Van Gaal's fate hangs on United-Chelsea game
IT IS the most mouth-watering clash of the English Premier League's festive period but instead of eyes being on the pitch, attention has been focused on the respective dug-outs at Manchester United and Chelsea, who meet today.
United's 2-0 defeat at Stoke City on Saturday was their fourth loss in succession - the club's worst run within a season since 1961 - and reduced manager Louis van Gaal to a dead man walking in the eyes of the British media.
The Dutchman admitted afterwards that he could not be certain of the United board's support and raised the prospect that he could choose to leave Old Trafford of his own accord.
"I have said already in former press conferences that it is not always that the club has to fire or sack me. Sometimes I do it by myself," he said. "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 (the media)."
Chelsea dispensed with their own manager on Dec 17 - Jose Mourinho paying the price for a calamitous start to the season and the Portuguese is the favourite to take over at United in the event that van Gaal departs.
Whatever fate befalls van Gaal, there is guaranteed to be at least one sexagenarian Dutch coach in attendance at Old Trafford after Guus Hiddink's appointment as interim manager at Chelsea, who were held 2-2 by Watford, a result that left the champions two points above the relegation zone in 15th place.
"We will go to Old Trafford. It will be difficult, but I hope this team will show, in every game, the ambition like they showed against Watford," Hiddink said. "We are going there for the win."
However, he expressed frustration that two-goal hero Diego Costa will miss the game through suspension. Loic Remy is expected to deputise.
"It's a setback of course. Costa's performances are improving. I can complain (about the booking), but it's not my nature. I have to go on and find a solution as soon as possible."
Hiddink acknowledged that United are going through a difficult time, but he refused to consider the uncertainty surrounding the future of van Gaal.
"Manchester United were first and now they are in a different period. I can't comment on another manager's position," he said.
Chelsea's first game since the departure of Mourinho had been played in a hostile atmosphere, with some supporters targeting those players they felt had under-performed under the previous manager.
But a week later, Hiddink believes the players have gone some way to winning back the crowd in the second match.
"It's now up to the team to show and take the initiative to get the crowd back. And they did, especially when we went behind," he said. "The team reacted and showed the crowd what they are willing to do, and showed ambition and the crowd reacted positively."