Louis van Gaal admits Manchester United’s disappointing Barclays Premier League campaign could reach a crescendo in this weekend’s derby against City – not that the Dutchman is feeling any pressure.
Fresh from being knocked out of the Europa League by bitter rivals Liverpool, the inconsistent Red Devils make the short journey to the Etihad Stadium for a mouth-watering encounter.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men currently reside in the final Champions League spot and boast a four-point cushion over sixth-placed United with just nine matches remaining.
They are circumstances that have not stressed under-fire Van Gaal, though, albeit he concedes defeat on Sunday would likely end his team’s top-four aspirations.
“We are now four points behind so you have to win otherwise the gap is bigger and bigger and the (number of) matches you have to play are not so big,” the United boss said.
“I think with a gap of seven points and with eight matches then it is very (hard) to recover from that gap.
“It is still possible but it is difficult because West Ham are also in front, not only City. I am never feeling I am under pressure. I do what I have to do.”
West Ham lie between the Manchester sides and stand in United’s way in the FA Cup, with the teams set to do battle in a quarter-final replay after the international break.
Potential cup success and a shot at Champions League qualification is keeping this difficult campaign ticking over, but defeat on Sunday would see questions about Van Gaal’s future increase.
Jose Mourinho’s continued unemployment leaves a shadow over the Dutchman, despite a year remaining on his three-year contract.
“I don’t discuss that with you,” Van Gaal said of his future.
“Every day, when we are losing or out of Euro League, you put the questions but why?
“I have a three-year contract and the process is three years.
“For four months now you have been writing I shall be sacked. I have read that four months already. You think that is logical, normal?
“Expectations can be too high. Our purpose was to reach the top three because we want to do better than last year.”
Meanwhile, UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Manchester United and Liverpool following disturbances during Thursday’s highly-charged Europa League tie.
The north-west giants’ first-ever European meeting ended with Jurgen Klopp’s men progressing from the last-16 with a 3-1 aggregate win, completed with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.
Thursday’s match was not without incident, though, and within 12 hours of the final whistle UEFA has announced numerous charges against both clubs.
Liverpool have been hit with five charges, with all but the late kick-off offence relating to their supporters.
The setting off of fireworks in the away has landed a UEFA charge, so too the throwing of objects and more general crowd disturbances.
Liverpool have also been charged with illicit chanting - something United have somehow avoided in both legs, despite vile chants about the Hillsborough disaster clearly being audible.
The Old Trafford club have been charged, like the visitors, with crowd disturbances and throwing objects, in addition to blocked stairways under the European governing body’s safety and security regulations.