The Red Devils’ troubled campaign has taken further turns for the worse in their last two outings, 2-1 defeats at Sunderland in the Barclays Premier League and then in the Europa League last-32 first leg at FC Midtjylland.
The latter game in particular highlighted how United - for so long seen both domestically and abroad as among the most daunting opponents a club could face - no longer seem to be perceived by anyone as an intimidating prospect.
Van Gaal’s men travel to Shrewsbury tonight for an FA Cup fifth-round game marking the start of a week that looks potentially vital for their season – as well as for the increasingly under-scrutiny Dutchman’s future.
And when asked ahead of the contest if teams do not fear United anymore, Van Gaal said: “When you see the last two games it is maybe like that.
“But then we have to make them fear again. It is a question of winning matches in a row.”
After the match at Shrewsbury, United host Midtjylland on Thursday in leg two of the European tie, then have a Premier League home clash against Arsenal three days later.
Winning all three fixtures – with a Europa League result sufficient to send them through – would be a major boost, giving them momentum and a chance of a top-four finish. But the performance in Denmark on Thursday is likely to have only increased Shrewsbury’s belief they can make it another miserable night for United.
Van Gaal says he would welcome the League One side thinking, on the evidence of Thursday, that the task ahead may be easier for them than they had previously suspected.
“I hope so because then it’s a benefit for us,” he said.
The 64-year-old, who has a lengthy list of players unavailable for the tie, has emphasised the importance of his side being mentally prepared to raise their performance level significantly after the poor showing at Midtjylland, against opponents he feels could pose them similar problems.
He said: “You cannot continue with losing and the question is how we are lifting ourselves for this game because Shrewsbury shall also fight (like Midtjylland) for the second balls and play direct and that kind of thing, and you have to cope with that.
“You have to keep the ball better and not give unnecessary losses away.”
While stressing winning the Europa League is a more important target for United given the route it provides into next season’s Champions League, Van Gaal has also expressed his particular “personal wish” to win the FA Cup, given his CV already features a UEFA Cup triumph but no English trophy.
United have not lifted the FA Cup since 2004.
And when asked if they should be viewed among the favourites to win it this season, Van Gaal said: “It’s not a question of being a favourite.
“It is a question of you having to see every match as a match that you have to win.”
Shrewsbury boss Micky Mellon believes his side must execute their plan perfectly to beat United. Shrewsbury lost 2-1 to Chelsea in last season’s League Cup after giving them a scare and Mellon knows how they can stun United.
He said: “If I said we are going to go toe-to-toe with Manchester United, match them right up, hit possession in the final third and pin them right back, they’ll think I’m bananas.
“We have to be realistic and say in every game you have a chance, we have to work hard on making that chance bigger.
“Of course it’s a huge game. But I’ve said to the players that I’m determined they’re going to enjoy it because it’s Manchester United and it’s fantastic to be able to say that.”