Louis van Gaal’s future rests on victory over Chelsea

Robin van Persie
Robin van Persie smashed home a last minute equaliser against Chelsea last season

Is D-day finally here for Louis van Gaal? The under fire Manchester United boss saw his side completely outclassed and outfought by Stoke City on Boxing Day, with Memphis Depay putting in a performance that would warrant being dropped from the Dog and Duck Sunday side. United welcome Chelsea who offer some humour for the Old Trafford faithful due to the West London club having an even poorer season and are currently lingering in the bowels of the Premier League in 15th spot.

Michael Carrick, who will surpass Paddy Crerand’s appearances today if he plays (both on 397 appearances for United), has been very vocal regarding the need for unity in a “difficult time”. A difficult time is an understatement as it is 79 years since Manchester United lost five games in a row in a single season. That season was 1936/37 – when United lost 6-2 to Grimsby Town, 5-2 to Liverpool, 2-1 to Leeds United, 2-1 to Birmingham City and then 3-2 to Middlesbrough before drawing 2-2 with WBA to stop the rot. Scott Duncan was United manager in that period and managed to keep his job until the following season before resigning. United were relegated that season and although there is no chance of history repeating itself if United were to lose for a fifth time tonight – a top four finish will be unlikely.

Both Eden Hazard and Wayne Rooney, who have been extremely poor so far this season for their respected clubs, could both returned to the starting line ups this evening as they could only make the bench two days ago. Diego Costa is suspended for picking up a fifth booking of the season in the 2-2 draw against Watford. Chelsea have not won at Old Trafford since the 1-0 victory at the end of the 2012/13 season, when United were already crowned champions. United haven’t beaten the Londoners at home since the 3-1 victory in the Autumn of 2011/12, when Fernando Torres missed an open goal.

We have a great view from the opposition from Joe Tweeds who blogs over at Plains of Almeria. We discussed the fall of the champions, the future of Jose Mourinho e and who will be the next permanent boss at the Bridge. You can follow Joe on Twitter @JoeTweeds

1) How would you sum up your season so far?
In a word this season has been atrocious. Hindsight is a wonderful gift and maybe a lot of those feelings during the preseason were far too accurate to entertain at the time. Ever since the ridiculous “post season tour” things have been careering off course. A summer that should have seen significant world class additions arrive at Stamford Bridge saw such little quality added that it almost felt like sabotage. Even after José Mourinho was sacked Michael Emenalo (Chelsea’s incredibly unpopular Director of Football) seemed to suggest this side should still be challenging for honours. The reality is we wearily marched towards the title last season and anyone with half a footballing brain realised we needed significant additions. Everyone except the board. The season has been a horror show and ultimately if we miss out on all forms of European football while the side rediscovers itself that might be the best thing for all concerned.

2) What went wrong under the Jose Mourinho regime having been crowned champions a mere seven months ago?
I touched on it a little above but many things went wrong as soon as we won the title. The club put commercial benefits ahead of the recovery of the squad and equally did such a terrible job in the transfer window that a backup goalkeeper has been our best signing. Chelsea’s Football Board have a lot to answer for and the panicked signings of Papy (can’t spell his surname) and Michael Hector (Reading….?!) was the personification of such a clusterfuck. Aside from the board there are concerns over the application of several key players. The state that Eden Hazard and particularly Diego Costa came back to preseason in was borderline comical. Eden looked like he had spent the entire summer eating Belgian chocolate and waffles, while Costa surely spent every day eating Brazilian BBQ. Tangibly effort levels dipped. Performance levels dipped. Obvious fractures between the manager and the squad appeared – none more so than at Leicester. The reality that the modern day footballer could not care less about the club the play for is becoming more and more apparent for fans of Premier League clubs. I had always retained some hope that Chelsea players actually cared a bit more than most, but then not every player is like Didier Drogba. Lastly, Mourinho himself was at fault. Persisting with players who continually let him down, reticent to change tactics or shape and at certainly the fact he ran the squad into the ground cannot be overlooked. When a Mourinho disciple like Didier Drogba effectively states that Mourinho can become too mentally taxing, then I think you can see where the divisions come from.

