Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. Photo: Reuters
Louis van Gaal has admitted that it will take a "miracle" for Manchester United to win the Premier League this season.
The United manager likened this campaign at Old Trafford to his first season in charge of Bayern Munich in 2009 when he took over a squad that was "not stable" but still managed to win the Bundesliga.
Van Gaal is looking to bolster his squad this week and is now considering a late move for Shakhtar Donetsk's Douglas Costa should United fail to land Real Madrid's Angel di Maria.
Real is holding out for £60 million for Di Maria and although United is yet to submit a bid and regards the sums involved as prohibitively expensive, it may nevertheless choose to break its transfer record for the 26-year-old Argentine before the window closes on September 1. It helps that Di Maria has been left out of the Real squad and wants to leave.
Douglas, a 23-year-old Brazilian, would cost substantially less at around £28 million, but United faces competition from Atletico Madrid, Roma, AC Milan and Monaco for the winger who is desperate to quit Shakhtar, whose Donbass Arena was damaged by shells yesterday in fighting between national forces and pro-Russian separatists.
United is prepared to sell Danny Welbeck, who would prefer to stay but would consider a move to Everton or Tottenham Hotspur, and remains in the market for defenders. It could still move for Roma's Mehdi Benatia or Ajax's Daley Blind. Another possibility remains the Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, which would open up the possibility of the Italians bidding for Tottenham's Paulinho. There is a long list of players United is prepared to sell, but it is struggling to find suitors given their high wages.
Welbeck is not a high earner but could command a big fee and while his departure would be a surprise, van Gaal is considering using Adnan Januzaj through the middle and could also promote 18-year-old James Wilson.
However, ahead of United's Premier League encounter at Sunderland today (Sunday), van Gaal has cautioned against expecting him to win the league in his first campaign in charge.
Asked whether he should be judged in his second season as United manager rather than his first - as Jose Mourinho demanded at Chelsea - van Gaal said: "That is always the case. What I have experienced is that I was champion in Barcelona and in Germany, so it is possible but it is very difficult. When I got to Bayern Munich the [squad] selection was not stable. What we did was a miracle. Now here the selection is not in balance. There are five No.9s and six No.10s and so on. And we don't have defenders."
Questioned further as to whether it would be a miracle to win the league this season, van Gaal said: "Yes I think so. It is always possible but it shall be very difficult."
Van Gaal is dealing with an injury crisis with United expected to confirm the extent of the ankle problems suffered by Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini, who both had scans yesterday. New signing Marcos Rojo is ineligible as he has not yet been granted a work permit.
The Sunday Telegraph, London