Louis van Gaal believes the great escape is on as Manchester United manager looks to save his job by completing turnaround with FA Cup glory and Champions League spot
- Louis van Gaal growing increasingly confident in Manchester United post
- Dutchman has been under severe pressure at Old Trafford this season
- But United now have Champions League qualification in their own hands
- Paul Scholes says top four finish would be 'on edge of being satisfactory'
Whether winning the FA Cup and qualifying for the Champions League would be enough to persuade United to keep Van Gaal for the third year of his contract remains the source of much conjecture.
The Dutchman certainly feels he will still be around next season and that has been the pervading mood at the club’s Carrington training base in recent weeks.
Louis van Gaal will be confident on keeping hold of his job if he seals Champions League football this season
Manchester United have steadily climbed the Premier League table with Marcus Rashford a key presence
Old Trafford executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, meanwhile, has remained silent while speculation has continued over a move for Jose Mourinho.
There is little doubt, however, that Van Gaal will do his job prospects no harm at all if he can deliver a measure of success at the end of what has been a difficult and frustrating season.
Woodward would like nothing more than to see his choice of manager vindicated to any extent and a first trophy in three years, in addition to a Champions League place, would represent progress.
‘On the edge of being satisfactory,’ as former United favourite Paul Scholes told Sportsmail on Monday.
The Red Devils recorded a crucial slender victory at Norwich to keep their top four hopes alive on Saturday
Mata scored the only goal at Carrow Road and is expected to play a part at Upton Park on Tuesday night
On each occasion the knives have been out for Van Gaal this season, he has come up with a result.
Last month, he survived a frantic finish at Upton Park as United held on for a 2-1 win in an FA Cup quarter-final replay.
Indeed, discussing the difficulty of countering Andy Carroll’s aerial threat on Tuesday in the absence of the suspended Marouane Fellaini — who scored the decisive goal on that occasion — Van Gaal couldn’t resist a little dig.
‘This is the first time we are talking about our opponent and not about my sacking,’ he said.
United return to East London with an unexpected opportunity to replace Manchester City in the top four which even they must have feared was beyond them at one point.
The task is simple: win their final two League games — they also entertain Bournemouth on the last day while City visit Swansea — and United will be in the Champions League, probably at City’s expense.
It is a scenario few would have predicted when Pep Guardiola’s summer move to the Etihad was confirmed at the start of February.
Now the Spaniard could kick off next season in the Europa League, with Van Gaal still across town to lead United’s assault on the Champions League.
The 64-year-old has seen enough of his team this season not to take anything for granted, however.
Van Gaal acknowledged that an emotional farewell to Upton Park will only work in West Ham’s favour.
‘It’s a negative for us, of course,’ he said. ‘We have to play against an opponent who says goodbye to the stadium so they don’t want to lose.
United are wary of Andy Carroll’s aerial threat on Tuesday in the absence of the suspended Marouane Fellaini
Van Gaal feels more confident of keeping hold of his job with the spotlight elsewhere at his press conference
‘They have already lost to Manchester United in the last FA Cup match. That’s also history. It’s not good for us and West Ham United are a very good team, I think.
‘We have a lot of respect for West Ham. They are a historic, big club. We don’t want to spoil their party but we need the three points. That’s different.’
United could again be without Anthony Martial, who set up both goals last month. The Frenchman travelled with the squad on Monday but faces a late fitness test on his hamstring injury.
On the issue of Carroll’s height, he added: ‘Yes, I am very worried about that. We are normally the smallest team in the Premier League so we have problems with set-plays.’
Still, the Hammers lost 4-1 at home to Swansea on Saturday, and Van Gaal can have no excuse if United do not seize their chance.
Scholes has been one of the manager’s fiercest critics over the lack of identity and adventure in his team, but says he would not mind Van Gaal staying in charge next season as long as the brand of football improves.
United moved one point behind Manchester City after Rashford scored in the 1-0 victory on March 20
Wayne Rooney has been played in a deeper role in recent weeks and it has proved very effective for the Reds
‘It’s irrelevant who the manager is,’ said Scholes, speaking ahead of Tuesday'’s benefit match at Oldham for Ellis Robinson, a 17-year-old former Rochdale player who was left paralysed after a freak accident during a five-a-side game.
‘Whether it’s Ryan Giggs, Jose Mourinho or Louis van Gaal, I just want to see a Manchester United team that competes to win trophies in the right way.
‘I think it probably would have been a more acceptable season if it had been done with a more entertaining style of football, but it hasn’t been. Whoever is there next year, I want to see a change in approach. United teams always try to score goals. This team doesn’t seem in that mould but you have to give them a bit of credit for way they have finished.
‘If they win the FA Cup and get in the Champions League I think it’s right on the edge of being satisfactory.
Anthony Martial had been in fantastic form prior to picking up an injury and he is set to miss out once more
‘I don’t think it’s where you want to be at the start of the season. If you’re at Manchester United you should be trying to win everything. You want to be challenging for the league and winning every competition you’re in — especially when you are spending so much money.
‘I don’t think it’s a disaster of a season but there wasn’t really a point where you thought they had a chance in the League.’
In that respect, fourth place wouldn’t be a bad outcome. As English football prepares to wave goodbye to Upton Park, we might have to wait longer than many expected for Van Gaal’s farewell.