Louis van Gaal thinks Manchester United will be in a much better position to challenge for the title next year because of their shorter pre-season tour.
In his first press conference in the United States last July, Van Gaal launched a scathing attack on the club’s five-match tour, which saw them visit Los Angeles, Denver, Washington DC, Michigan and Miami.
Ten months on, the Dutchman is convinced his team would be challenging for the Barclays Premier League had it not been for the draining three-week schedule, which was agreed before he took over as United manager.
United won just three of their opening 10 games after picking up a number of early-season injuries. The World Cup played its part in affecting United’s form, but Van Gaal thinks the tour was a prime reason why his team are 15 points behind Chelsea, who will win the league this weekend if they beat Crystal Palace.
“We have started very badly this year. When you cut out the start we shall equal Chelsea but we have to start better,” the United manager said.
United announced this week that they would be returning to the States to defend the International Champions Cup they won last summer.
This time though, the team will play four matches along the west coast and they will base themselves in Seattle and San Jose or San Francisco to avoid travelling between cities for their games against Club America, Barcelona, Paris St Germain and San Jose Earthquakes.
That, Van Gaal believes, will help United challenge for the title, rather than the top four.
”They have adapted to my criteria so we shall have a better preparation,” the Dutchman said.
”We shall have two bases in the USA so we are not flying between the matches.
”We are going via a bus. That is better. The temperature is lower because we are on the other coast.
”But now we have to start better. Now we have to make the balance in our selection better, then we have to perform at the moment that it has been asked, better than this year.”
Chelsea beat United 1-0 last month to end Van Gaal’s chances of winning the Premier League in his first year at United.
The Blues look a cut above their rivals, but Van Gaal insists there is no gulf between United and Chelsea, which gives him hope for next season.
”This year Chelsea is far above the other clubs. Next year it can be different,” he said.
”Next year we will have a different squad. Not just us, but Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and all the other clubs who are battling for the first positions.
”There is not a big gap I don’t think. You can judge that when clubs are playing against each other.”
United followed up their loss at Stamford Bridge with a 3-0 defeat at Everton last week, but Liverpool’s reverse at Hull in midweek means Van Gaal’s men have to secure just six points in their final four league games to qualify for the Champions League.
Van Gaal is once again without key players for Saturday’s home game against West Brom.
Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo, Rafael, and Jonny Evans are all out and Phil Jones is unlikely to return from his ankle problem, so Paddy McNair may continue at centre-back alongside Chris Smalling.
Daley Blind could slot in at left-back following a groin injury to Luke Shaw so Angel di Maria is likely to start his first league game since the 1-0 win at Newcastle on March 4.
Wayne Rooney has been passed fit for the match after overcoming a knee injury that caused him to be substituted in the 88th minute of the 3-0 reverse at Goodison Park.
”Rooney is fit to play, it (the injury) was not so heavy as we expected,” Van Gaal said.
If Rooney plays in midfield, Robin van Persie stands a good chance of coming into the starting line-up after he scored a brace in the under-21s’ win over Fulham in midweek.