Louis van Gaal edged closer to the sack as Manchester United slumped to a 2-0 Premier League defeat at Stoke City on Boxing Day.
United visited the Britannia Stadium with Van Gaal under severe pressure on the back of six games without a win in all competitions, and first-half goals from Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic ensured another miserable day for the Dutchman.
Van Gaal stormed out of his pre-match media conference earlier in the week and opted to drop captain Wayne Rooney to the bench on Saturday.
However, that decision did not pay dividends, with United looking blunt in attack before Bojan put Stoke ahead with a simple 19th-minute finish.
Bojan capitalised on a dreadful defensive error from Memphis Depay to open the scoring but there was nothing fortunate about Stoke’s second, which came in the 25th minute courtesy of a stunning long-range strike from Arnautovic.
Rooney was brought on for the hapless Depay at half-time but, although United did improve in the second half, they were unable to produce a comeback and avoid losing four games in a row in the same season for the first time since 1961.
Arnautovic curled an early free-kick wide but it was a calamitous piece of defending that allowed Bojan to tap Stoke into the lead.
Depay’s bizarre attempt at a defensive diving header presented the ball to Glen Johnson, who pulled the ball back for Bojan to prod in with David de Gea stranded.
And just six minutes later Arnautovic doubled the buoyant hosts’ advantage in magnificent fashion.
The Austria international unleashed a fierce swerving right-footed effort that flew beyond a helpless De Gea after Bojan’s free-kick had struck the wall.
Depay then forced Jack Butland into a low save with a 30-yard free-kick but the game would have been beyond United had Arnautovic not curled wide when one-on-one with De Gea having been put through by Bojan.
United dominated possession following Rooney’s introduction and were denied a route back into the game as Butland produced an excellent point-blank save to thwart Marouane Fellaini after the Belgian had met the England skipper’s low delivery.
De Gea did well to prevent Ashley Young from turning a cross into his own net and make it 3-0 and it was Stoke who finished the stronger on another dark day for Van Gaal, who appears to be nearing the end of his time at Old Trafford.
Key Opta stats:
– Wayne Rooney was named on the bench in a Premier League or Champions League game for the first time since January 28 2014.
– Marko Arnautovic has now scored more Premier League goals this season (6) than his previous two combined (5).
– Manchester United lost a Premier League game on Boxing Day for the first time since 2002 (1-3 at Middlesbrough) and only for the second time overall in the competition (P22 W18 D2 L2).
– The last time United lost four competitive games in a row was between May-August 2001.
– United have averaged just 1.22 goals per game in the league this season (22 goals in 18 games) – their lowest average in a league campaign since 1989-90 (1.21).
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