Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has admitted the club are no longer feared by their opponents ahead of their FA Cup clash with Shrewsbury Town on Monday—a match he conceded could cost him his job should United fail to win.
According to David McDonnell of the Mirror, the Dutchman admitted their poor form has seen them lose their fear factor and acknowledged the need for a consistent run of wins to restore it. He said:
When you see the last two games, it’s maybe like that. But then we have to make them fear us again.
We lost the first match in the Premier League also, against Swansea City, when I first came here.
But then still we had a very good home record last season—and we can do that again. It’s a question of winning matches in a row.
The FA Cup fifth-round tie with Shrewsbury takes on added significance, not only as the competition is arguably United's best chance of silverware this season, but also the prospect of losing to a team struggling in League One could prove the straw that breaks the camel's back.
According to the Daily Mail's Chris Wheeler, Van Gaal admitted as much as he fights to stay in the hot seat at Old Trafford and turn around their slide. He said:
You cannot continue with losing games. You have to see every match as a match you have to win. On Monday we have to win. If we win, we are in the next round and we are capable of winning the FA Cup.
The question is how we lift ourselves for this game because Shrewsbury will fight for the second balls and play direct and those kind of things, and you have to cope.
The Red Devils have struggled in the Premier League this season having won just 11 of their 26 games and find themselves in fifth place. Though they are only six points behind rivals Manchester City in fourth, such a gap looks difficult to make up given their poor form.
United could also be on the verge of being knocked out of the UEFA Europa League, as they lost the first leg of their round-of-32 tie with Danish side Midtjylland 2-1.
TalkSPORT's Alan Brazil illustrated the reason behind United's lack of fear factor:
Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News has been highly critical of the Dutchman and highlighted some of his mistakes this season, and he believes the Red Devils should replace him with Jose Mourinho:
#mufc have had some rotten luck with injuries but Van Gaal assembled a slim squad & ostracised a three-time Champions League-winning goalie.— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) February 20, 2016
If #mufc hired Mourinho they'd have a great chance of winning the FA Cup. Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea/City out, and Arsenal face a replay.— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) February 21, 2016
The clash with Shrewsbury kicks off possibly the most pivotal week of Van Gaal's tenure as United boss, with the second leg against Midtjylland and a Premier League game with Arsenal to come soon after.
Can Van Gaal turn things around at United?
His predecessor David Moyes was sacked after it became mathematically impossible for the club to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. While defeats this week would not do that, they would represent a huge blow to the club's ambitions for the campaign.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, the club had an aura of invulnerability about them—even in seasons when their squad was hardly at its best—so for Van Gaal to turn things around in Manchester, he must restore that.
Given how far United have fallen since Ferguson's days in charge, that process will take some time, but if it doesn't start soon—with positive results and performances starting on Monday against Shrewsbury—Van Gaal may not be the manager to rebuild the club or restore their lost fear factor.