Has it all come down to this? If you are to believe the vibe in the media and indeed in the air, Louis van Gaal's era at Manchester United has come down to a matter of 90 minutes at the hostile Britannia Stadium in the Potteries at lunchtime on Boxing Day.

It is a minor miracle in itself that the Dutchman gets to preside over this fixture because the wake of the defeat against Norwich was filled with briefing and counter-briefing about the inevitability of Louis van Gaal's sack at the club.

The entire predicament has been mishandled by the club by its standards. Having failed to publicly back their manager, it has left the Dutchman vulnerable to any social media ''source'' that can put out a half-decent theory about his future.

The expectation was that the manager would offer a lot more calm to the situation at his pre-match press briefing yesterday but that walkout from the Jimmy Murphy Media Centre has not really helped his plight at the club.

The allusion to speeches and support from the players and staff will come under severe examination on Saturday. If the word is his future depends on the outcome of the visit to the Potteries, then the attitude of the players and their application on Saturday will effectively mirror their commitment to the manager's cause.

The Match
Stoke are not the Stoke of yore. Mark Hughes has got them playing some of their best ever football. In Bojan, Anautovic and Shaquiri, Stoke possess one of the most lethal frontlines in the division, if not on paper, then on their day. They took Manchester City apart a couple of weeks ago in a manner that dropped jaws.

Given United's default approach of retaining possession, the game will quickly descend into a spectacle of counter-attacking by the home side, and defending the counter-attacks for the away team. Whether United can keep a clean sheet in this one depends on the priority Louis van Gaal places on his defensive midfield.

Morgan Schneiderlin has been ready for a couple of weeks and yet the manager has preferred to play Marouanne Fellaini in the middle of the park. When the Belgian inevitably drifts forward, United are left with a huge hoe in the middle and hence vulnerable to the counter-attack. It's a weakness that saw the club concede twice easily against Norwich. Plug the hole Louis!

Team News
He might have walked out of the media briefing but Louis van Gaal did reveal that the club's injury list has not really relented. Matteo Darmian could return for Chelsea but that is it. Ander Herrera should be involved from the start having made his comeback last week.

The Bottom Line
If United still look 'in it' in fifth place, defeat at Stoke could see United slip to as far as 7th on the log if results elsewhere go against the club. Then it might really be time to push that proverbial panic button. What is not in doubt though is that this time, the pressure is really on! 

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