Louis van Gaal has urged Manchester United to “dare to play football” when they host Chelsea in what could prove a pivotal game in the manager’s Old Trafford career.
United slumped to a 2-0 Boxing Day defeat at Stoke City – their fourth in a row in all competitions – to pile further pressure on the under-fire Van Gaal and increase speculation that Jose Mourinho could replace him.
The Dutchman even suggested after the match that he could consider stepping down should United lose at Old Trafford on Monday, rather than face the sack, although he remains in charge for the time being.
With just two days to recover both physically and mentally after the Stoke loss, Van Gaal has called on his players to be brave against the Premier League champions, who are unbeaten in five against United.
“You can say we can quickly get over this defeat by playing against Chelsea but in the time in between, you have to recover because the players have given everything,” he told MUTV.
“Then you have to manage that you are very confident to start the Chelsea game, and that you dare to play football – our football! It is very difficult to do that in just two days but we shall try.”
Chelsea sacked Mourinho earlier this month but were forced to settle for a point against Watford in Guus Hiddink’s first game back in interim charge, as Oscar missed a penalty in the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Hiddink has a strong record against Van Gaal, having beaten his AZ side three times with PSV in the 2005-06 season, and Willian says Chelsea’s top-four hopes will remain alive if they can take maximum points from Old Trafford.
“I think we deserved to win. We played well second half. We kept fighting and then we scored,” he told Chelsea’s website of the Watford game.
“Now we have to rest and be ready for Monday. This situation is difficult for us but I think we can go and win game by game and finish the league in the top four.”
Chelsea’s hopes of winning on the road for just the second time in the league this season were dealt a blow when Diego Costa picked up a fifth booking of the campaign against Watford, ruling him out of the United game.
Radamel Falcao could lead Chelsea’s attack against the side he struggled with during last season’s loan spell from Monaco, having shaken off a muscle problem. Eden Hazard is still battling for full fitness, however.
United captain Wayne Rooney may be restored to the line-up after being benched against Stoke, while Matteo Darmian (hamstring) could be fit to return and Bastian Schweinsteiger is back from suspension.
Jesse Lingard (hamstring), Marcos Rojo (shoulder), Antonio Valencia (ankle) and Luke Shaw (leg) are out.
Key Opta Stats:
– The last three fixtures between these two sides at Old Trafford in the Premier League have produced just three goals in total.
– Chelsea have inflicted more defeats over Manchester United in the Premier League than any other club (16).
– Manchester United have kept a clean sheet in their final Premier League game of 2012, 2013 and 2014.
– Wayne Rooney has scored six goals in his last 11 Premier League starts against Chelsea.
– There have been five red cards in the last six Premier League meetings between these two sides – three to Chelsea, two to Man Utd.
– Manchester United have won just four of their last 10 Premier League home games (W4 D4 L2).
– The Red Devils have kept six clean sheets and conceded just three goals in their eight Premier League home games in 2015-16.