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.”
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