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Problems mount for Louis van Gaal as Manchester United are beaten by Stoke
Last Updated: 27/12/15 9:31am
Manchester United's season took another turn for the worse as they slumped to their fourth consecutive defeat against Stoke City. As the pressure intensifies on Louis van Gaal, we examine the mounting problems facing the under-fire manager…
Stoke pile pressure on LVG
Manchester United lost again as Stoke piled more misery on Louis van Gaal.
Louis van Gaal railed against his critics and walked out of his press conference, while Wayne Rooney issued a rallying cry to his team-mates. But for all the defiance that preceded Manchester United's trip to Stoke, there was little sign of fight on the pitch.
After the defeats to Wolfsburg, Bournemouth and Norwich, this is the first time since 1961 that United have lost four consecutive competitive games in a single season. Their winless run now stretches to seven games in all competitions, and the spectre of Jose Mourinho looms large over Van Gaal, whose future at Old Trafford looks more precarious than ever.
At a wind-swept Britannia Stadium, the damage was done in the space of seven first-half minutes. For the opener, Bojan Krcic capitalised on a dreadful error by Memphis Depay with a close-range finish from Glen Johnson's pass, then Marco Arnautovic latched onto a loose ball and rifled home spectacularly from outside the box.
Van Gaal spoke of their improvement after the break in his post-match interview, but United never looked like turning it around, and in the Sky Sports studio, Dwight Yorke joined the chorus of former players to have voiced their concern at the plight of the club in recent weeks.
"I have to say it was painful to watch," he said. "I felt that it was a team lacking in confidence. There's no sparkle whatsoever in that team. We were expecting a reaction from the defeat against Norwich. The one thing to do is to stay in the game, but it seems the same old story again."
Van Gaal's response to the alarming run of form was to demote Rooney to the bench for the first time since taking over. The captain's poor performances have been heavily criticised this season, but they fared little better without him in a dire first half, and it showed how muddled Van Gaal's thinking has become that he turned to the man he dropped to turn things around at half-time.
Rooney moved straight into the striker role with Anthony Martial switching to the left, but he did not muster a single shot on goal in his 45 minutes on the pitch. There was an accurate low cross from which Marouane Fellaini should have scored, but Rooney's lack of confidence showed when he opted to pass to Juan Mata in the box rather than go for goal himself on another occasion.
Manchester United have averaged just 1.22 goals per game this season, their lowest scoring rate of the Premier League era.
Rooney, of course, was not United's only poor performer. In attack, Martial, Juan Mata, Depay and Ander Herrera looked utterly devoid of belief, and at the back they were meek and uncertain, winning just 47 duels to Stoke's 65.
The home fans mocked United with chants of "boring, boring, boring", and for a manager so obsessed with "control", Van Gaal will have also noted their struggles in possession. Basic passes went astray with worrying regularity, with their passing accuracy dropping below 80 per cent for only the second time all season.
LVG: Job becoming difficult
Louis van Gaal admits his job is becoming "more difficult" following the 2-0 defeat by Stoke.
It was arguably United's worst defeat yet, and Van Gaal admitted his side are struggling with pressure and a lack of confidence. "My thoughts are that we don't dare to play football in the first half and then we gave a very bad goal away," he said. "Pressure is now the big issue. I try to do everything but the pressure shall be higher and higher every match, and we have to solve that problem."
So what now for the Dutchman? He may have talked of problem-solving in his interview with Sky Sports, but in his press conference he raised the possibility of quitting himself. "It is not always the club that has to fire or sack me," he said. "Sometimes I do that by myself, but I am the one who wants to speak first with the board of Manchester United and my members of staff and my players, not with you."
Problems are mounting all over the pitch for Van Gaal, and he has provided little evidence to suggest he can pull them out of the slump. United have two days to pick themselves up for the visit of Chelsea, and time appears to be running out for their manager too.