Louis van Gaal can answer press critics with a win at Stoke City

Former Manchester United forward Falcao scores the equaliser against Stoke City

It has been an eventful week for Louis van Gaal and the Manchester United boss has come out fighting. There has been speculation that the Ducthman could be out of a job, with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho waiting in the background; however this notion was well and truly quashed in van Gaal’s press conference during the week.

The game against Stoke City is crucial for United to pick up a win, which would be the club’s first win since beating Watford 2-1 last month. The Dutchman, along with club captain Wayne Rooney, understand that the current form is simply not good enough and United must “improve immediately” if they are to retain last season’s status as a top four club. United have won thirteen times at Stoke City in the league, with the last one coming in the title winning season of 2012/13.

Louis van Gaal was defiant in his midweek press conference and acted as you would expect a Manchester United manager to respond. However, it will be on the pitch where he can really showcase a response. United have been far too slow and pedestrian under his watch and the results haven’t been good enough for a club looking to return to the pinnacle of English football. Van Gaal needs to show there is a long term strategy in place – which hasn’t yet materialised despite the so called “philosophy” in place.

We are joined by Sam who blogs over at Four Two Three One who kindly answered a few questions for us ahead of the game. You can follow Sam and the lads on Twitter @4231Stoke.

1) How would you sum up the season so far? Are you happy with progress?

This season started pretty poorly in terms of results, Hughes seems to regularly be a slow starter but this was much worse. However a really good spell since Ryan Shawcross came back has meant that we’re now back around midtable. Importantly the quality of the football has been much higher than in usually is in the first months as well, we never usually hit form until around February.

2) Is Mark Hughes the right man for the job? How does he compare to Tony Pulis?

Many were skeptical when Hughes joined, myself included, but he’s more than proved that he’s the right guy to take the club forwards. He still has some issues – baffling decision making and subs – however the results speak for themselves and consequetive top half finishes can’t be complained about. It’s difficult to compare Hughes with Pulis due to the vastly different circumstances. Pulis took a team that could easily have been relegated from the Championship, got us promoted and kept us up. Hughes has built upon that and it’s working well but could he have done the same? Perhaps, but probably not.

3) How good a signing is Xherdan Shaqiri? Could he slot into any team in the Premier League?

Incredible. Given time he could definitely get into any team. His main problem is that he’s barely played for years. First at Bayern and then at Inter he’s never had a consistent season of game time and that’s clearly had an impact on him as a player. We’ve seen him improve game on game though and when he’s at his best he’s unplayable for any fullback in the league.

4) You lost 2-0 to Sunderland and the beat Manchester City 2-0. Is there an inconsistency with Stoke City? Where do you expect to finish this season?

Actually no, we’re perfectly consistent. We’re great against the ‘top’ teams but terrible against those below us. We really struggle to break down a solid defence so our best work comes against teams that are forced to come at us and attack. We’ve also not won a game where we’ve had the most possession, which further shows that. That’s not to say that we haven’t had the chances, against Sunderland we were the better team until Ryan Shawcross was sent off and could’ve gone on to win. Against Palace last weekend we had something like 26 shots, but only managed to score from a penalty.

5) What have you made of Bojan since he signed from Barcelona?

Bojan is a different level of player from anything that we’ve had in at least 40 years. He’s so incredibly talented it’s hard to believe that we’ll ever seen a player as talent again either. The only player I’ve seen shut him out of the game was Matic last season at his peak, he just seems to create space on the ball.

6) Do you think Manchester United have progress under Louis van Gaal?

Van Gaal confuses me, he seems to have signed a lot of players to play in the Ajax system that he’s preferred for his entire career but then doesn’t play them in that system. Progressed? Probably. Fergie left Moyes with a god awful squad, the worst of a Champion team that I’ve ever seen so I think that he never really stood a chance, however van Gaal has built a very good squad but doesn’t seem able to use them to the best of their ability.

7) Do you think he had a point to call out the press for creating speculation about his future?

I can certainly understand him doing it, earlier in the season he was a mastermind. A few losses and he’s getting sacked. But that’s football these days with 24 hour coverage.

8) Do you think he will be the manager come May? If not, who do you think will replace him?

I think so. However I can see Mourinho replacing him for the new season. I can’t honestly see who else would replace LvG and be an improvement mid-season.

9) United are winless in the league since beating Watford on 21st November – do you fancy your chances on Boxing Day?

We’ve got to fancy our chances really given our results against Man City and Chelsea. However we can never assume that something’s in the bag. It’s probably the closest the two teams have been in quality during the Premier League years. We do have a bad habit of giving managers in need an easy win though.

10) What is your all time Stoke City xi?

Marsh, Shawcross, Smith, Pieters
Delap, Hudson
Arnautovic, Bojan, Matthews

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