Louis van Gaal expects Cambridge to launch an aerial bombardment at his Manchester United side when they arrive at Abbey Stadium to battle Cambridge United (live, FOX Sports 1, Friday, 2:55 p.m. ET).
After beating Luton in the third round, Cambridge were handed the money-spinning live television tie they were after when they were pitted against United. Given that they are 76 places below United in the league ladder, Cambridge should pose few problems to the 20-time English champions, who have added seven players at a cost of over $225 million this year.
But, van Gaal being the perfectionist he is, has not left anything to chance. The Dutchman has studied his Sky Bet League 2 opponents in great detail and is expecting them to try to use their height to cause a huge shock on Friday night.
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"Cambridge play very direct, with long balls. They have five or six players above 1m, 90cm (6 feet, 3 inches) so for us it’s difficult to defend and that’s why you have to prepare yourself very good," the United manager said. "It’s not so easy to beat Cambridge United."
Van Gaal, of course, is right. The Cambridge squad contains Josh Coulsen, Tom Champion, Adam Cunnington, Tom Elliott, Liam Hughes and Issaga Diallo, who are all 6 feet, 3 inches. But it is not just the physical battle United must win.
The players will have to be mentally strong enough to deal with the pressure of knowing that if they lose the result will go down as one of the biggest cup upsets in recent memory. Van Gaal has already slipped up against lower league opposition this year. The 4-0 defeat at MK Dons in the Capital One League Cup left a big imprint on his mind.
If he needed reminding about how easy an upset can happen, he received it from his homeland this week.
"On Wednesday PSV Eindhoven, who are top of the first league in the Netherlands has lost against the third team of the second division (Roda JC)," the 63-year-old said. "Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV are out. That’s remarkable. Surprises shall happen also in the FA Cup. There are always surprises and I hope we are not the surprise."
He added: "It’s always tough to play against teams that, in the mind of the players, are weaker. In our minds you are believing that we are playing against a weaker opponent but that’s not like that. It’s another opponent with another playing style with other players and we have to beat them."
Van Gaal experienced a similar scenario to the Cambridge match in the third round when his United team had to dig deep to see off League 1 bottom club Yeovil. Van Gaal has won cup competitions in Spain, Holland and Germany, but the FA Cup already has a special place in his heart even though he has only played one match in it so far.
"It’s different here, there’s more in the atmosphere," he said. "The FA Cup is very important for the fans and the players. In Germany, it’s fantastic if you win the cup but not like here. The attendances are better here too. That is another difference."
Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling have been ruled out with unspecified injuries, but Robin van Persie and Luke Shaw are available again. Van Gaal refused to confirm speculation former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes will make his debut for United.