MANCHESTER United will be looking for the goals that have been so hard to come by this season when they travel to VfL Wolfsburg on Tuesday (9.45pm) with their hopes of sealing qualification for the Champions League knockout stage still hanging in the balance.
All the talk among United supporters – raised on a tradition of exciting, uninhibited attacking football – is of the team’s lack of goals under what they believe to be manager Louis van Gaal’s sterile conservative approach.
Since winning 2-1 at home to Wolfsburg in September, United have scored only twice in three Champions League games. In the Premier League the record is five goals in the last six games.
United captain Wayne Rooney, who missed Saturday’s goalless draw at home to West Ham with an ankle injury, will again be absent, but like Memphis Depay he has scored only two league goals this season. Anthony Martial, the young French prodigy has three and midfielder Juan Mata is top scorer with five.
United supporters have taken to chanting “attack, attack, attack” in almost every game and they will need goals on Tuesday with the team second in Group B on eight points, one behind leaders Wolfsburg with PSV Eindhoven, playing CSKA Moscow, on seven.
But manager Van Gaal is insistent the problem will not last.
“The goals are coming, that is my strong belief,” he said after two points dropped against West Ham United left them fourth in the Premier League table.
“We created a lot of chances but to score you need not only composure but a lot of luck. So I’m not worried.”
He did admit, however, that winning the Champions League is not realistic this season, adding: “Maybe next year, when we strengthen our selection again.”
Even with injuries to a number of other players, Van Gaal believes he can rely on his defence in Germany. With England’s Chris Smalling in outstanding form, they have kept seven clean sheets in nine games.
For Wolfsburg, even a draw will be enough to secure a spot in the next round.
While their rocky domestic form has seen last season’s Bundesliga runners-up slip to fifth after a 2-1 last-gasp defeat by Borussia Dortmund on Saturday, Dieter Hecking’s team are top of Group B after a 2-0 win at CSKA Moscow.
They are now looking to continue their fine home form, having won twice without conceding.
For attacking midfielder Julian Draxler, beating United is not impossible. “If we play against them as we did in the second half against Dortmund then I am certain we can beat United,” he said.