Man United in last-chance saloon yet again in bid to save Van Gaal's ailing regime
Published 13/04/2016 | 02:30
It is, defender Phil Jones said, the "defining game" of Manchester United's season, although supporters could be forgiven for feeling as if they have heard those words before.
Louis van Gaal seems to have been in the last-chance saloon at Old Trafford for months, and yet whenever it looks like as though the United manager's tenure is about to be dealt a terminal blow, the Dutchman has invariably succeeded in scrounging a result that briefly resuscitates his ailing regime.
Will that be the case again tonight when United travel to Upton Park to face West Ham in their FA Cup quarter-final replay, with the competition representing their last hope of a trophy this season and a potential lifeline for Van Gaal after a 3-0 defeat by Spurs last Sunday dealt a severe blow to his hopes of Champions League qualification?
Wayne Rooney has been named in United's squad as he prepares to make his first-team comeback two months to the day since suffering knee ligament damage and begin the process of proving to England manager Roy Hodgson that he is fit enough to start for his country at Euro 2016 this summer.
But for all the scrutiny on the United and England captain, most eyes will be drawn towards Van Gaal.
United's hierarchy are still uncertain about what to do with their manager and are waiting to see how results turn out over the coming weeks before making a decision on his future.
If Van Gaal wins the FA Cup or somehow crowbars United into the top four, the likelihood, at this stage at least, is of the club allowing him to see out the final year of his contract.
The harder decision will come if United's season ends in failure, with no triumphant Cup finale and no Champions League place, and serious consideration is given to replacing him.
Jose Mourinho craves the job - as does Ryan Giggs - but, for the time being, United are gripped by inertia and living hand to mouth.
The majority of contract talks have been shelved until the uncertainty over the manager is resolved but what happens to those transfer targets Van Gaal has identified if he goes is hard to know.
Mourinho has a clear idea in his mind of where United need strengthening and who he would want to plug the gaps but the Portuguese still remains in the dark about United's intentions.
Van Gaal is not disliked at United but his inflexibility, philosophy and curious tactics are becoming more unpopular.
Several players feel when United win it is often despite the manager and that they spend far too much time discussing the opposition instead of concentrating on their strengths.
The defeat by Spurs led to reported confrontations between the players and Van Gaal, with some said to be unhappy at the handling of teenage striker Marcus Rashford, who was hauled off at half-time for the second time in six matches.
Wider concerns centre on why Van Gaal is so wedded to deploying players out of position and refuses to listen to their views. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
West Ham (probable) - Randolph; Tomkins, Collins, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Kouyate, Noble, Lanzini; Antonio, Carroll, Payet.
Manchester United (possible) - De Gea; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo; Schneiderlin, Carrick; Lingard, Mata, Martial; Rashford.
West Ham v Manchester United, Live, BBC 1, 7.00