United held 0-0 by Chelsea, Van Gaal defiant about future
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester United delivered an improved performance for beleaguered manager Louis van Gaal but couldn't cure its scoring woes in a 0–0 draw against Chelsea that left his team five points off the Champions League positions on Monday.
Van Gaal raised the prospect of quitting last weekend and this stalemate—United’s sixth 0-0 since Oct. 25—leaves his position uncertain, with the 20-time English champions now winless in eight games in all competitions.
But there’s no doubt United played for its manager, with Juan Mata and Anthony Martial striking shots against the goal frame in the first half and both Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney missing close-range chances after the break.
“When the players are fighting for me, I stay,” Van Gaal said, “because that is the most important thing and you have seen that today.”
One goal in its last four home matches, though, tells its own story for United, which badly needs a striker in the January transfer window—whether or not Van Gaal is still in charge.
“There is not any reason to resign for me,” said Van Gaal, who brought up that possibility after the 2–0 loss at Stoke on Saturday. “Maybe the media wants that, but I shall not do that.”
United stayed sixth, but fell further adrift of the top four, while Chelsea is only three points above the relegation zone in a woeful title defense and still hasn't won away since August. Nemanja Matic side-footed high and wide when one-on-one after a counter-attack in the best chance for Chelsea, which arrived at Old Trafford without a recognized striker in the team or on the bench.
For once, Chelsea’s problems were just a sub-plot.
Van Gaal’s perilous position dominated the build-up to a match between two giants of the league who have fallen on hard times this season. It was a case of the beleaguered hosts against the embattled champions, and Van Gaal gave a defiant wave to United fans as he took his place in the dug-out. He was also applauded down the tunnel after the final whistle by many fans in United’s Stretford End, a positive sign despite the frustrating result.
Van Gaal likely won’t have seen the odd United supporter wearing scarves emblazoned with “Jose Mourinho The Special One” and featuring the face of the Portuguese coach, who has been tipped as a potential replacement for Van Gaal. If United keeps playing like it did in the first half especially, Van Gaal won’t be going anywhere just yet.
The movement was sharper, the tempo was higher, the passing was crisper and more adventurous, and chances came and went. Mata smashed a fierce shot against the bar in the second minute; Martial cut in and struck a low shot against the post; and United had eight first-half shots in total. It was the kind of attacking football that United fans have been demanding.
“Inside of the club, the players are willing to fight for every meter, the manager is willing to fight, the members of staff are willing to fight and the board is very confident in the staff and the manager,” Van Gaal said, “so (the crisis) is not inside Manchester United.”
Without the suspended Diego Costa and any back-up striker, Chelsea fielded Eden Hazard as an emergency striker and only fitfully threatened. John Terry drew a great one-handed save from goalkeeper David de Gea, and De Gea produced a double save early in the second half.
United’s pace slowed after the break but Herrera should have given his team the lead when he met Martial's cross with a close-range effort that goalkeeper Thibault Courtois clawed away.
Chelsea squandered an even better chance, when Nemanja Matic was set free on the counter from a corner, only for the midfielder to fluff his finish.
Rooney volleyed over the bar late on as United had to settle for another 0–0, ending a three-game losing run in the league.