Van Gaal on brink as tepid United slump at Stoke

LONDON, (Reuters) – Louis van Gaal hinted he could vacate the Manchester United hot seat after Stoke City swatted aside his timid team 2-0 yesterday.

Goals from forwards Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic punished United for a dreadful start at a blustery Britannia Stadium and although the visitors improved in the second half they could not repair the damage.

Dutchman Van Gaal has now overseen a seven-match winless run in which United have been eliminated from the Champions League and fallen out of the Premier League’s top four with successive defeats by Bournemouth, Norwich City and Stoke.

Having criticised the media and stormed out of his pre-match news conference on Wednesday, his post-match comments were equally frosty although there was an air of resignation about some of his comments after United slipped to their fourth straight defeat in all competitions.

Asked whether he had the support of the board, Van Gaal snapped back: “What they have said I don’t have to say to you because it’s not any of your business.

“The club doesn’t have to fire or sack me, sometimes I do it by myself,” added the former Netherlands, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach.

In a Sky Sports interview, Van Gaal was asked if he still thought he was the man to turn around United’s season.

“It’s more difficult because I’m also part of the four matches we have lost and so people are looking at me,” he replied.

“It’s another situation, we have lost the fourth game, we will have to wait and see,” he added with a lingering glare towards the reporter.

United, down to sixth in the Premier League, host champions Chelsea on Monday and few would be shocked if Van Gaal was no longer in charge.

“You’ll have to wait and see but I think so,” he said.

SWASHBUCKLING STYLE

Stoke manager Mark Hughes spoke this week of his days as a marauding United striker under Alex Ferguson when the side approached every game “expecting to win it” and he would have been surprised by the ease with which his side dominated.

The 20-times English champions have long been associated with swashbuckling attacking football but, apart from a brief flurry after the break when Van Gaal brought captain Wayne Rooney off the bench having omitted him for “tactical reasons”, they were woefully short.

Van Gaal looked powerless as he clutched his notes while sitting uneasily on the bench next to assistant Ryan Giggs.

The biggest indictment of the malaise afflicting England’s biggest club was Van Gaal’s belief his expensive team “did not dare to play football in the first half”.

Stoke’s opener after 19 minutes summed up a truly awful first half for United.

Attempting to head the ball back to goalkeeper David de Gea, Memphis Depay gifted it to defender Glen Johnson who crossed for Bojan to stab home.

It got even worse for United when Bojan’s free kick was blocked and with no defender closing him down, Arnautovic thundered a shot past De Gea.

England striker Rooney spiced up United’s attack but Marouane Fellaini wasted their best chance when he shot straight at keeper Jack Butland from close range.

At the final whistle Van Gaal gave a brief wave to the travelling fans. The next two days will show whether it was his parting gesture.

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