EPL: United looking for reaction after European exit

Both the Manchester clubs are in Premier League action on Saturday as United look to bounce back from a premature Champions League exit while City will hope to go top of the table.

Manchester United are winless in their last four matches in all competitions.   -  AP

Louis van Gaal played down the scale of the storm gathering around Manchester United and claimed that expectations of the Old Trafford club need to be re-assessed. Van Gaal's management of United has come under closer scrutiny following his team's exit from the Champions League at the group stage following their 3-2 defeat at Wolfsburg on Tuesday night.

Van Gaal said: “We are now in the Europa League and we have to win the Europa League but that is not easy. A club as Manchester United has to win. We have to work hard to win that. I have already won the Europa (Uefa) Cup with Ajax in my first season, and I was very proud of that. For me, the Europa League is a big competition.”

United have failed to win any of their last four games following their defeat in Wolfsburg but remain fourth in the Premier League, three points behind leaders Leicester City ahead of their trip to Bournemouth on Saturday evening.

However, their results and style of play continue to come in for criticism from former players, pundits and supporters.

United have not a won a trophy since the last of their 20 top-flight titles in 2013 but van Gaal insists there is no turmoil within the club. The Dutchman added: “You can lose and you can win in sport, and you have to accept that, as a player and as a manager. But you have to work very hard and I am working very hard and my players are working very hard and doing everything we can do. The problem is that we have to meet the expectations and the expectations at a club like Manchester United are very high, and that's our problem.

United are without nine players for their trip to Bournemouth with Bastian Schweinsteiger starting a three-match ban after the Germany international accepted an FA charge of violent conduct for putting an arm into the face of West Ham defender Winston Reid in last Saturday's 0-0 draw with West Ham.

Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin returns following the damaging defeat in Wolfsburg but captain Wayne Rooney remains sidelined with an ankle injury and is joined on the absent list by defenders Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian, who both picks up knocks in Germany.

City look to reclaim top spot

Manchester City defender Eliaquim Mangala has challenged his team to end a mixed week on a high by regaining top spot in the Premier League.

Last weekend's miserable defeat at Stoke dropped Manuel Pellegrini's side to third, yet they responded with a flourish to beat Borussia Monchengladbach 4-2 and ensuring they finished top of their Champions League group. That means City are set to avoid Europe's biggest names when the draw for the last 16 is made on Monday, giving rise to hopes that they might finally enjoy a run to the latter stages of the competition.

As a result, things are looking up for Pellegrini's side once more after a poor recent run of league form, with just four points taken from their last four matches.

With confidence raised again, a home match against managerless Swansea on Saturday offers a clear opportunity to regain domestic momentum.

“That's a game we have to win because we want to get back to the top of the table as quickly as possible,” said Mangala, whose club can replace Leicester in first place if they beat Swansea as the leaders and second placed Arsenal don't play until later in the weekend. We showed character in the second half on Tuesday and we deserved to win. We kept going, which is what you need to do in games like that, and we got our reward.”

City's stumbling Premier League title challenge has not been helped by a long list of injuries this season, although Pellegrini has been at pains to play down suggestions that he is over-reliant on captain Vincent Kompany and striker Sergio Aguero.

His team did at least prove on Tuesday that they can be prolific without Aguero, who continues to struggle with a heel injury sustained against Southampton two weeks ago. Defensively, however, City do look defensively vulnerable without Kompany, who has not played for more than a month because of a calf problem.

The Belgium centre-back has missed six matches in that time, and his team have not kept a clean sheet in any of them; a remarkable contrast to the side who did not concede in any of their opening five matches when Kompany and Mangala played together at the back.

That poor defensive record may at least give hope to a Swansea side who sacked Garry Monk on Wednesday after a run of just one win in 11 Premier League matches.

Under Monk, the Swans were fourth at the end of August, but looked increasingly bereft of attacking ideas as they tumbled down the table to 15th, failing even to muster a shot on target during his penultimate match in charge, a 1-0 defeat at Liverpool a fortnight ago.

That was followed by a tame performance in a 3-0 defeat at home to leaders Leicester last Saturday, prompting chairman Huw Jenkins to act.

First-team coach Alan Curtis is set to take temporary charge for the trip to the Etihad Stadium, as Jenkins and his board step up a search for Monk's permanent replacement. Curtis will hope for a better display than the one against Leicester that ultimately cost Monk his job, and prompted midfielder Leon Britton to apologise to Swansea's supporters.

“It was one of the worst performances I have seen from ourselves in a long time,” Britton said. “There are so many things we can talk about, but the talking has to stop when the players cross that white line.”

Saturday’s Fixtures

Norwich vs Everton, Crystal Palace vs Southampton, Manchester City vs Swansea, Sunderland vs Watford, West Ham vs Stoke City, Bournemouth vs Manchester United.

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