Louis van Gaal does not think his race is run, but acknowledges "it's difficult"
Louis van Gaal insists he still has the backing of the Manchester United squad as he prepares for what could turn out to be his final game in charge of the club.
United's winless run now stands at seven matches thanks to their 2-0 defeat to Stoke on Boxing Day.
The victory margin may not have looked big on paper, but make no mistake - there was a large gulf in energy, composure, desire and skill between the two sides at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day.
United hogged possession, but did little with it. There was no flair, no penetration nor a cutting edge about their play.
And even though most of the the 2,557 United supporters who had made the trip down the M6 clapped the players off at the final whistle, Van Gaal did not seem to have much fight in him when he addressed the media shortly after.
The Dutchman had the support of the board in the build-up to the game in Staffordshire, but he acknowledged after the final whistle that there was a "new situation" now that he had overseen four straight defeats and also discussed the possibility of resigning.
The United manager admitted it would be hard to lift his players for Monday's home game against Chelsea - a match he desperately needs to win.
"When you lose four matches in a row it's much more difficult," Van Gaal said.
"It's like that. And the pressure of the environment shall increase, so it's much more difficult and there are no ways artificial ways to solve that. We need a victory and that is very important."
Van Gaal believes his players will fight for him at Old Trafford.
When asked if he thought the players still believed in him, the 64-year-old said: "Until now, I can say 'yes'."
There was an admission from the United manager that United had regressed since they momentarily topped the table with a 2-1 win at Watford last month.
"A month ago we were first in the Premier League but we lost important games and now we have to come back in more difficult situations than last year because last year everyone believed and there was progression, now there is a fallback and that is different and everybody is judging also different," he said.
"That is what is happening now and you have to cope with it."
United's freefall has been profound. They are now sixth in the table having won two league games in their last nine.
Even David Moyes had garnered more points at this stage of his sole season in charge of the club.
In fact, should United fail to win on Monday, they will end the year with their lowest points total in 26 years.
Van Gaal frankly admitted his players did not "dare" play their best football at Stoke.
A squad containing so many stars should not - in theory - be so mentally fragile, but Van Gaal believes it can happen to the best of players.
"No, I don't think so because I have seen that also in my other jobs," he said when asked if he expected his team to be mentally stronger.
"When you lose in a top team then it is always more difficult to cope with your environment and you cannot say that it is in Manchester much more different.
"You see, of course, that different players cope with that pressure. That is also in other teams.
"It's for every individual player, for every human being, different how they want to cope with it - and it is not so easy."
With just one day between matches, Van Gaal admits there will be little opportunity for his players to regain their fitness for the match against the Premier League champions.
"It's very difficult because we have to recover, we start after we travel (back from Stoke) and we have to prepare also the game, it's very tough to do that," Van Gaal said.