Ed Woodward meeting as Louis van Gaal exit talk increases

Andy Hampson 23/12/2015
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Waving goodbye? Pressure continues to mount on Louis van Gaal.

Louis van Gaal’s future as Manchester United manager was thrown into further doubt last night after reports executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward held a meeting to discuss his future.

United boss Van Gaal is under heavy pressure at Old Trafford after a sequence of poor results and an even longer spell of uninspiring performances.

Jose Mourinho – who left Chelsea last week – has been heavily tipped as a potential successor should United decide to sack the veteran former Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Holland manager.

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However, the Manchester Evening News reported Woodward attended a commercial-related discussion at United’s London office, rather than decide the beleaguered Van Gaal’s fate as other outlets suggested.

The Dutchman is expected to conduct his pre-match press conference today ahead of the trip to Mark Hughes’ Stoke on Saturday.

And Hughes, a revered former United striker, has backed Ryan Giggs to take charge of the Red Devils should Van Gaal depart.

“Given his playing career, you would say he’s got an outstanding chance,” Hughes said.

Giggs, 42, made a club record 963 appearances for United. He was United’s caretaker manager for four games in 2014 and has been Van Gaal’s assistant since then.

“His ability as a manager is not clear yet – we don’t know because he’s not had the opportunity yet,” Hughes added.

“He’s getting an education now. He had it being around Sir Alex Ferguson for so many years, and now he’s assistant manager.”

Hughes could turn up the heat even more if his Stoke team condemn Van Gaal’s men to a fourth successive loss on Boxing Day.

And the 52-year-old does not expect Van Gaal’s reputation to save him if his United side continue to under-perform

He said: “I said last week when Jose lost his role that no-one is immune. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the game previously, and his record as a top-line manager is exceptional, you have to win football matches.

“He has been in the game a long, long time and he knows better than most if the results and perception is you are not doing particularly well, you come under pressure.”

United have lost their last three games in all competitions and not won in six – a run which has seen them eliminated from the Champions League and slip to fifth in the Premier League.

The team were booed off after losing to Norwich on Saturday and Hughes is well aware of the expectations fans have at United.

He said: “I think with all Man United teams there is a responsibility and an onus on the players to go out and perform and play like Man United players, and understand what the demands of being part of a big club like Man United entail.

“There’s a responsibility to entertain, I would suggest. That’s always been the Manchester United way. It’s a huge demand to play for Manchester United and a lot of players can’t deal with it.”

Although it looks increasingly likely United will dismiss Van Gaal, it is thought several United players still enjoy working under Van Gaal, despite unrest among some sections, and he has not explicitly lost the dressing room like David Moyes did. United defender Phil Jones 
reinstated that belief.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the lowest moment,” he said. “I think it became pretty glum under Moyes.”

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Spectre of Jose Mourinho looms over Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal

Paul Hirst 22/12/2015
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The end is nigh: Louis van Gaal.

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was back at his desk on Monday morning amid speculation he is about to be replaced by Jose Mourinho.

The pressure increased on Van Gaal on Saturday when United stretched their winless run to six matches with an embarrassing home defeat to Norwich.

United’s latest loss saw them drop out of the top four in the Premier League and the club’s supporters made their feelings known during the match and after the final whistle.

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The home fans left inside Old Trafford booed their team off following the 2-1 defeat and some cried Mourinho’s name during the game.

Mourinho is a free agent following his sacking by Chelsea and the Portuguese has made it known he would be happy taking over at Old Trafford if a vacancy arises in the near future.

Although he is expected to fly to Portugal to spend some time with his family this week, Mourinho has no plans to take a sabbatical and

United are thought to be one of four big European clubs the 52-year-old would consider joining.

United refused to comment on speculation that Van Gaal has two games to save his job, but it is understood the Dutchman was at the club’s training base in Carrington yesterday continuing his work as normal. 

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s defeat, Van Gaal insisted he had the support of United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the players.

The United manager said: “Ed was very fast out of the dressing room but I feel that support, yes. The most important support is from the players because the players have to do it on the pitch and the chemistry between the players and the manager and his staff is very important.”

United playmaker Juan Mata, meanwhile, insists he and his team-mates can arrest their slump over the next week when they face Stoke and Chelsea.

Addressing fans in his weekly blog, the Spaniard wrote: “We are really disappointed for not giving you what you deserve, because your support is amazing and unconditional, but I’m sure that we will turn this situation around.

“We are in a complicated situation and in order to get out of it we have to stick together and believe in ourselves so we can get a positive result as soon as possible.”

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Arsenal close in EPL top spot after edging out Man City

Mark Bryans 22/12/2015
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Giroud beauty: The Frenchman fires in the Gunners’ second of the night.

Arsenal sealed their supporting role behind Leicester in the Premier League Christmas billing by beating fellow title hopefuls Manchester City 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium late Monday night.

Arsene Wenger’s side soaked up some early City pressure before Theo Walcott curled home just after the half-hour mark for his first league goal since he scored in the 5-2 win over the Foxes in September.

The Gunners even have their own answer to Leicester hot-shot Jamie Vardy as Olivier Giroud made it 12 goals in 14 games, doubling Arsenal’s advantage on the stroke of half-time with Yaya Toure’s eyecatching consolation not enough to prevent the hosts winning.

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The victory leaves Arsenal two points behind leaders Leicester, while Manuel Pellegrini’s City remain six points adrift as their indifferent away form continues. Arsenal’s 2-0 victory at City in January was a result Wenger said gave him and his players belief they could beat the big teams and challenge for the title.

And much of this performance was similar to that at the Etihad Stadium, and the recent Champions League victory over Bayern Munich here, as Wenger’s side put in a professional and measured display rather than adopting a risky approach of all-out attack.

The momentum before the game appeared to be with the visitors who welcomed Sergio Aguero back into their side after a heel injury, while Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez had failed in his own attempt to be fit for the clash.

And the hosts started slowly before a simple ball into Mesut Ozil allowed him to play in Walcott, who carried the ball back out of the penalty area before arching a superb finish past the despairing dive of his England team-mate Joe Hart.

And things got even better for Wenger’s men on the stroke of halftime as Eliaquim Mangala gifted possession to the Gunners and Ozil again produced the assist, sliding in a pass for Giroud to finish between Hart’s legs.

Aguero then made way for Wilfried Bony having lasted a little over an hour on his latest comeback from injury.

After Aaron Ramsey spurned two excellent chances for Arsenal, Toure gave City a lifeline as he guided a measured left-foot finish past Cech with eight minutes left. But Arsenal hung on to take another vital three points.

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