Louis van Gaal was left hoping for a stay of execution over Christmas after speculation mounted that the Manchester United manager was set to be sacked before his side’s Boxing Day trip to Stoke City.

Van Gaal finds himself in severe danger of being axed halfway through his three-year contract after United’s miserable six-match winless run saw them suffer an embarrassing Champions League exit and slip out of the Premier League’s top four.

In the aftermath of United’s lacklustre 2-1 home defeat against lowly Norwich City on Saturday, it was widely suggested van Gaal had two games to save his job.

Reports claimed a defeat against either Stoke on Saturday or Chelsea at Old Trafford on Monday would prompt United’s owners, the Glazer family, to dismiss him.

But on Tuesday it appeared van Gaal might not even last that long after Twitter was deluged with talk that he had been sacked.

Those reports were given credence by news that United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward had travelled to London for a meeting with club officials.

However, the Manchester Evening News later reported that Woodward had only been discussing commercial matters rather than settling van Gaal’s future.

With van Gaal’s weekly press conference ahead of the Stoke game set for 1530 GMT on Wednesday, United would have to announce the embattled Dutchman’s departure before then.

But even if he survives that deadline, van Gaal — who has overseen just four victories in United’s last 15 matches — must know he desperately needs a winning run over Christmas to have any chance of saving his job.

Jose Mourinho, sacked by Chelsea last week, has apparently indicated to United he is ready to take over at Old Trafford if van Gaal is ousted and that could persuade the Glazers to move now rather than miss out on the Portuguese coach.

Van Gaal is unlikely to be especially encouraged by the revelation from Mourinho’s agent that no deal has been agreed with United at present.

“There is nothing,” Jorge Mendes was quoted as telling Globoesporte when asked about reports of Mourinho moving to United.

“We don’t know what will happen in the future, but now there is no agreement. There isn’t an official proposal either, that’s not true.”

Pep Guardiola would also be high on United’s wanted list after the Spaniard said he will leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season.

United could appoint van Gaal’s assistant Ryan Giggs as interim boss — a role he served following David Moyes’ sacking in 2014 — in a bid to buy time until Guardiola is available.

Van Gaal’s cause hasn’t been helped by reports that he has lost the support of senior United players, although publicly they continue to back the former Barcelona boss. – Agence France-Presse

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