Van Gaal looked like a condemned man as United were undone by goals from Stoke’s Spanish star Bojan and Marko Arnautovic and had to withstand chants of “Jose Mourinho” ringing around the Britannia Stadium in the closing stages.
United’s under-fire manager had labelled this a “must-win” match, but his side never looked like producing a performance that would ease the pressure on him after he had controversially relegated Wayne Rooney to the substitute’s bench.
It was former United legend Mark Hughes who was the mastermind of their downfall on this occasion as his stylish Stoke side gained their reward for a dominant first-half performance. Consequently, van Gaal appeared a forlorn figure on the bench for much of the game and even intimated he may walk away before he is pushed.
When asked whether he will still be in charge when United take on Chelsea this evening, he commented: “You will have to wait and see, but I think so.
But van Gaal refused to confirm or deny whether he had received assurances from the United board. “I have said already it is not always like that the club has to fire or sack me, sometimes I do it by myself. I am the one who wants to speak first with the board of Manchester United, with my members of staff, with my players and not always you.”
If van Gaal does remain in charge, he will need to find some way of curing the fear factor that is now making life so difficult for United.
“We didn’t dare to play our football what we can and I have analysed it as a consequence of the circumstances; the pressure you have to cope with as a player group, as an individual player,” he admitted after the Britannia Stadium defeat.
“We gave a bad goal away in the first instance, but the main reason is we could not cope with the circumstances. We did not play our way. At half-time, I said to my players, we have nothing to lose, and then you can cope better with that in the second-half, but it was not good enough.”
“I do my utmost to find solutions to cope with the pressure, but at the end, my players have to do that by themselves, and I help them.”
Van Gaal pointed to the dreadful blunder which gift-wrapped Stoke’s first goal for Bojan as the main reason for them suffering another defeat. We gave a bad goal away and that influenced the game much more than everybody thinks.”
United misfit Memphis Depay was the guilty party, leaving a backward header well short of David De Gea that enabled Glen Johnson to set up Bojan who threaded his shot through a needle from close range.
Stoke’s second was a spectacular long-range strike from Arnautovic and Hughes felt his side had preyed on United’s nervousness.
“United have gone three or four games without a win so it’s a confidence thing. It does you give you an opportunity to get a better performance and play well as a team.
“We talked about their confidence because you have to drain as much of that as you can from the opposition because that allows you to grow as a team.
“I think that’s exactly what we did in the first-half. We didn’t allow them to settle – any anxiety they had or apprehension about the game was borne out because in that opening period, we were really dominant.”
Butland 7 – Johnson 6, Shawcross 7, Wollscheid 6, Pieters 7 – Cameron 6 (Sub Adam 74 mons) , Whelan 6 (Sub van Ginkel 45 mins 6) – Afellay 6, Shaqiri 7 (Sub Diouf 64 mins 6), Arnautovic 8 – Bojan 7.
De Gea 7 – Young 5, Jones 7, Smalling 6, Blind 5 – Carrick 6, Herrara 6 (Sub Peraira 81 mins) – Mata 6, Fellaini 6, Depay 5 (Sub Rooney 45 mins 6) – Martial 6.