Liverpool have gone 13 league games unbeaten since losing at United in December – winning eight of their past nine fixtures – and victory on Sunday would lift them above their fierce rivals and into the Champions League places.
United’s own form dipped following the win over Liverpool and although they have been beaten only twice in their 13 games since, manager Van Gaal has come in for criticism over the lack of creativity in his side’s attacking play.
However, United blew off the cobwebs last weekend with a 3-0 dismantling of Tottenham Hotspur.
And now Van Gaal wants to consolidate those gains against Liverpool and solidify his side’s chances of finishing in the top four, Van Gaal’s stated goal for the club before the season.
The trip to Anfield continues a decisive run of games for United that will also feature encounters with Aston Villa, champions Manchester City and leaders Chelsea.
“I want to win against them again. It’s very important,” Van Gaal said.
“I think every player knows the importance of this game. We are in a very crucial stage and cannot lose.”
Brendan Rodgers believes the periodic criticism of Van Gaal this season has been unjustified.
“He has shown over his career that he is a top-class manager,” Rodgers said. “He will have seen, coming into this country for the first time, the challenges of this football. It is why it is the most competitive league in the world.
“The Premier League is different from the leagues he will have worked in before, but I don’t think you can argue with his credentials.
“There is no question about the philosophies he has put in place at Ajax or Barcelona or his achievements, and when he leaves Manchester United he will still be one of the great managers.”
Sunday’s encounter has gained furhter significance by the fact that all of the two clubs’ rivals for a top-four place – Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Southampton – recorded victories on Saturday.
Van Gaal has Angel di Maria available again after a one-game suspension, but the Argentina winger is not certain to return to the starting XI after Juan Mata impressed in the win against Spurs.
Left-back Luke Shaw is out with a hamstring injury, while fellow defender Marcos Rojo is a doubt with a groin complaint and Jonny Evans is serving a ban for spitting at Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse.
Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva faces a late fitness test, having spent six weeks on the sidelines with a groin problem. Mario Balotelli is back after illness forced him to miss Monday’s 1-0 win at Swansea City.
Captain Steven Gerrard is also in contention to start, having returned as a substitute at the Liberty Stadium following a month-long absence with a hamstring injury.
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