Louis van Gaal raised the prospect of quitting as Manchester United manager after a fourth straight loss was inflicted by Stoke City.
Winless in seven matches, United are now enduring their worst run in 26 years and the 64-year-old manager is sensing the pressure after barely 18 months in charge.
“I can also quit by myself,” Van Gaal said when asked if he had received assurances about his future from the club hierarchy. “That is something I speak to [executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward [about] by himself – not with you.
“It is not always… the club has to fire or sack me. Sometimes I do it by myself. I am the one who wants to speak first with the board of Manchester United and with my members of staff and players – and not with you.”
United were in disarray in the first half when Memphis Depay’s horrendous defending allowed Bojan Krkic to score and Marko Arnautovic powered in Stoke’s second goal from outside the penalty area.
United captain Wayne Rooney had watched it all from the sidelines after being dropped to the bench for the first time in a league match in almost two years. United only came to life in the second half after Rooney was brought on but Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland thwarted any hopes of a comeback.
“The circumstances were difficult – not only the circumstances the wind but also the pressure,” Van Gaal said. “That is in my opinion the reason they don’t dare to play football [in the first half].”
The losing streak started with Champions League elimination and has also seen United drop out of the Premier League top four by losing to Bournemouth and Norwich.
United have little time to recover their confidence, with a home match against Chelsea tomorrow.
“I try to do everything but the pressure shall be every match higher and higher and we have to solve that problem,” said Van Gaal, who has been in charge since July 2014. “It’s more difficult because I am now part of the four matches we have lost and people are looking at me.”
A day after British astronaut Tim Peake displayed a Stoke flag on the International Space Station, Mark Hughes’ team were in a different orbit to United in the first half.
Depay’s mind seemed to be on another planet when he sent a downward header back toward goalkeeper David de Gea in an attempt to clear Geoff Cameron’s deep ball. Depay, a winger in the right back position, was unaware that Glen Johnson was primed to dart in and seize possession before crossing for Krkic, who took a touch then slotted the ball into the net in the 19th minute.
If United’s players were fighting to save their manager’s job, they didn’t show it. The response lacked any burning desire to end this United slump. And the mission facing United became even tougher in the 26th minute. Krkic’s free kick was blocked by the United wall but the ball came back out to the edge of the penalty area and Arnautovic’s powerful strike beat De Gea.
United were offering little in response, with Depay’s free kick parried by Butland and Marouane Fellaini offside as he tried to react.
United was spared further misery before the interval when Arnautovic ran on to Krkic’s throughball but missed the target with his shot.