The end is nigh for Louis van Gaal, Wayne Rooney has lost his untouchable status and other things we learned from Stoke 2 Manchester United 0.
By North-west correspondent Alex Stevens
Van Gaal has nowhere to turn
As Stoke took a two-goal advantage midway through the first half, Van Gaal slumped in his dugout seat, bowed his head and put his fingers to his temple. He had nowhere to hide and, increasingly, looks like he has nowhere to turn. The celebrating Stoke fans serenaded the Dutchman with chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ and the growing sense is that they may not be too far wrong, give or take a day or two. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, the man with the hotline to the Glazers, was not at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day to witness this latest limp United performance. Good job, too, from Van Gaal’s point of view. But it is now clear the manager is on the brink. He may not have run out of ideas but the players are clearly not responding to the ideas he does have. The end is surely nigh.
Rooney has lost his untouchable status
Van Gaal’s final big called could turn out to be dropping his skipper. Rooney’s form has totally deserted him this season but it was still a surprise when his name was not in the starting X1. His experience, pedigree and talismanic status has made him as important to Van Gaal as he was to the Dutchman’s predecessors David Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson. Rooney was summoned at half-time to try and drag the team out of the mire and the Englishman’s attitude and commitment could not be questioned as he continued to give his all for Van Gaal. This did not bring about the revival both parties would have wanted. Whatever happens to Van Gaal, Rooney has lost his untouchable status and it is difficult to see him getting it back at United.
The joy has been sucked from United
For United supporters, this really was the most benign of seasonal fare. But then you wouldn’t want Van Gaal organising your Christmas. You can imagine what would happen. Despite spending a fortune at the butchers, he’d serve up a load of under-cooked turkey and tasteless vegetables. He would suck the joy from the most joyous of celebration.
Bojan is a magical player
United do not have a player with the sparkle of Bojan Krkic, who has come into his own this season against the elite clubs. The former Barcelona maestro’s quick feet and even sharper mind provide genuine cutting edge, and work perfectly with the more physical powers of fellow forward Marko Arnautovic. Just as they were against Manchester City a few weeks back, Bojan and Arnautovic, the scorers, were excellent and Stoke are now up to eighth, three points behind United, who could end the day in seventh place if Watford win at Stamford Bridge. What a league, eh?
United fans sing for Mourinho
The travelling United faithful applauded their team off at the Britannia Stadium after another wretched performance. They got a wave from Van Gaal but, despite an improved second-half showing, they were not interested in responding in kind. Instead, United fans sang for Jose Mourinho, whose sudden availability makes him such an attractive possibility for the Premier League giants. Van Gaal’s much-trumpeted philosophy appears to be on its last legs. Losing four matches on the trot does not suggest a club on the march to progress. This cannot go on.