Thursday 22 March 2018

Van Gaal ready to jump before he's pushed after Stoke defeat

Dejected Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal after his side was beaten at Stoke yesterday afternoon. Photo: Carl Recine / Reuters
Dejected Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal after his side was beaten at Stoke yesterday afternoon. Photo: Carl Recine / Reuters

Paul Wilson

Louis van Gaal moved a step nearer to the Manchester United exit door when his side suffered a fourth consecutive defeat, 2-0 at Stoke, indicating he intends to speak to the club's executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, and hinting he might be ready to offer his resignation.

"I can quit by myself but that is something I speak about with Ed Woodward by himself," the manager said. "I will speak with him first and then with my staff. I need to have a conversation but I do not need to tell you what I want to say. I am not so interested in public talking."

The public is talking about him, however, and the first thing it wants to know is whether he will still be in a job when Chelsea visit Old Trafford tomorrow. "You will have to wait and see," he said. "But I think so."

Van Gaal suggested it is sometimes better to walk first in difficult situations instead of waiting to be sacked, and there is no doubt United find themselves in a difficult situation.

"We didn't dare to play our football," he said. "That is because of the pressure we are having to cope with. We could not cope with the circumstances and then we gave a very bad goal away."

That at least was an admirably honest summary, yet Van Gaal said he had been trying to raise his players' confidence all week. If he cannot prepare his players then surely he ought to accept some of the blame? "You can say I have failed if you like, but I don't think it's like that," he said. "I have been doing my best to try and find a solution but once the players are out on the pitch they have to do it by themselves."

Inasmuch as Van Gaal is struggling to find a way of stopping the rot he must privately accept that he has failed already. He wanted to draw a line under three successive defeats but instead found the sequence extended to four.

Chelsea are not enjoying a great season either, yet under Guus Hiddink they are likely to rise to the challenge of a team too scared to play football. Stoke certainly did. "You have to be brave and confident in these situations, and we were," manager Mark Hughes said. "I thought we were excellent, on the front foot from the start, and we should have scored more goals really."

All true, and United's captain on the day did not attempt to deny it. Michael Carrick said: "We are not playing well enough as a team. The only way to work through it is to stick together."

That has been Van Gaal's message, too, but patience at United does not last much longer than four defeats in a row, as an increasingly careworn Van Gaal knows. If nothing is changing on the pitch, something will have to change in the dugout.

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