Manager Van Gaal says it is the most high-pressure match of his Old Trafford reign, with a place in the Champions League group stage at stake over the two legs.
And the Dutchman’s concern over Rooney’s form was evident when he addressed his captain in front of team-mates as they boarded the United bus home after Friday night’s 1-0 win at Aston Villa.
Sportsmail understands that a disconsolate Rooney was already sitting alone with his head down after an abject performance in which he touched the ball just once in Villa’s penalty area in the whole 90 minutes.
That followed a below-par display against Tottenham on the opening day of the season.
Van Gaal urged Rooney to get his head up before telling him that he had played better games than he did against Villa. But Van Gaal also reassured the player that it is only a matter of time before things improve.
The manager, who reinstated Rooney as his target man following the departures of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao, insists that the England ace can return to being a 20-goal striker after playing in a deeper role for much of last season.
However, Rooney has not scored for United since early April and his displays this season have raised concerns, not least because United’s back-up options are Javier Hernandez, James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj, who was the matchwinner at Villa.
But Van Gaal backed his strikers yesterday when asked about the situation with Rooney.
‘I always have confidence in my players,’ he said. ‘We don’t only have Wayne Rooney in the striker’s position. We have Adnan Januzaj, who played in the USA (on tour) as a striker. I gave him that chance and he showed he can do that.
‘We have Chicharito (Hernandez) and James Wilson. I don’t think we have a lack of strikers.’
After starting the season with two wins, United are expected to see off the challenge from Bruges to reach the Champions League group stage.
United were excluded from Europe’s elite for the first time in 19 years last season, and Van Gaal knows there will be no excuses if it happens again.
Asked if these will be the biggest games of his time in charge of United, he replied: ‘Of course, because the players and the board and especially the fans want to participate in the Champions League.
‘There is a lot of pressure. It will be a difficult match and that is why the pressure is high.’
Unsettled goalkeeper David de Gea trained with the rest of the first-team squad yesterday but has been told by Van Gaal that it may only be a temporary move and to expect to work with the reserves again on certain days.
De Gea’s future is no closer to being resolved after centre back Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid player wanted by United in exchange for their goalkeeper, signed a new contract at the Bernabeu yesterday. – Daily Mail
Original source: Van Gaal backs Rooney to rise