Sunday 19 January 2020

Comment: Great survivor Van Gaal leaves Mourinho waiting once again

Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Jose Mourinho no doubt looked in on Manchester United’s thrilling FA Cup quarter-final win at West Ham with a degree of consternation.

The man who clearly wants to be king at Old Trafford appreciates that FA Cup success and a top four finish in the Premier League for Louis van Gaal’s class of 2016 will block the door to his United coronation, yet such a scenario seemed improbable/impossible until now.

As Van Gaal has lurched from one miserable crisis to the next over the last nine months, it has got to the stage where it seemed cruel to poke fun at a managerial great who has had that unwanted ‘dead man walking’ tag attached to him for many a long month now.

Yet what happens if Van Gaal guides Manchester United to a place in next season’s Champions League and FA Cup glory this season?

It’s a scenario that has been taxing the minds of those who will decide whether the beleaguered Dutchman is worthy of seeing out the third and final year of his United contract and on a night when his fate was on the line once again, his players finally delivered in a grand manner.

While game 95 of the tortuous Van Gaal era at Old Trafford had every potential to edge the much-maligned Dutchman a huge step closer to the exit door, this was a night when United’s gloomy script was to have an unexpected ending.

Talk of a dressing room revolt against the United manager in the days following Sunday’s 3-0 hammering at Tottenham providing a worrying back drop to an FA Cup quarter-final replay against an in-form West Ham side that started the game as favourites.

However, this was not to be the latest blot on Van Gaal’s blackened copybook, with their 2-1 victory in the final FA Cup game to be played at the Boleyn Ground one of the most significant Van Gaal has notched up in his time as United boss.

It was not just the magnificent opening goal from Marcus Rashford or the improved efforts of his fellow goal scorer Marouane Fellaini that set the pulses racing for United in this tie, as this was a team that finally appeared to find their pulse after so many months in intensive care.

Pace, invention and daring were injected back into a United side that oozed a dynamism that has been absent far too often in the last couple of years, with the goals they scored in that period just reward for a display that pushed a fine West Ham side back onto the ropes and into submission.

Rashford’s opener was a work of art that finished with the impressive youngster firing the ball into the top corner and, just for once, Fellaini deserved credit for using his assets to the best effect in a United display that exploded into joyous life at the start of the second half.

A late West Ham surge saw United rely on David De Gea to add the finishing touches to their triumph and the scenes of joy on the pitch at the final whistle confirmed that this was a result they wanted regardless of the how important it might have been for their manager.

So on Saturday week, the most ridiculed manager in the Premier League this season will lead Manchester United into a Wembley FA Cup semi-final against an under-performing Everton side that appear to be there for the taking.

By then, United could conceivably have edged closer to the fourth place they are chasing in the Premier League and a season that seemed destined to fade into oblivion just a few days ago will suddenly offer the potential for stunning riches.

One win does not solve the Van Gaal problem at United, of course it doesn’t, yet this dogged competitor has proved yet again that he still has a stunning ability to pick up a huge result when he needs it most.

If the stories suggesting Mourinho has been house hunting in Manchester over the last few days are accurate, he may be wise to wait a few weeks before laying down a deposit on his next abode.

Online Editors

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