3) Do you blame Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard for the exit of Mourinho?
I certainly blame Costa and Hazard for the condition they came back to the club. Fàbregas has just been utterly dreadful, but then again maybe Mourinho is at fault for continually picking someone so out of form and fitness. Fàbregas, at times last season, looked like the best passer of a football I have ever seen at Chelsea: I was in awe of his ability. However, he has been figured out now and any side with a half athletic midfield combination will run the game against us if Fàbregas is playing.

Unfortunately he is so poor defensively it is genuinely laughable at some of his attempts to stick a tackle in. I also think I am right in saying that he actually managed to play 90 minutes this season without winning a single tackle – as a central midfielder I cannot fathom how that is possible. Hazard would probably jump on the first plane to Madrid with Diego Costa if they could – there is very little affinity with the club between them. Do I blame them for Mourinho going? No, it is a lot more complicated than that. But, Mourinho did significantly stand up for both players during last season and I feel he has a right to be aggrieved with their lack of effort.

4) What will Guus Hiddink bring to Stamford Bridge and is there any repeat of the 2012 season finale?
I think the ridiculousness of 2012 is unlikely to be repeated this season – this team just do not have the mental makeup of that group of players. Although history for the non-Chelsea fans remembers 2009 as the anointing of Barcelona, many Chelsea fans will see it as the season the European Cup was robbed from us under Hiddink.

After going to the Nou Camp, creating the better chances and reducing Barcelona to passing the ball aimlessly from left-to-right, Michael Essien scored one of the best goals in Chelsea’s history to take a lead against the men from Barcelona. After having 3-5 penalty appeals turned down (conservatively three were stonewall) Iniesta popped up with a 90th minute equaliser and the rest was confined to the history books. We surely would have won the final that season – arguably Chelsea’s best ever side.

We have to stick together and win football matches. We all have to take responsibility for that, we are all in it together. For me I look at myself and say that I can do better. ”

– Michael Carrick on unity

5) Who will be the next permanent Chelsea manager?
Given Chelsea went down the “next hottest thing” route with AVB I cannot see anyone left field entering the fray. It will probably be someone obvious and ultimately only Guardiola is likely to really change how Chelsea play. I think it will probably be Simeone, but I do wonder how well his methods will work here.

6) What have you made of Manchester United this season and in particular the tactics instilled by Louis van Gaal?
Well, I would definitely swap positions in the league at this point! I think LvG is probably the eye opening point for Manchester United fans post-Fergie. The man who followed SAF was always going to fail, so the man following the man should have been the one to restore United to glory. However, I think it merely serves to highlight what a one off commodity Ferguson was and is in the modern era; it will never be repeated. United fans now find themselves in the managerial merry-go-round, just like every other club and I don’t think that sits well with the fans in general.

For so long United were not just another a club, they were a beacon of how to run a club – I do think that aura has gone now. Insofar as LvG goes he does not look or feel like a United manager. A club renowned for its attacking philosophy and score more than you manner of playing reduced to impotent possession and tepid pace of play. This relentless wave of red shirts just seems to have dissipated into nothingness.

It is just a bit weird to see for someone who grew up watching United attack absolutely anyone domestically and in Europe. But where do you go next? Pep is apparently City bound and then who remains who can arguably deliver the style of football that United are synonymous with?

7) What have you made of the rumours that Jose Mourinho wants the Manchester United job? Can you see it happening?
It goes back to before he joined Chelsea and the rumour mill beforehand. Can I see José taking the United job? Yes. However, with the above comments is he the right fit? Will United fans accept a brief spell of pragmatic winning football culminating in burnout? He is probably far too antagonistic for United to consider – but he has the profile and would ultimately win trophies at Old Trafford. That is the trade-off.

8) When you look at United, what areas do you think need strengthening?
A striker would do wonders. Is Wayne Rooney finished? We have seen it all written before, but this season he looks incapable of trapping a football. I was a big fan of Depay signing and under a different manager he could do well, but you still need someone to stick the ball in the back of the net.

9) What is your favourite Manchester United Chelsea match at Old Trafford from over the years?
I might go with the Didier Drogba definitely onside goal match. But, just for the goal, the Tiago wonder strike game.

10) What is your all time Chelsea xi?


Subs: Cudicini; Carvalho; Di Matteo; Zola.

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