Louis van Gaal knows the pressure is on to avoid an FA Cup upset as his confidence-shorn Manchester United side visit League One Shrewsbury Town in the fifth round on Monday.
On paper there is a gulf in class between United, 20 times champion of England and 11-time winners of the FA Cup, and a Shrewsbury side battling for survival in the third tier.
But United travel to Shropshire in crisis after a 2-1 Premier League defeat to Sunderland was followed by a toothless 2-1 loss at Midtjylland in the Europa League, with goalkeeper David de Gea adding to Van Gaal’s woes by getting injured in the warm-up in Denmark.
To put that defeat in context, Midtjylland formed in 1999 – the same year United famously completed the treble, but the performance on Thursday was worlds apart from that all-conquering class.
Local newspaper reports suggest Van Gaal now has three matches to save his job, while rumours that he will be replaced by former protege Jose Mourinho refuse to go away.
Midfielder Michael Carrick is all too aware that a repeat performance cannot be tolerated against a Shrewsbury side that sense an opportunity for a shock.
“I don’t think it’s a concern – I think Monday’s a different game,” Carrick told United’s official website.
“But we need to be so much better than we were on Thursday night. We know what to expect but it’s going to be tough and Thursday’s game proves that if you’re not at your best then you can slip up, so we need to be ready for that.
“Football’s a funny game and sometimes it throws up different things but we know what to expect at Shrewsbury – it’s not going to be an easy game.”
Shrewsbury are just three points above the drop zone in League One, but Micky Mellon’s men have already shown their mettle in the cup this season.
A third-round win at Cardiff City was followed up in dramatic circumstances as they put Championship high-flyers Sheffield Wednesday to the sword in round four.
Wednesday were leading 2-1 with just three minutes remaining, but Shaun Whalley levelled proceedings before Jack Grimmer snatched a 97th-minute winner.
Shrewsbury now have their eyes on a bigger scalp, and Mellon has told his players to embrace the occasion – even if victory upsets his 12-year-old son, who is on the books at United.
“He will be supporting his dad because his mother has told him,” Mellon said ahead of Shrewsbury’s first-ever meeting with United.
“He needs to know where his bread is buttered and it is still getting buttered at our house.
“He has been at the club since he was four and they have totally brainwashed him into being everything United.”
Mellon added: “Somebody said to me it’s a
one-off game and asked if I would be telling my players to play the game and not the occasion.
“I said ‘no way’. Get involved in the occasion and get excited, get full of adrenalin, get full right up to your eyeballs and run about like a nutcase.”
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