Football: Van Gaal dreading busy December

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom - Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal admitted he is dreading the Christmas period as his team continue their bid for a Champions League place against lowly Stoke City at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

The visit of Mark Hughes' team marks the beginning of a month in which United play seven league fixtures and, while his team has no interest in European or League Cup football, Van Gaal is adamant such a schedule is too demanding.

"I'm not happy because I do not agree with that but I cannot change that," said the former Netherlands coach.

"I don't think it's good for the football players that they play within two days another match. In December, it shall be like that.

"We also have families. I also have a wife and kids and grandchildren and I cannot see them this Christmas," the Dutchman added.

"But, I want to work in the Premier League, I have to adapt and I shall adapt." Van Gaal's concerns have been heightened by his team's alarming injury record with Angel di Maria and Wayne Rooney becoming the 41st and 42nd United first-team players respectively to sustain injuries this season, during Saturday's 3-0 win over Hull.

Di Maria's hamstring pull will keep him out of the Stoke game, although Van Gaal was more optimistic regarding Rooney's chances of recovering from calf and knee problems in time.

No fixture benefit

The debilitating injury record is one reason why the United manager has said that the lack of fixtures in other competitions does not give his side any advantage over their rivals near the top of the league table.

"No, I don't think so," Van Gaal said. "It depends on the injuries and the other clubs are used to playing in the Champions League.

"You cannot say Chelsea are not used to playing in the Champions League, the Premier League, the League Cup and the FA Cup. They are used to that and they have all those selections for that.

"When you are challenged during the whole season, you become better and we have to train to become better." Defender Chris Smalling, one of United's scorers against Hull, believes his side's latest victory represented the best performance of Van Gaal's reign and is relishing the prospect of continuing their current vein of form against Stoke.

"Quite a lot of our wins this season have not been that complete performance but I think against Hull we put on a 90 minute performance that the manager wanted," he said.

"The manager has said it was our best game of the season and I think it was. It was a complete performance.

"The manager said after the Arsenal game it was a performance which we'd really ground out, we didn't play particularly well. But against Hull we did. He asked for six points as a must and we're going to deliver that on Tuesday.

"Confidence is good, with our home form as well. We'll be coming out firing again on Tuesday." Meanwhile former United striker Hughes has an injury headache in midfield, with both Steve Sidwell and Glenn Whelan set to miss the trip to Old Trafford.

The pair suffered injuries during Saturday's 1-0 loss at Liverpool, with Sidwell sustaining a knee problem after a Rickie Lambert challenge, while replacement Whelan, who is only just back from a broken leg, failed to re-emerge from the tunnel after half-time after pulling his calf.

Whelan's place was taken by Charlie Adam, who is the obvious choice to fill in.

"I'm concerned by the injuries we are getting at the moment, although you can't legislate for the one Steve Sidwell suffered," Hughes said. "He opened his knee up and is very sore.

"We just hope there's nothing sinister to it but he'll need to be checked. It's unlikely either Steve or Glenn will make it."