Louis van Gaal's only hope of avoiding the sack at Manchester United is to win the FA Cup and salvage a top-four place

 
Trevor Steven
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A.F.C. Bournemouth v Manchester United - Premier League
Louis van Gaal faces a battle to extend his Manchester United tenure into a third season (Source: Getty)

Leicester aside, West Ham are the team who have completely embarrassed pundits and proven that clubs beyond the usual suspects can sustain a high level throughout a season.

Manager Slaven Bilic, like his Foxes counterpart Claudio Ranieri, has to take credit for keeping his players happy and confident, ensuring that their rare defeats have not turned into lengthy slumps.

Lying sixth in the Premier League ahead of Wednesday’s FA Cup replay against Manchester United, the Hammers have already achieved far more than was widely predicted.

With that in mind, the possibility of winning the cup is a bonus. But having come this far, they will feel that a first major trophy since 1981 is within reach. So why not go for it?

Read more: United thrashed by Spurs

Bilic has the team playing to their full potential, so the philosophy should be to make hay while the sun shines. You never know what’s going to happen in six months – just ask Jose Mourinho.

Getting into Europe via the league is fine but every manager wants to be remembered for winning trophies. Bilic will be no different and it can only the benefit the club.

Vital year for Hammers

Silverware would be great for West Ham’s profile and finances. This year of all years, with the imminent move to a new stadium that will take more filling than Upton Park, it’s particularly significant.

It’s feasible that they could still finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League, but realistically it relies on other slipping up, so they shouldn’t put all their eggs in that basket.

United, meanwhile, might be one point better off than tonight’s opponents but, unlike West Ham, will be far from satisfied with how their campaign has unfolded.

All season they have underachieved; every fleeting improvement has fizzled out. Yet this group of players is not as bad as their results suggest, and blame for that falls at the feet of the manager.

Van Gaal the strict headmaster

When I see Louis van Gaal step off the team bus it reminds me of a strict headmaster, with the players following him like nervous pupils being called back into class by the school bell.

But whereas schoolboys might only face the headmaster occasionally, United players experience Van Gaal every day, and it has left them looking overpowered and undermined.

To my eyes, the relationship doesn’t look healthy. Look at Van Gaal and Ryan Giggs, his No2: there appears to be zero chemistry or togetherness, and it seems to be written all over Giggs’s face.

Read more: Critics are living in the past, says Van Gaal

I’m not saying that the Dutchman is wrong or that his methods are bad. But respect is everything, and whatever he is doing does not appear to be working with this group of players.

Van Gaal’s two-year tenure at Old Trafford has been an uncomfortable ride for all concerned and, in my view, there is no way he should be staying for a third season. I’d expect the club to feel the same.

If he has any argument at all then perhaps it rests on leading United to a top-four finish and then winning the FA Cup. But first he must upset the formbook and beat West Ham.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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