LONDON • In the dark-panelled, hotel suite-like manager's office at Manchester United's AON training complex there hangs a large picture of Louis van Gaal. It is on the wall above where he sits. A player goes in to be lectured and "it's like you're facing two van Gaals!" one said.
Initially, the Dutchman almost made megalomania endearing. But the schtick - on personal, tactical and post-match interview levels - has long since worn thin.
Van Gaal and his portrait seem just one more delusion of a club whose identity is warping. And symbolic: Manchester United, the institution built on a clear and timeless vision, see double nowadays.
That van Gaal will be clearing out that office and putting that picture in bubble wrap has become a question of when rather than if. Can he last until the end of the season?
Can he last beyond this week, where the slippery banana skins of Shrewsbury Town and Midtjylland lurk?
WE'VE GOT TO BUCK UP
If we're at our best, we should win the game. But it's not as easy as that, as we showed on Thursday.
MICHAEL CARRICK, United vice-captain, on bouncing back from their shock reversal.
The beleaguered manager has frequently blamed the club's injury woes for an unsatisfactory campaign which has seen his own future at Old Trafford brought sharply into question.
WE'VE GOT BIGGER WOES
Somebody spoke to me about the problems they've got. I said, 'I wish we had those kind of problems'.
MICKY MELLON, Shrewsbury manager, on their relegation struggles in the third tier.
But United midfielder Michael Carrick has rejected suggestions that the club's lengthy injury list can be used as an excuse for failure in their FA Cup fifth-round visit to third-tier Shrewsbury Town today.
Thursday's Europa League last-32 first-leg defeat at Danish side Midtjylland was seen by many as the low point of the season for United and more embarrassment will await at the struggling Shrews should United fail again.
But veteran England midfielder Carrick has insisted his team-mates cannot use fitness problems as an excuse and must reward United's loyal fans with wins.
"Injuries are part of the game. It's something that's not ideal as we obviously want everyone fit, but we can't make any excuses and put the Midtjylland result down to that," he said. "We have to pick ourselves up and go again - there's no other way.
"I think Monday's a different game but we need to be so much better than we were on Thursday night. We know what to expect but it's going to be tough and Thursday's game proves that if you're not at your best, then you can slip up, so we need to be ready for that.
"If we're at our best, we should win the game. But it's not as easy as that, as we showed on Thursday."
Carrick added: "The supporters have been incredible and we haven't given them an awful lot to shout about. They always stand by us and support us unbelievably well, coming out in their numbers once again in Denmark."
Argentinian Sergio Romero is expected to continue in goal for United after David de Gea's midweek injury, while young defender Donald Love is Cup-tied, having played in the competition while on loan with Wigan.
The Spanish custodian joins a horrendous injury list for van Gaal which now also features Sam Johnstone, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Guillermo Varela, Ashley Young, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj and Wayne Rooney.
For Shrewsbury, the visit of the Premier League giants will be a welcome diversion from the realities of fighting against relegation near the foot of League One.
The Shropshire club won promotion from League Two last season but have struggled to adjust to the higher level, prompting a major turnover of the squad and questions about the position of manager Micky Mellon.
They are currently three points above the relegation zone, having lost five of their last 10 league matches, so Mellon has little sympathy for United's plight.
"Somebody spoke to me about the problems they've got," said the Scot, whose team gave Chelsea a scare in last season's League Cup before losing 1-2 at New Meadow. "I said, 'I wish we had those kind of problems'.
"They're a fantastic team - an outrageous team with great management and a lot of experience. We're just determined that we're going to go out and give a good account of ourselves and see where that takes us.
"We'll try to enjoy it but keep that level of focus on it as well because we did that last time with Chelsea and it seemed to work really well for us."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON
SHREWSBURY TOWN V MANCHESTER UNITED
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