Man Utd beat Wolfsburg, but can they rise again for Arsenal?
Louis van Gaal praises his team's 'spirit' after victory in Europe and a run of six games in 18 days, with Arsenal next
Manchester United 2 Wolfsburg 1
Chris Smalling was the matchwinner as Manchester United recovered from going a goal behind after just four minutes to beat Wolfsburg 2-1 in their second group game in the Champions League.
Having lost to PSV Eindhoven a fortnight ago, victory was imperative at Old Trafford but the Red Devils began in the worst possible way, as the German visitors took the lead through Daniel Caligiuri's well-worked goal. But Caligiuri went from hero to villain on 34 minutes as he handled in the Wolfsburg area, allowing Juan Mata to level from the penalty spot. Eight minutes into the second half United took the lead when Mata provided the assist for Smalling to poke home what would be the decisive goal.
The victory, coupled with CSKA Moscow's defeat of Eindhoven in Russia, means all four teams in group B are level on three points. "We have everything in our own hands and that is very important," said United manager Louis van Gaal. Praising the "fantastic spirit" of his side, the Dutchman continued: "A lot of players are very tired because of the accumulation of a lot of matches... we were suffering in the end."
Not that United have much chance to rest and regroup before their next big game. Having played six matches in the last 18 days, they now visit Arsenal on Sunday in the Premier League as they look to consolidate their position at the top of the table. "Arsenal played yesterday - one day more to recover. That will benefit them but we shall manage it," declared Van Gaal.
The heavy schedule is one reason Van Gaal believes English clubs have been struggling in Europe for the past few seasons. Arsenal and Chelsea both lost on Tuesday night to clubs they once would have expected to beat comfortably, and though United and Manchester City (who beat Borussia Monchengladbach 2-1) both won on Wednesday, the pair lost their opening Champions League matches. "We have a rat race that is not always the same in other countries," explained Van Gaal. "We also have to play over Christmas."
The victory over Wolfsburg and United's good form in the Premier League of late has put the club in the strongest position since the retirement of Alex Ferguson in 2013, but Van Gaal stressed there is a long way to go, and much improvement required before the club can start thinking about silverware.
"We have to keep our feet on the ground and we have to improve a lot to be the top of Europe," he said. "We have beaten Wolfsburg and I am very happy about that. The players are also very happy but we have to improve and we have to know that. So I have said that to the players. That is why we are here, to improve ourselves so we win every game."