Already an unpopular figure among sections of Manchester United’s supporter base, manager Louis van Gaal risked further wrath by claiming it was unrealistic for the club to be Premier League champions this season.
As the 2016-17 campaign reaches its conclusion on Sunday, United are fifth in the standings and a remarkable 17 points adrift of unlikely champions Leicester City.
United’s faint Champions League hopes rest squarely on fourth-placed Manchester City, who must lose to Swansea City if Van Gaal and Co. are to book their spot in the qualification round.
But Van Gaal – facing an uncertain future amid constant speculation linking Jose Mourinho to Old Trafford – insisted it was always unlikely that United would win the league.
“We can win the FA Cup. How many are still in the race? How many? Of course, when we don’t qualify ourselves [for the top four] then we don’t reach our aim,” said Van Gaal.
“That is true, because our aim was to qualify, but we are in the final of the FA Cup and we are in the race [for fourth] going into the last match, so mathematically we can qualify still.
“How many teams can say that? Not many. Of course you can say Manchester United need to be champions. Yes, I know the expectations are like that, but I don’t think that is realistic.”
United host AFC Bournemouth in their final game of the Premier League season on Sunday, before facing Crystal Palace in the FA Cup decider on May 21.