It’s often said the game of football is a very fickle one. Opinions change every day. Week in, week out. And this couldn’t be truer at Manchester United at the minute. Just six days after overcoming arch rivals Liverpool at Anfield, Louis van Gaal was under the microscope again. And with good reason.
After winning arguably the biggest game in English football, you would have thought United would have built up a bit of momentum and kicked on. Instead, they slumped to their fifth defeat of the season at home against Southampton. Leaving the pitch to a cacophony of boos and an overwhelming sense of negativity among United fans on social media has led many to believe it’s do or die for Van Gaal at Derby on Friday night.
Being a cup game it’s pretty do or die anyway, but with the pressure mounting on Van Gaal, a defeat at Pride Park COULD spell the end for the Dutchman. The signs have been adding up. Reports this week claimed that the Dutch boss had been talked out of resigning by Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward. Unsurprisingly, these reports irked a number of supporters, believe it or not. One Twitter user said: “It’s ridiculous. If he wants to go let him go clearly has no interest.” There has been a ‘will he, wont he’ drama surrounding Van Gaal for a while now, but these reports point to a definitive answer coming pretty soon. A victory at Derby may just put things off for a while.
And can we really blame Louis van Gaal for apparently handing his notice in, as it were? The stats are not kind to the manager. After 23 games, United have their worst goals-per-game ratio in the Premier League era (1.22 goals per game) and Van Gaal has a worse points total compared to fellow flop David Moyes (37 and 40 respectively). With all due respect to Moyes, when you’re being compared to him as Manchester United manager, things are not going too well. However, a win against Championship side Derby in the FA Cup will undoubtedly ease the pressure, rightly or wrongly.
But, what if? What if United go crashing out of another competition in the East Midlands on Friday night? What if Woodward finally listens to his fans and sacks his manager, or at least accepts his resignation? Well, after the reported ‘six-page love letter’ that Mourinho apparently sent to Manchester United (seems unlikely but who knows with Jose?) all things seem to point to the former Chelsea boss. I’ve been told to fill these pieces with opinion, so that’s what I will do. Mourinho may well bring success, but his style of football isn’t really that different from the defensive-minded Van Gaal. Why not let someone embedded in the club have a go until the end of the season? Sure, there is Ryan Giggs. But perhaps a better choice would be under-21s coach, Warren Joyce. The MEN said this week that: “Man Utd U21s symbolise the ‘United way’ more than the first team and that is down to coach Warren Joyce.” So if the ‘United way’ is what the fans are after, give it to them – at least until the end of the season when a certain Pep Guardiola could take the reins.
Let’s remember, the very fact we’re having this conversation proves how much of a must-win game the FA Cup tie with Derby really is for Van Gaal. Football fans have short memories, if he can move his side a little bit closer to Wembley, the pressure might not be so crushingly intense. Maybe, and it is a big maybe, United will be able to gather some momentum from there. But as things stand, poor results and displays, intense media scrutiny and a massively disgruntled fan base, means that if United do lose on Friday night it could spell the end for Louis van Gaal and his Manchester United adventure.