As he prepares for Friday’s highly pressurized FA Cup fourth round clash at Derby County, Louis van Gaal has insisted he did not offer to step down as Manchester United manager.After the Premier League giants suffered their latest setback in a troubled season with a 1-0 home defeat to Southampton last Saturday, reports emerged that Van Gaal had to be talked out of walking away from Old Trafford, just over halfway through his three-year contract.
It is not the first time that Van Gaal’s future has been the subject of intense speculation this season. Having been knocked out of the Champions League and currently trailing the Premier League’s top four by five points, there have been regular reports that the veteran Dutch coach’s job was on the line. And, not for the first time, Van Gaal has reacted angrily to the rumors.
“I have not mentioned [resigning] ever,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “I think that you make your own stories, and then I have to answer your stories. I am not doing that. I think it is awful and horrible that you can write, and then I have to answer questions on those stories. When you make your own stories and people are believing them, and I am very concerned that people are believing it. I receive lots of calls and messages.
“But OK, it’s this world -- you can write what you want and you don't have to fear anything. It is the third time that I have been sacked and I am still sitting here for you, and I am obliged to do that.”
Van Gaal did, though, concede that the pressure on him will increase yet further if Manchester United’s FA Cup run is ended by lower-league opposition on Friday at the iPro Stadium. His side almost suffered a humbling experience in the third round of the competition, when it took an injury-time penalty from Wayne Rooney to beat League One outfit Sheffield United.
Derby needed a late goal, too, to dispose of League Two side Hartlepool United in the last round. And that counted as their only victory in their last five matches. Living up to their billing as one of the favorites for promotion to the Premier League until just a few weeks ago, Derby have now slipped to fifth place in the Championship after a run of one point from four matches.
While the focus will be on getting back into the automatic promotion hunt, manager Paul Clement has stated that he will not be making mass changes to his lineup for the visit of Manchester United. And Clement, who was previously an assistant coach at Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain at Real Madrid, is relishing the chance his players will get to test themselves against a team he still views as one of the best around.
“We want to play in the Premier League and it will be nice to put ourselves up against world class players and a fantastic coach too in Louis van Gaal,” he told Derby County’s official website.
“I saw United play last weekend against Southampton and they had a difficult afternoon, losing 1-0, but it is easy to forget they went away to their biggest rivals in the domestic game in Liverpool and won by the same scoreline the week before. They are an outstanding side and we will have to be at our very, very best on Friday.”
Derby’s only absentees will be Will Hughes, Craig Forsyth and Max Lowe. Manchester United, meanwhile, have seen Matteo Darmian join their lengthy injury list, which also includes Bastian Schweinsteiger, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Antonio Valencia.
D: Christie, Shackell, Keogh, Warnock
M: Butterfield, Thorne, Johnson
F: Ince, Martin, Blackman
G: De Gea
D: McNair, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson
M: Carrick, Schneiderlin
Lingard, Mata, Martial
Match Time: 2:55 p.m. EST
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1