rio Ferdinand and Ben Foster both went some way to regaining credibility. Foster, who is likely to lose his United place to fit-again Edwin van der Sar, was surprisingly picked by Fabio Capello for England’s final World Cup group match. Meanwhile, Ferdinand, who had been heavily criticised by the media after his performance in England’s defeat to Ukraine last Saturday, marshalled his country’s defence to a clean sheet.

In Marijampole, Nemanja Vidic and Zoran Tosic were on the end of a 2-1 beating by Lithuania but with Serbia already qualified the defeat hurt only the United players’ pride. Despite being relegated to United’s reserve team for nearly a year now, Tosic scored the Serb’s goal with a stunning first half strike.

Nani fared better, scoring for Portugal in the Iberian’s easy 4-0 victory over Malta. The win, while expected, sealed Portugal’s place in the European play-offs.

In Ireland’s group John O’Shea played only as a first-half substitute during the Republic’s bore draw with Montenegro. Already consigned to the play-offs, Ireland will need to do better if United’s incumbent right-back is to feature in South Africa next year. The Republic, not seeded for the play-offs, is likely to face a leading team in the play-offs.

Dimitar Berbatov, in the same group, scored a hat-trick as Bulgaria bowed out of the campaign with a thumping 6-2 win over Georgia. It will be little comfort to the United striker who is now unlikely to appear in another World Cup.

There was also disappointment in Santiago as Antonio Valencia’s Ecuador went down 1-0 to qualifiers Chile. While the United winger did not play, the defeat ended the Ecuadorian’s hopes of making the World Cup, with Argentina taking fourth spot and Uruguay facing a play-off.

Given the long trip Valencia may not start United’s weekend fixture with Bolton, but Ferguson his hopeful that both Evans and Rooney will be available for the match. It’s a headache but for the first time in more than a year, Ferguson will have more than 30 professionals to choose from. Victory against Bolton at Old Trafford, following a draw against Sunderland last time out, is essential to regaining some momentum in the Premier League.