Louis van Gaal admits he will once again be under pressure to deliver a victory and an improved performance when Manchester United host Stoke on Tuesday.
Already low after watching their team embark upon a poor run of two wins from their last 10 Premier League matches, United fans watched on in despair on deadline day as the club failed to land any big names while neighbours Manchester City announced the appointment of the most sought-after coach in the world, Pep Guardiola.
United fans heckled Van Gaal as he walked down the tunnel the last time their team played at home. The fact their team had lost ground in the hunt for the top four with a 1-0 defeat to Southampton was not the main cause for their ire – it was the dour, turgid unattractive football that was the problem yet again.
For the 11th successive home game, United failed to score in the first half and only registered one weak shot on target throughout the entire encounter.
It is hard to imagine such a scenario unfolding in a game involving one of Guardiola’s teams. In fact the Spaniard has overseen just 11 domestic 0-0 draws during his six seasons in management. European results aside, Van Gaal has recorded 10 goalless stalemates during his 18-month tenure at United.
Last Friday’s 3-1 win over Derby in the FA Cup was a step in the right direction, but Van Gaal knows he could be back in hot water with the United fans if his team do not beat Stoke at Old Trafford.
“I’m not a stupid man. I’m an intelligent man and I cannot predict the atmosphere on Tuesday,” the United manager said.
“I hope that we can give the same level of performance as against Derby.”
Mata on Stoke test
United played with more flair and risk at Derby on Friday, but Van Gaal knows Stoke will offer a far sterner test of his team’s top four credentials.
After all, the Potters handed Van Gaal one of the most chastening defeats of his reign on Boxing Day, when Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic scored in an easy 2-0 win for Mark Hughes’ side.
United lost just one of the following seven games to buy Van Gaal some time, but Juan Mata admits January was a month to forget.
“January is now over. It hasn’t been an easy month but our victory in Derby leaves a good taste because it means a boost of energy for us: we move onto the next round of the FA Cup and also the team had good feelings and I think we played a good match,” the United playmaker wrote in his weekly blog.
“It was a very positive win with a more dynamic, fluid style that we hope to maintain from now on.”
Van Gaal may have survived the transfer window, but his future will once again come under scrutiny if United do not improve over the coming month when they face the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal, as well as a Europa League tie with FC Midtjylland and Shrewsbury in the FA Cup.
“There is no time to enjoy the win in the FA Cup because we are already focused on our game against Stoke tomorrow,” former Chelsea player Mata added.
“This is a very busy month with seven games and our aim is to try to win them all, starting with Stoke, who beat us in the first half of the season.
“They have a team with many talented players who have changed the way they play football with regard to the last few seasons and it’s working well for them.
“We are looking forward to a new win in Old Trafford and, from now until the end of the season, we have to be strong at home and not concede any points.”