Embattled Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has been involved in a very public battle to save his job in the days leading up to Saturday’s game at Stoke City.
Van Gaal’s future is looking increasingly uncertain after a run of six matches in all competitions without a victory, coupled with a series of uninspiring performances.
A group-stage exit from the Champions League earlier this month was a significant disappointment for a club who won the trophy in 2008 and have reached two finals since. But of more concern was the lack of attacking threat in successive Premier League defeats against promoted teams Bournemouth and Norwich City.
United managed only two shots on target as Norwich won 2-1 at Old Trafford last weekend and there is a strong feeling that failure to win at Stoke this evening or at home to Chelsea on Monday may cost Van Gaal his job.
The manager’s frustration at the public discussion of his future led him to walk out of a press conference on Wednesday. It has not helped Van Gaal that Jose Mourinho, a potential candidate to replace him, is available after being sacked by Chelsea last week.
Publicly, at least, Van Gaal retains the support of his players as he attempts to lift a side who have fallen to fifth in the table, nine points behind leaders Leicester.
“It’s not nice when you’re getting criticised after every game,” said captain Wayne Rooney. “It’s tough for the players to deal with. We get hurt because we’re proud people and proud to play for Manchester United. When it’s not going right, it’s hard to take and frustrating.
“We’re working hard and fighting for the manger to try to get results and turn the season around. It’s important we all stick together.”
Van Gaal will once again be without Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who serves the final game of a three-match ban imposed after he admitted a Football Association charge of violent conduct last month.
Matteo Darmian remains unavailable with a hamstring injury sustained in the Champions League defeat at Wolfsburg earlier this month, which means Daley Blind is set to continue at left-back.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are over recent injury problems though, and both came through 90 minutes in central defence against Norwich.
United’s opponents add intrigue to such a key fixture, with Stoke managed by Mark Hughes, who won two Premier League titles as a player at Old Trafford in addition to scoring the decisive goal against Barcelona in the 1991 European Cup Winners’ Cup final.
But Hughes believes it is only a matter of time before his former club click into gear. He said: “From the games I have seen, they are dominating games for the most part. Their game seems a lot more possession-based than it has been in the past. They have had a lot of possession and created a lot of chances – a bit like ourselves.
“We haven’t scored many goals recently but we have still been creating chances. It is just about converting them. I think that is the case with United to a certain extent.
“They have got good players, they have got a good squad. They have got good individual talent. You would expect at some point they would start to click again. Hopefully we won’t allow that.”
Louis van Gaal is facing a critical game at Stoke today with many predicting that another defeat will see an end to his reign at Old Trafford.
Andy Gray and Richard Keys, who front beIN Sports’ Premier League coverage, discuss his situation and his rant during his now infamous press conference.
Andy Gray: Van Gaal’s performance during his short press conference on Wednesday showed all the signs of a manager under intense pressure.
Someone as sure and cocky as Van Gaal, and we know he is all of those things, doesn’t react like that unless he is feeling some serious heat. He is finding out that the Premier League is different from any other league in the world. The scrutiny you are under is intense and on a daily basis, and with things not going well it’s getting on top of him.
To suggest the media should apologise to him was a joke. He is manager of one of the biggest teams in world football who are not playing well and so reporters have every right to ask questions and speculate what might happen next. He has to be big enough to accept that if the team are struggling and his recruitment isn’t working he is going to be under the microscope from the media and United fans.
If United lose to Stoke on Saturday then I would get rid because it would then give a new man coming in whether its Ryan Giggs, Jose Mourinho or someone else, a transfer window to do a bit of business and weave a bit of magic.
If United don’t take that opportunity then we can probably expect him to stay until the end of the season and then go. I think United’s executive-vice chairman Ed Woodward has to accept that the club has made a huge mistake, again, and that might be the reason Van Gaal stays, because he does not want to admit he got it wrong.
— Football__Tweet (@Football__Tweet) December 24, 2015
If Van Gaal does go I would still probably give the job to Jose Mourinho. I know some people think he is too abrasive, but, come on, what about Sir Alex Ferguson? He spent 26 years falling out with people.
It is worth them talking to Pep Guardiola’s agent just to see if he would consider moving to United rather than City but if they can’t get him and Mourinho is seen as a wrong fit, then maybe they should give the job to Giggs full time. That depends on whether they think he has matured and now has enough experience for one of the top jobs in football but I wouldn’t rule it out.
As for Saturday, I can’t see any respite for Van Gaal. United look short of confidence and the behaviour of the manager is not going to make things any better. 1-2.
Richard Keys: I remember Van Gaal arrogantly announcing early in his reign: “I don’t care what the press say”. Plainly, he does, but there is no way the press should apologise for reporting the facts, as he laughingly suggested. He is the one who should be apologising to both the media for his tantrum on Wednesday and to Manchester United fans for the dirge he has served up this year.
They are nine points off Leicester, they are outside the top four, the players don’t want him there, and he has bought average players, with Anthony Martial the only one with any potential. And all this in a season when Crystal Palace, Watford, Bournemouth and Leicester have been winning football matches.
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) December 24, 2015
Man United should be streets ahead of those teams but they are not and to be frank I don’t see a way out for him. He is a dead man walking. I don’t agree with Andy on Mourinho as his replacement. It’s a consideration but it’s not nailed on and they are wasting their time trying to get Guardiola, because I am sure he has given his word to Man City.
I’d give it to Giggs until the end of the season and possibly full time. He now has more coaching experience and is older than Guardiola was when he was handed Barcelona, Yes, it was a better team than Manchester United have got at present but if you put Giggs in you will immediately be reintroducing Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been sidelined since the Dutchman turned up, to the club.
You could also put Rene Meulensteen in alongside him as he knows the club inside out and all of a sudden you have got a return to traditions Manchester United know well and that’s the way I would go, not Mourinho.
I think Stoke will beat them and that should be that for Van Gaal. 1-2.
Guus Hiddink will tolerate the odd act of petulance from Diego Costa as long as the Spain striker does “what he is hired for” and scores goals for Chelsea.
New Blues interim boss Hiddink revealed sympathy for Costa’s Stamford Bridge plight this term, which has seen the 27-year-old muster just four goals in 21 games.
Costa was criticised for throwing a bib in the direction of Jose Mourinho during Chelsea’s goalless draw with Tottenham on November 29, frustrated at remaining an unused substitute.
Hiddink revealed he once threw the De Graafschap captain’s armband at manager Huib Ruijgrok – and insisted top players prove their value in quickly recovering their cool rather than losing it.
“He’s an emotional guy, and there was something with a bib,” said Hiddink ahead of the visit of Watford on Saturday in his first game back in charge of the Blues.
“When I went back to my home, a long time ago, I was subbed even as captain. I wasn’t used to that. I thought I’d performed, but I threw off my armband at him, saying ‘you make a new captain’. It was also an emotional reaction borne out of frustration.
“Sportsmen are allowed to show a bit of emotion, but they must know five or 10 seconds later that they’re wrong. I think he can focus on what he is able to do.
“I cannot guarantee there won’t be an outburst from him or others, but they have to focus on what they’re good at. What I’ve experienced in the last few days, and with the last game he played – he was in control. He was focused more on what he is hired for here, which is helping to score or assist and not going into other things.”