Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has underlined his backing for much-maligned midfielder Marouane Fellaini ahead of relegation-doomed Aston Villa’s visit to Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday.
Fellaini has often been cast as the poster boy for United’s relative struggles since he joined the club in 2013 from Everton, following the end of Alex Ferguson’s managerial tenure.
The Belgium international returned after almost a month on the sidelines for Wednesday’s FA Cup quarter-final replay at West Ham and rewarded Van Gaal’s faith in him by scoring what proved to be the winner in a 2-1 victory.
Van Gaal could augment the goal threat provided by teenage sensation Marcus Rashford with Wayne Rooney, after his captain returned to first-team action following a knee ligament injury as a late substitute at Upton Park.
But the manager remains confident Fellaini can continue to contribute in the opposition area if required.
“I liked his performance [against West Ham] but I have to say that Fellaini always does great,” Van Gaal said.
“He wants to perform what we have agreed and that I like of him. He had a great game also and scored an important goal, even if it was a little bit lucky.”
United were well-beaten 3-0 by title-chasing Tottenham in their previous league outing and will look to close to within a point of Manchester City this time out, with their fourth-placed rivals travelling to Chelsea later on Saturday.
Basement boys Villa could have their relegation confirmed before kick-off in Manchester if Norwich City avoid defeat against Sunderland in the day’s early game.
Gabriel Agbonlahor is not in contention for Villa, after the club prescribed a two-week period of specific fitness work for their long-serving forward.
Eric Black has Jack Grealish and Adama Traore available after they came through an Under-21 win over West Ham on Monday, although the interim manager is wary of turning to more untested players despite Villa’s dire predicament.
“I am trying to win a game for Aston Villa. I am not here to develop the young players,” he told a pre-match news conference.
“If I see an opportunity to do something [pick a youngster], I guarantee I will.
“I was the academy director at Celtic and I know how hard it is to get players in the team. But I will do that without doubt. I am not closed off to anything.
“What I won’t do is put kids in if I don’t think they are ready to play in the first team under the circumstances.
“First and foremost I want to get a result for Aston Villa. I have to focus on that more than using it as a development programme. I am not going to do that.”
United’s season-long injury woes have abated considerably over recent weeks but they remain without long-term absentees Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee) and Luke Shaw (broken leg).
Key Opta stats
– Aston Villa have won none of their past 12 Premier League games at Old Trafford (D3 L9).
– Manchester United have lost only one of their previous 40 Premier League matches against Villa (W29 D10).
– Wayne Rooney has only bettered his tally of 13 Premier League goals against Aston Villa with 14 versus Newcastle United.
– Louis van Gaal’s side have kept 10 clean sheets in their last 15 Premier League matches.
– There have been fewer goals scored at Old Trafford this season than at any other Premier League stadium.
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