Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has admitted that he cannot know what reception he will receive when his side return to Old Trafford to face Stoke City on Tuesday.
United were booed off following their most recent home game, a 1-0 defeat by Southampton last weekend, which prompted media speculation about Van Gaal’s position.
His team won 3-1 at second-tier Derby County on Friday to reach the FA Cup fifth round, but Van Gaal conceded afterwards that it may not have been enough to mollify supporters frustrated by recent performances.
“I’m not a stupid man. I’m an intelligent man and I cannot predict the atmosphere,” he told reporters.
“I hope that we can give the same level of performance as today (Friday), but we have to play Stoke City. It’s another opponent.
“But it’s not so important that they yell at me. It’s more that they are supporting the players because that’s the most important thing. The players have the most difficult task.
“They have to give a result at that hour, with that resistance, and there are no excuses. They have to support the fans.
“When I am not so popular anymore, OK. It’s also not the first time that that happens with me. But I can survive.”
Van Gaal has described reports that he offered to step down after the Southampton defeat as “awful and horrible” and protested that he has been “sacked” by the media three times already this season.
But with United having won only four of their last 14 matches, all the while playing some turgid football, he is aware that another misstep on Tuesday will see his position called into question again.
Asked if the Derby result could provide a platform for improvement, he told his inquisitor: “The next match I can lose and then I’m sacked again by you.”
Van Gaal also took umbrage with the suggestion that United play better away from home – a stance backed up by statistics that show his side average 1.73 points per game at home in the league, compared to 1.50 away.
“Why this question? It is more easy at home because we have won more matches at home than away, I’m sorry,” the Dutchman said.
“Today a big part (of the crowd) was Manchester United and they supported fantastically, I think.
“I have heard more the fans of Manchester United than Derby County and we are the away team, so I think it is fantastic that there is such a big part who is coming to (watch) that ‘boring’ Manchester United, in spite of that.”
Stoke beat United 2-0 when the teams last met on Boxing Day and Van Gaal is mindful of the threat posed by Mark Hughes’s side, who lost on penalties to Liverpool in the League Cup semifinals last Tuesday.
“I have to say that I like Stoke City very much, how they play,” he said.
“I have seen them playing also this week and they were very good and I think they deserved to win, but they didn’t win.
“That’s football – you can lose. I think they are in good shape, in good form. Everybody in the Premier League is having a lot of difficulties with Stoke City.”