By Andrew Embling
- United are without a win in six games
- Van Gaal still without injury victims Darmian, Rojo and Lingard
Manchester United travel to the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day hoping to raise some Christmas cheer following a run of depressing results.
United are on a six game run without a win, including back to back defeats against Premier League new boys Bournemouth and Norwich.
Boss Louis van Gaal finds himself in deep water as the pressure mounts on his position at the helm of a United ship which has run off course in recent weeks.
United now sit outside the top four and are slipping behind surprise leaders Leicester, whilst they have also been dumped out of the Champions League.
That alone is more than many United supporters can take, but it is the manner of those defeats and the performances in general which have prompted calls for Van Gaal’s head, with former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho waiting in the wings.
There has been plenty of rumour circulating in recent days that another poor result in either of United’s next couple of games – away to Stoke and then at home to Chelsea – could be the final nail in Van Gaal’s coffin and may see him relieved of duties.
United have struggled with injuries to key players in recent weeks, but welcomed back captain Wayne Rooney and defender Chris Smalling last week and the two of them are expected to keep their places in the starting line up.
Ander Herrera also returned from absence as a substitute, whilst Ashley Young was deployed as a makeshift full-back having been left on the bench in previous weeks.
Luke Shaw remains a long-term absentee, as does Antonio Valencia, whilst Bastian Schweinsteiger completes a three game ban.
Stoke are settled in mid-table at Christmas and will be dangerous at home, with Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri taking the eye.
Marko Arnautovic proved the undoing of Manchester City a couple of weeks ago and the Austrian will be hoping to deliver another telling blow against the red side of Manchester as well.
Van Gaal will be hoping that Boxing Day doesn’t give him and his side another dose of Christmas turkey as he aims to hold on to his job at Old Trafford.