Louis van Gaal's position as Manchester United manager could reportedly come under serious threat if the Red Devils drop further back from the top four after their Sunday meeting with Liverpool at Anfield.
United currently sit in sixth place, two points back from Tottenham Hotspur in fourth—and nine points off Premier League leaders Arsenal—after a run of eight league games in which they have won just once.
According to the Times' James Ducker, Van Gaal faces "the biggest game of his Manchester United tenure away to Liverpool" as his job will be in serious danger if the result increases fears within the club's hierarchy of missing out on the Champions League next season.
If United lose to Jurgen Klopp's Reds, United could potentially drop five points back from the top four with a run of tough matches to come.
Per Ducker, a defeat to Liverpool would significantly test the faith of United's owners, the Glazer family, and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, and make Van Gaal's position very unstable.
The top brass at Old Trafford kept faith with the Dutchman following a run of defeats to Bournemouth, Norwich City and Stoke around Christmas. However, as the season progresses, patience is clearly wearing thin as United's chances of a top-four finish are threatened.
Van Gaal certainly seems to be feeling the pressure and insulted a journalist following his side's 3-3 draw at Newcastle United on Tuesday, per Eurosport:
Eurosport UK @Eurosport_UK
Louis van Gaal points out the reporters who criticised Wayne Rooney - and calls one journalist a 'fat man'! https://t.co/aAHMHXUTRy2016-1-13 17:24:46
The attacking performance at St. James' Park was a vast improvement on previous displays this season as United looked inventive and threatening throughout, a stark contrast to much of their ponderous forward play this season.
However, the defence—often the Red Devils' saving grace this term—was poor against the Magpies as United twice squandered a lead to sacrifice two vital points.
Wayne Rooney looked to be approaching his best again as he scored two and set up the other against Newcastle, per Ducker:
James Ducker @TelegraphDucker
From #mufc pov, huge return to form for Rooney. Looked like a different person. Needs to build on that & 4 gls in 3. Martial, Herrera v gd2016-1-12 22:55:37
His captain's form could end up saving Van Gaal, as United are a far more dangerous proposition going forward with Rooney in form.
They could still do with some additions in attack, but Bleacher Report's Dean Jones recently poured cold water on rumours linking the Old Trafford side with a January move for Mainz striker Yoshinori Muto:
The result against Liverpool could seemingly have a big impact on whether Van Gaal remains in charge to make such transfer decisions, with Ryan Giggs reportedly poised to take over should the 64-year-old lose his job, per Luke Gardener in the Daily Star.
Having comfortably won all three of his matches against Liverpool since taking charge at United, Van Gaal should be confident ahead of Sunday's match, but he is undeniably under huge pressure.